Neurodegenerative diseases are real, and even the legendary scientist Stephen Hawking was killed by one after using a wheelchair for decades. Aside from late Hawking, more than 5 million people in the United States and at least 1 billion people across the globe are battling with one or more neurodegenerative disorders. It’s actually worse than it sounds because many of these diseases can be fatal, leaving patients disabled, unable to think clearly or walk independently.
Over the years, scientists have been studying and researching neurodegenerative diseases to gain more understanding about them, their causes, how to prevent them, and the possible ways to relieve or treat them.
One such promising treatment for these brain disorders is cannabis. In this article, we’re going to explore how marijuana can help treat neurodegenerative diseases. But first, we need to know what these diseases are and the most common types of neurodegenerative disorders.
What Are Neurodegenerative Diseases?
Neurodegenerative diseases are a group of conditions that have a progressive impact on the functions of the neurons or nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord, which leads to the gradual degeneration and annihilation of the building blocks of the nervous system. As the neurons continue to weaken, the individual begins to experience movement, mental, and other forms of impairments.
Age, brain injury, genetic mutation, environment, etc. have been branded as some of the factors that increase the risks of developing neurodegenerative disorders. Common symptoms of these diseases include weakness, paralysis, heart problems, movement difficulties, cognitive impairment, breathing problems, etc.
Most Common Neurodegenerative Disorders
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says that there are more than 600 neurological disorders. However, the most common types that affect the millions are Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), Parkinson’s Disease (PD), and Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a medical condition that gradually destroys the metal faculties of affected persons. This neurodegenerative disorder promises patients the terrible fate of slowly losing their memory and ability to function. AD has seven stages with the first stage having no impairment or clear symptoms. The 7th and final stage, however, is the most severe phase of the disease. The patient loses body control and the ability to speak or identify friends and family.
Parkinson’s Disease (PD)
Unlike AD, Parkinson’s disorder causes impaired coordination. It is a degenerative condition that progressively affects a patient’s ability to control their balance and movement. Many people affected by Parkinson’s disease suffer from uncontrollable trembling and loss of speech. It has five stages, with each becoming more severe as the disease progresses.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a complex condition that affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). Just like other neurodegenerative diseases, MS is progressive. However, it is immune-mediated, meaning it is caused by a system designed to keep the body healthy, and no one knows why this happens. Although the disease is not life-threatening, severe cases of MS can lead to paralysis and impaired vision. There are four different types of Multiple Sclerosis which are: relapsing
- Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS).
- Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS)
- Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS).
- Progressive-Relapsing MS (PRMS).
What is Cannabis?
Cannabis, popularly known as marijuana, is a flowering plant from the Cannabinaceae family species of plants. Although cannabis contains hundreds of natural chemical compounds, its primary compound, the delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is mainly responsible for the psychoactive effect that causes highness when marijuana is consumed. Some of its slang names include weed, herb, pot, hemp, bud, etc.
In the past, the government frowned against the use of cannabis. However, that is changing really fast as the herb has seen increased legalization over the last few years, thanks to its therapeutic properties that can be used to treat a growing list of medical conditions, including neurodegenerative diseases.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary compound in cannabis sativa. It contains psychoactive properties that give users a high feeling when they consume weed. THC can be used in many ways, depending on your preference. You can smoke it by using rolling papers or vape it with the use of portable vaporizers. You can also buy THC oils, edibles, capsules, etc.
This psychoactive compound is useful for treating or preventing ailments like epileptic seizures, pains, Alzheimer’s, pains of multiple Sclerosis, muscle spasms etc.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is another major compound found in marijuana. However, unlike THC, cannabidiol does not contain psychoactive properties that can get one high when consumed. CBD is like the opposite of THC. Instead of getting you high, it counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC in the body. CBD is available in the form of oils, supplements, gels, extracts, etc.
CBD also offers tons of therapeutic benefits and can be used for conditions like seizures, nausea, migraines, inflammation, mental disorders, chronic pain, depression, etc.
How It Can Help with Neurodegenerative Diseases
Cannabis products containing both THC and CBD could help in treating neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Multiple Sclerosis through the following ways.
Inflammation of neurons is a common symptom among different neurological disorders like AD and PD. Anti-inflammatory properties can be found in THC and CBD, which makes cannabis a viable tool for combating these diseases. Such anti-inflammatory properties can help combat the neuroinflammatory processes that cause neurodegenerative diseases.
Endogenous Cannabinoid System
Environmental factors such as food, water, lifestyle, metals, microorganisms, and pollutants have a direct and indirect impact on the brain. For instance, toxins like heavy metals can act as either electron acceptor or donor, which leads to the formation of reactive oxygen species that causes oxidative stress.
The Endogenous Cannabinoid System (ECS), a vital neuromodulatory system, protects the body against poor lifestyle, environmental toxins, and other harmful stressors while helping us maintain homeostasis. However, once the integrity of your ECS starts to fail, you face a high risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases.
Cannabis could be used to improve and maintain the strength of the ECS, which in turn can prevent or reduce the progression of neurological disorders.
THC and CBD compounds in marijuana contain antioxidants properties which help to protect against neurogenerative disorders. These chemicals can be used to counteract the degeneration of neuron and nerve cells in the brain.