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Can Marijuana Help Kids with Cerebral Palsy?

Medical marijuana has recently become a hot-button issue in America. Many people tout the medical benefits of marijuana and CBD oil with regard to cerebral palsy and/or seizures, but is it right for my child?

While there are medications, surgeries, and therapies aimed at helping individuals with cerebral palsy gain more control over their muscles, they may still face challenges with regard to seizures, mood, and more.

Some recent studies are now extolling the benefits of treating cerebral palsy with marijuana or cannabidiol (CBD) oil, a non-psychoactive constituent of marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Marijuana was once seen as a recreational drug thought to have no medical benefits, but several recent studies on the plant have challenged this perception.

While there is still much controversy regarding whether or not the potential medical benefits outweigh any potential health risks, many families are desperate for any relief — especially when it comes to a child suffering from frequent seizures.

Although many states have recently legalized medical marijuana, it is still illegal to possess the plant (or any derivative) in several states. Even in states which do allow medicinal use, it’s only allowed with a doctor’s recommendation, and is still technically illegal to posses under federal law.

Marijuana is thought to have two main active compounds with medicinal properties: THC and CBD. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive compound most-commonly associated with “getting high,” while cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive compound generally associated with downregulation and anti-anxiety.

Because THC can impair cognitive function, it is generally not recommended for use on children except in rare circumstances. On the other hand, children with cerebral palsy may benefit from CBD oil in a number of ways.

While many families have an understandable fear of potential legal consequences, in many cases, their number one concern is the health and well-being of their child. If you have questions or are considering this treatment option, speak to your child’s doctor.

CBD and Cerebral Palsy Symptoms

CBD Used to Combat Seizures

Between 35-50 percent of children with cerebral palsy develop seizure disorders. Recent studies have shown that CBD oil can dramatically reduce the number of seizures in some patients due to its anti-epileptic properties, and there have been several anecdotal reports from families who have had success with this form of treatment.

Treating Spasticity with CBD

CBD is a phytochemical that is found in higher quantities in some cannabis strains. That being said, it can be isolated and expressed in oil, which can be found in almost all marijuana dispensaries across the country. CBD is known as a muscle relaxant, mood enhancer, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) booster, and is thought to increases levels of chemicals that inhibit the over-expression of nerve impulses in the brain and body. CBD may therefore be useful for individuals with spastic cerebral palsy who may have a problem with stiff muscles and spastic movements.

CBD for Chronic Pain Relief

CBD oil can also be helpful in individuals with cerebral palsy who may be suffering from chronic muscle and joint pain due to not being able to fully extend their limbs. CBD oil has been shown to have pain-relieving properties by boosting levels of serotonin, which is a chemical responsible for the perception of pain and tempering down of inflammation.

CBD oil may also address issues such as insomnia or sleep disturbances (due to promoting the release of melatonin), mood or depression, difficulty with speech, and even constipation.

As with any type of medical treatment, you should always speak to your child’s doctor about the potential risks and benefits. Marijuana may show promise, but it is not always recommended unless other treatment options are ineffective or insufficient — especially when it comes to young children.

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Medical marijuana has recently become a hot-button issue in America. Many people tout the medical benefits of marijuana and CBD oil with regard to cerebral palsy and/or seizures, but is it right for my child?

Cerebral Palsy and Medical Marijuana: What we know

To date, medical marijuana and the non-intoxicating compound of marijuana, CBD oil, have not been standard treatment options for the symptoms of cerebral palsy (CP) and similar conditions, like hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) . A few key studies, however, suggest that they provide benefits in treating some of the symptoms commonly associated with these conditions. These symptoms include pain, spasticity, speech issues, and seizures. Check out some of the details of those studies below.

Marijuana use to treat pain

In 2012, The American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation published the results of a survey on the use of different pain treatments for cerebral palsy (1). Eighty-three adults participated in the survey, which asked questions regarding:

  • The intensity and location of their pain experienced over the past three months
  • Their use and the effectiveness of 24 different pain treatments
  • The frequency of pain-related doctor visits over the past six months.

The study found that marijuana was the treatment that provided the most pain relief out of all 24 options (1). It was only used by a very small portion of the sample group, however, at roughly 5%.

In another study published in 2016 in The Journal of Pain , researchers had 42 participants with neuropathic pain related to disease or injury to the spinal cord inhale either cannabis or a placebo three times (2). They then inhaled the same substance again three hours later. Researchers used an 11-point numerical pain intensity rating scale to find how cannabis treated their pain symptoms. They found a significant analgesic response in the patients who inhaled cannabis.

Marijuana use to treat spasticity

A 2012 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal sought to find out if marijuana could help patients suffering from spasticity symptoms (3). Thirty adult patients with multiple sclerosis and treatment-resistant spasticity were randomly assigned to either intervention or control groups, being treated with cannabis or a placebo, respectively. The study found that smoked cannabis was better than the placebo for pain and symptom reduction.

Marijuana use for speech issues

Marijuana is commonly used to relax muscles, so it can be used to help with speech issues, such as tightness in the facial muscles, tremors in the jaw or lips, and stuttering (4). In the 2007 documentary In Pot We Trust, Jacqueline Patterson, a Missouri woman with cerebral palsy, discussed the severe speech impediment she has as a part of her condition (5). Patterson has been using marijuana to treat her speech impediment since she was 14 years old. The documentary shows footage of her speaking before smoking cannabis, when she struggles to get words out and takes enormous pauses in her speech. Then, after she smokes the cannabis, she speaks again for viewers, clear as day.

Marijuana use to prevent seizures

Perhaps the most astonishing and widely-known case study happened in 2014, when Paige Figi, the mother of 5-year-old Charlotte Figi told Epilepsia magazine about her daughter’s experience with cannabis therapy (6). Charlotte was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, which is a rare and severe form of epilepsy. She had cognitive delays, motor delays, required tube feeding and 24/7 care, and experienced up to 50 generalized tonic-clonic seizures a day. Charlotte’s heart stopped several times. Doctors said that there was nothing more the hospital could do, and even suggested putting Charlotte in a medically-induced coma.

After doing extensive research and obtaining permission from pediatricians (most of whom refused to sign on to the treatment) and their home state of Colorado, Paige acquired a rare, high CBD strain of cannabis. She began administering the cannabis in low doses to Charlotte (6).

This was when, as if by magic, Charlotte went the first full week without a seizure since her seizures had begun.

By the third month of taking this high concentration CBD extract, Charlotte’s seizures reduced by over 90%, and she no longer needed her other antiepileptic medications (6). Twenty months after starting this regime, Charlotte only had 2-3 seizures per month. She was also walking and talking again, could eat and drink on her own, slept through the night, and experienced improved autism symptoms. Charlotte’s mother slowed down on the dose of the CBD at times, even cutting it out entirely, and every time she did this, the seizures came back.

This strain of CBD became known as Charlotte’s Web after young Charlotte’s story was reported on CNN (7). After this, parents started moving across the country to Colorado to access the drug. Controversy resulted, however, when people started treating children with epilepsy with unregulated or self-extracted versions of CBD. The author of the piece explains that achieving quality control of all cannabis substances is impossible at present. Parents of children with epilepsy are urging researchers to study the strain of CBD more closely, and cannabis therapy for children with epilepsy in general.

Where are we today?

As a result of the above studies, in March of 2019, Michigan was the first state to add cerebral palsy to the list of conditions eligible to be treated with medical marijuana (8). The addition of cerebral palsy as a qualifying condition was approved by Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) after unanimous recommendation from a five-member Medical Marijuana Review Panel.

Other states allow the use of medical marijuana for certain symptoms associated with cerebral palsy, such as pain, muscle spasms, anxiety, and seizures. Meanwhile, people across the country urge researchers to test strains of the drug more closely, in the hopes that there will soon be a consistent, regulated strain which can be used to treat CP and its symptoms safely and legally.

Medical marijuana and the non-intoxicating compound of marijuana, CBD oil, have not been standard treatment options for the symptoms of cerebral palsy (CP)