Medical Marijuana and the Treatment of Some Brain Diseases

medical marijuanaThe experts are weighing in. The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) conducted a review of the available scientific research regarding the use of medical marijuana in brain diseases.[1] They have found that certain forms of medical marijuana can help to treat some symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS); however, medical marijuana does not appear to be helpful in treating drug-induced movements in Parkinson’s disease.1 There also was not enough evidence to find medical marijuana helpful in treating motor problems in Huntington’s disease, tics in Tourette syndrome, cervical dystonia, and seizures in epilepsy.1

“This review by the world’s largest association for neurologists is intended to help neurologists and their patients understand the current research on medical marijuana for the treatment of certain brain diseases,” said review author Barbara S. Koppel, MD, of New York Medical College in New York and Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. “The AAN review also highlights the need for more high-quality studies of the long-term efficacy and safety of medical marijuana in the treatment of neurological diseases.”1

The AAN review concluded that certain forms of medical marijuana—in pill or oral spray form—can help treat some symptoms of MS.1 These symptoms include spasticity, certain types of pain, and overactive bladder.1 Most of the MS studies examined pill or oral spray medical marijuana—only two studies examined how smoking medical marijuana helped treat MS symptoms.1 However, those two studies did not provide enough evidence that smoking is effective.1

“It is important to note that medical marijuana can worsen thinking and memory problems, and this is a concern since many people with MS suffer from these problems already due to the disease itself,” said Koppel.1

Regarding Parkinson’s disease, the AAN review concluded that medical marijuana in the form of synthetic THC pills did not help relieve abnormal movements caused by the medicines to treat it.1 This was also true for motor symptoms in Huntington’s disease, tics in Tourette syndrome, cervical dystonia, and seizures in epilepsy.1

Plus, there are safety concerns with medical marijuana use.1 Side effects reported are nausea, weakness, behavioral or mood changes, suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, dizziness, fainting, fatigue, and feelings of intoxication.1 One study reported a seizure.1

Mood changes and suicidal thoughts are of special concern for patients with MS, as they are already at an increased risk of depression and suicide.1 The studies showed that the risk of serious psychological effects is approximately one percent, or one in every 100 people.1 Therefore, in general, medical marijuana is prescribed as a treatment for use only when standard treatment has not helped.1

[1] American Academy of Neurology (AAN). (2014, April 28). Medical marijuana in treatment of certain brain diseases: Experts weigh in. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 6, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140428163633.htm

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