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Cannabis Treatment for Huntington’s Disease

Huntingdon’s Disease is a genetically inherited disorder which result in the death of brain cells. According to The Huntingdon’s Society of America, about 30,000 people in the U.S. suffer from Huntingdon’s Disease. While the disease has no cure, treatment focuses on slowing the progress of the disease and managing symptoms. In this article, we will look at Huntingdon’s Disease, how it’s usually treated, and how cannabis can help.

What is Huntingdon’s Disease?

Huntingdon’s Disease plagues sufferers via a mutated protein that attacks the brain’s cells. Over time, the degeneration of brains cells leads to a host of symptoms. Onset typically begins between the ages of 35 and 45 and starts with subtle changes in personality, cognition, and motor skills. Over time, these symptoms gradually worsen and cause chorea or uncontrollable jerky movements. Sleep disturbances are also common as the disease progresses. As more brain cells are destroyed, cognitive and physical symptoms become worse, with decreasing motor skills and word cognitive, memory and emotional function.

Huntingdon’s Disease is usually inherited from the patient’s parents, although 10% of cases occur due to a new mutation. If an affected person has a child, that child has a 50% chance of inheriting the disease. Genetic Testing can diagnose the disease before symptoms occur, which is an important decision for prospective parents.

Traditional Treatment

Unfortunately, Huntington’s Disease has no cure, so treatment is focused on slowing the progression of the disease and managing its symptoms. Physical therapy is often used to minimize falling injuries. Due to difficulty swallowing, a feeding tube may also be used.

In 2008, the FDA approved Tetrabenazine to help treat chorea in Huntington’s Disease patients. However, However, this treatment comes with a host of possible side effects which include:

  • Depression
  • Increased risk in suicide
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea

Patients who experience any of these symptoms as a result of medication are left wanting a safer alternative.

Cannabis Shows Promise for Treating Huntington’s Disease

Sleep disturbances suffered by Huntington”s Disease Patients is relatively common.

In a study done on Sativex, another cannabis-based medication, researchers found that the medication significantly improved the quality of sleep in subjects, making it both longer and more restful.

A study on cannabis for the treatment of movement disorders found that cannabinoid receptors in the brain are involved in regulating motor activity. The researchers pointed out that influencing these receptors via the use of cannabinoids can help control movement disorders such as Huntington’s Disease chorea, among others.

Another study conducted in 2006 found that the body’s natural cannabinoid system is involved in the progression of the disease. Because of this, the researchers noted that influencing this system via the use of cannabinoids could help in treating the progression of the disease. They recommend further studies to see what potential other cannabinoids may hold in treating the ailment.

Most promisingly, researchers examining Nabilone, a cannabis-based medication, state that the medication not only helps ease symptoms of Huntington’s disease such as chorea but also provides neuroprotective qualities. In other words, the medication protects against the disease’s ability to kill brain cells. In delaying or outright stopping the damage, Nabilone may not only treat symptoms, but also the disease itself.

Moving Forward

While the literature on the relationship between Huntington’s Disease and cannabis is sparse, the research done so far shows promise. As experts have said, further research on the subject is warranted. At the very least, it seems conclusive that some cannabis-based medications effectively treat the symptoms of Huntington’s Disease. Whether or not it can treat the root of the disease remains to be seen, but future treatments for Huntington’s Disease based on cannabis looks promising.