Medical Marijuana: Treating the Symptoms in ALS Patients

ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Treatment, Medical Cannabis, Marijuana
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - Qualifying Condition for a Medical Marijuana.
ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Treatment, Medical Cannabis, Marijuana

The state of Florida has specific medical marijuana laws designed to protect patients. This ensures that patients suffering from certain chronic health conditions have access to the healing benefits of this natural alternative. Patients with ALS, among other serious condition, qualify for a medical marijuana card in the state of Florida. 

What is ALS? 

ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a fatal disease that affects the nervous system. ALS is also referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”, named after the iconic New York Yankees first baseman.

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Gehrig battled the disease for two years, and was only 37 years old when he passed away. 

ALS causes the loss of motor neurons–these neurons control voluntary muscle movements such as walking, eating, and speaking.  The muscles that control these movements grow weaker over time until they are completely paralyzed. As the disease progresses, the patient will eventually lose the ability to breathe. 

According to the ALS Association, about 5000 people are diagnosed with ALS every year. Most of these people are between the ages of 40 and 70, and the life expectancy after diagnosis is only 2-5 years. Only 10% of cases are hereditary, which means that 90% of the people afflicted with ALS have no prior family history of it. 

What are the symptoms?

ALS is difficult to diagnose because of the wide range of symptoms that people may experience. Most people experience a gradual onset, with symptoms becoming progressively worse over time. For that reason, many patients may have the disease for some time before it is properly diagnosed. 

Early symptoms include minor muscular trouble like problems grasping small objects, tripping when walking, or muscle cramps. General muscle weakness in the legs or ankles is also very common in the early stages. Slurred speech, trouble swallowing, frequent falling, and cognitive and behavioral changes are symptoms that may show up as the disease progresses. Patients in advanced stages will have trouble breathing (that will eventually require the assistance of a ventilator), difficulty eating, and dementia. 

Can cannabis help ALS patients?

There is no cure for ALS, and there are only four FDA-approved drugs used to slow the progression of ALS. Early studies show that cannabis-derived compounds can slow the progression of the disease in animals.  Cannabinoids (the bioactive compounds of cannabis) have antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as neuroprotective agents. Although more studies are necessary before determining if cannabis can prolong the life of a human ALS patient, cannabis can at least help make the symptoms of the disease more bearable. For example, medical marijuana can be used to treat symptoms such as excessive drooling, chronic pain, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, and depression. 

ALS is a fatal disease that is heartbreaking for patients and their families. Although there is no cure, there are medications that can slow the progression of the disease. Research may soon show that cannabis is useful in prolonging patients’ lives, as well. In the meantime, cannabis is useful for treating ALS symptoms so that patients can be more comfortable.