The Much-Needed but Untapped Potential of Cannabinoids
Neurodegenerative diseases affect millions of people globally. Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Alzheimer’s are among the most widely known. Their effects on patients and their loved ones are devastating.
It is widely known that cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties. Because of this, researchers speculate that they may prove useful in the prevention, treatment, and ultimate reversal of neurodegenerative disorders.
Studies have shown that the anti-oxidative actions and neuroprotective properties of cannabinoids have the potential to inhibit the progression of neurodegenerative disorders. There is a need for more human trials, but the government’s long-standing position on cannabis use in most parts of the world has impeded the efforts of researchers.
Now that nearly all states have some form of cannabis legalization, there is no excuse for federal government legislation and federal agencies to block researchers’ access to grant money for cannabinoid research.
About Neurodegenerative Disease
Neurodegenerative diseases happen when nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain and the peripheral nervous system lose function and eventually die. Neurons are the live-wires of the nervous system, including the brain and the spinal cord.
A number of factors increase a person’s risk of having a neurodegenerative disease. These include genetic mutations, traumatic brain injury, and environmental factors such as pesticides and heavy metals. Age, however, is the most consistent risk factor for the development of a neurodegenerative disorder.
Symptoms associated with this disorder may be severe at times, leading to death. Other complicated symptoms include:
- Memory and cognition impairment
- Problems with movement
- Exaggerated reflexes or tight muscles
- Issues with breathing
- Impairment of heart function
How Cannabinoids Work with the Central Nervous System
Cannabinoids work with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). It is through this system that they exert their effects on the human body. The ECS is present in all mammals and is involved in the regulation of a number of body functions such as sleep, mood, appetite, production of hormones, and regulation of immune and nervous system responses. By regulating these functions, it helps to maintain the body’s homeostasis.
There is evidence to suggest that cannabinoids have neuroprotective functions. Research is ongoing to study how brain receptors can assist people with neurodegenerative disorders. The receptor being studied is the CB1 receptor.
The effects of cannabidiol (CBD) on diseases such as Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke is currently being investigated.
CBD oil may also be effective in reducing the inflammation that can worsen neurodegenerative symptoms. However, there is a need for more research to fully comprehend how cannabinoids can treat and possibly prevent or reverse neurodegenerative disorders.
Research on Cannabis and Neurodegenerative Diseases
A study by the American Academy of Neurology has found that several cannabinoids are effective or may potentially be effective in the alleviation of painful spasms, spasticity and central pain associated with multiple sclerosis. It was even stated that medical insurance should pay for medications derived from cannabinoids such as nabilone and dronabinol.
Depletion of dopamine due to Parkinson’s causes a weakening of the basal ganglia in the brain. This takes a cruel toll on the movement and mobility of a person with Parkinson’s. This particular region of the nervous system is filled with CB1 receptors. Cannabinoids such as CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) bind to these receptors. This binding helps alleviate symptoms associated with dopamine deficiency.
Protection of the neuron is vital to dopamine protection. One of the early signs of Parkinson’s disease is damage to the neurons. CBD oil can assist in combating neural damage, regulate the production of dopamine and inhibit the progression of Parkinson’s disease.
It has long been known that cannabis plays a beneficial role in slowing the progression of ALS and offers relief from its associated symptoms. Preclinical studies have shown that cannabinoids, such as THC and cannabinol (CBN), have anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and anti-oxidative effects. Numerous animal studies have shown that administration of cannabinoids can slow down the onset of ALS, prolong neuronal life, and also slow the progression of the disease.
CBD has also been shown to significantly impede the onset of ALS.
The British Journal of Pharmacology in 2014 published a review titled, “The Influence of Cannabinoids on Generic Traits of Neurodegeneration.” The authors concluded that:
“Signaling from the CB1 and CB2 receptors are known to be involved in the regulation of Ca2+ homeostasis, mitochondrial function, trophic support and inflammatory status … while other receptors gated by cannabinoids are gaining interest in their anti-inflammatory properties. Through multiple lines of evidence, this evolutionary conserved neuro-signaling system has shown neuroprotective capabilities and is therefore a potential target for neurodegenerative disorders.”
So What’s the Hold-Up?
Given the excellent safety profile of the hemp-derived cannabinoids, the debilitating symptoms caused by neurodegenerative ailments, and the increasing legalization of cannabis across the U.S., there is no reason why we should not be thoroughly researching cannabinoids. Currently, there is no cure for neurodegenerative diseases, and if evidence already suggests cannabinoids’ potential to discover and develop safe treatments, prevention and possible reversal of these devastating diseases, it would be negligent to wait any longer to investigate.
Fear and ignorance have already allowed last holdout legislators to drop the ball on CBD treatment for epilepsy, which we now know to be life-saving and life-changing for children. But many died waiting while legislators waffled over legalizing CBD in even the most restrictive ways. Should we allow people to continue to suffer for a few who won’t let go of a myth generated by racist propaganda from the 1930s?
Perhaps we should ask the millions suffering from neurodegenerative diseases or the millions that have had to treat them or watch them suffer.
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- Fernández-Ruiz J, Romero J, Ramos JA. Endocannabinoids and neurodegenerative disorders: Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s chorea, Alzheimer’s disease and others. In: Pertwee RG (ed.) Handbook of experimental pharmacology: endocannabinoids. Germany, Dortmund: Springer; 2015.
- Fernández-Ruiz J, de Lago E, Gómez-Ruiz M, et al. Neurodegenerative disorders other than multiple sclerosis. In: Pertwee RG, et al., editors. Handbook of cannabis. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2014. pp. 505–525.
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