Cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system may play an important role in the treatment and prevention of Huntington’s disease. Studies have shown the disorder to be linked to the reduction of specific endocannabinoid receptors in regions of the brain.
Cannabis has been used as a medicinal herb for thousands of years of human history and has been used traditionally to relieve and treat a wide plethora of disorders and diseases. The herb was even placed into the United States pharmacopoeia before its vilification and prohibition in the early 20th century.
The cannabis plant is now on the rise again and certain regions of the world continue to recognise its established benefits. The last few decades have witnessed science unravelling many of the health benefits of the cannabis plant. The scientific literature is now rife with studies showing that certain compounds within the cannabis plant have the potential to treat many ailments and diseases.
A relatively recent paper has contributed to this vast accumulation of data, displaying that cannabis may have the potential to serve as a medical treatment for Huntington’s disease.
UNDERSTANDING HUNTINGTON’S DISEASE
Huntington’s disease is a neurological condition that is inherited genetically. The condition is known to cause damage to nerve cells within the brain that results in various cognitive and physical symptoms.
The most common form of the disorder is adult-onset Huntington’s disease that starts to appear during a person’s thirties or forties. The disease worsens over time as the resulting brain damage increases, a process that can affect behaviour, perception, and awareness. Early signs of the disease can manifest as mood swings, changes in personality, irritability, and excessive fidgeting movements.
REGULAR TREATMENTS FOR HUNTINGTON’S DISEASE
So far there is no current cure for Huntington’s disease, with no medication existing that can slow down or reverse the progression of the condition. However, there are certain therapies and medications that can help to manage some of the symptoms that Huntington’s disease causes. For example, speech and language therapy can be used to assist in communication. Also, some medications can be administered to reduce excessive movement and sensations of irritability.
CANNABIS AS A TREATMENT FOR HUNTINGTON’S DISEASE
Although limited in scope, the existing research revolving around cannabis and Huntington’s disease does seem to present some evidence that suggests both cannabis and the endocannabinoid system could play major roles in the prevention and treatment of the disease.
A scientific paper published within the journal Current Pharmaceutical Design discusses the link between endocannabinoid system abnormalities and the hyperkinesia that is associated with Huntington’s disease. Hyperkinesia is a classification of movement disorders, which includes Huntington’s disease, that involve involuntary and excessive movement.
The authors of the paper state that, “The fact that CB(1) receptors, the receptor type involved in motor effects of cannabinoid agonists, are significantly reduced in the basal ganglia during the progression of HD [Huntington’s disease] represents a convincing explanation for the hyperkinesia typical of this disorder and supports the usefulness of enhancing CB(1) receptor signalling in HD.”
In regard to this quotation, the basal ganglia are a group of nuclei situated at the base of the forebrain that are responsible for voluntary motor control and cognitive functions.
As well as CB1 receptor reduction playing a possible role in symptoms of Huntington’s disease the authors of the research paper also state that certain agonists of these receptors may work to counteract the effects caused by hyperkinesia, as they have a hypokinetic profile that causes an opposite effect.
The authors suggest that cannabinoids may also serve to delay and cease the progression of Huntington’s disease by protecting certain neurons from dying. Cannabinoids are thought to initiate neuroprotective action partly through reducing inflammation and through antioxidant effects.
Hopefully in the future in-depth clinical trials involving numerous cannabinoids will highlight the true potential of the role of cannabis in Huntington’s disease. One clinical trial involving Sativex, a cannabinoid product developed by GW Pharmaceuticals, showed no statistical difference in motor or cognitive deficits when compared to placebo.
However, some researchers state that a more physiologically stimulating mixture of compounds, instead of isolated cannabinoids, might hold more promise.
CANNABIS AVAILABILITY FOR HUNTINGTON’S DISEASE PATIENTS
Regardless, some regions of the world offer medical cannabis to those diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. This enables people with the conditions to take matters into their own hands and administer cannabis if they are experiencing results from the herb.
Although cannabis remains an illegal substance at the federal level in the United States, numerous states have made the herb legal and available to medical patients.
States that prescribe medical marijuana to patients with Huntington’s disease include, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
Hopefully more will follow.