Medical Marijuana and Muscle Spasms

If you have ever experienced the excruciating pain of a “charley horse” in your calf, you know that a muscle spasm can come on quick and last from a few seconds to a few hours. A muscle spasm is an involuntary contraction of a muscle and can be caused by muscle strain, dehydration, and loss of electrolytes. In some cases, spasms can affect multiple areas and organs of the body and are associated with Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spinal injuries, asthma, and other neurological impairments. Spasticity, or muscle tightness, can be present in many of these conditions and interferes with mobility and many other bodily functions.

Cannabis has been used for a wide spectrum of muscle spasm related conditions throughout the ages. In fact, in the 19th century, Queen Victoria’s physician often prescribed a marijuana tincture for her menstrual cramps. Yes ladies, it does work!

Talk show personality Montel Williams has become an advocate for medical marijuana legislation in New York and many other states. In 2009, he announced to his viewers that he had been struggling with Multiple Sclerosis for the past ten years. Montel later spoke out on his decision to use marijuana to deal with the painful symptoms of MS. Marijuana “is just like any other plant-based medicine on the planet” he says, and compares it to willow bark, or as most people know it, aspirin.

Recent research has found the cannabinoid THC closely resembles Anandamide, a chemical that “turns on” nerve receptors throughout the central nervous system. THC and CBD also act as neuroprotective antioxidants and reduce inflammation throughout the body. A recent study by the University of California found Multiple Sclerosis patients who smoked marijuana experienced improvements in spasticity and pain relief. Treatment-resistant spasticity in MS patients was reduced significantly in this 2010 study using a spray. More clinical trials are underway as awareness of medical marijuana as a viable treatment option grows.

Which strains provide the most relief?

I went to the source on this one and spoke with JuJu, who not only works with medical marijuana patients as Bloom’s Patient Concierge, but also suffers from chronic muscle spasms and pain due to an irregular alignment of his vertebrae. Cannabis eases his spasms, controls the pain, and has changed his life in the process. He says while CBD is important, it is really about the characteristics in each strain as a whole that are important, not just one cannabinoid. For spasticity, JuJu recommends Papaya and Blue Dream but Katsu is his favorite. “Katsu is the most medically beneficial strain for my muscle spasms and pain. It completely relaxes my muscles which allows my stress and tension to release…it’s like sinking into a bubble of relaxation.”

The Endocannabinoid in MS and Neurologic Disease

Multiple Sclerosis- With MS, an inflammatory mediated disease of the central and peripheral nervous system, and spinal cord disease the main symptoms are spasticity and neuropathic pain.  Cannabis has been used since antiquity for the relief of pain and spasm, and now the mechanism is being elucidated and appears to be related to the neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties of CB1and2 agonists.

While several studies using standardized reporting of spasticity did not show significant differences between placebo and active groups, patient reports showed significant improvement in self perception of spasticity, pain, quality of sleep and overall sense of well being.  Hospital admissions for complications of MS were reduced in the treatment group as well.  In a 12 month follow up the cannabis group demonstrated significant improvement in tremor.

    1. Movement Disorders- In movement disorders related to basal ganglia dysfunction, such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and  Tourette’s CB1 receptors are increased in the basal ganglia, perhaps in an effort to return function in Parkinson’s in the absence of dopamine.  Treatment with CB1 agonists can decrease the tremor of Parkinsons.Additionally CB1 can improve bradykenisis (shuffling walk) in PD.  Huntington’s Disease is a devastating syndrome characterized by movement disorders, dementia, and dystonia.  Early in the disease, there is a decrease in CB1 receptors and ‘tone’ of the endocannabinoid system much as there is a loss of dopamine and dopaminergic ‘tone’ in Parkinson’s Disease.It is suggested that replacement therapy with CB1 agonists such as thc can be helpful symptomatically.  With Tourette’s, cannabis has been found to reduce the tics and vocalizations that characterize the syndrome.
    2. ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease- A common adult onset neurologic disorder producing motor neuron degeneration, weakness, paralysis and death.  The neuroprotective and other effects of cannabis have been helpful with appetite, spasticity and insomnia.  In some animal models of the disease, life span was improved.  Further study is needed in humans.


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