Medical Marijuana and Treatment of Dystonia

Dystonia is a neurological disorder that effects a person’s muscle movements. It results in involuntary muscle contractions that cause a person to twist or make repeated movements. These involuntary movements can also be painful as a result of muscle cramping.

There is currently no known cure for dystonia, only certain therapeutic measures which can be taken in order to lessen the symptoms. For many years now, researchers have been looking at marijuana as a possible treatment or cure, and they have come out with some promising results.

Case studies, while never conclusive and definitely not easy to generalize to the entire population, are nevertheless a very important component of medical scientific literature. When it comes to dystonia and marijuana, two case studies in particular looked at two patients with dystonia and their response to inhaled marijuana.

The first case study went as far as to say that one woman experienced “dramatic relief” of both her pain and muscle contractions. Over the course of 3 months the woman smoked one joint a day, completely stopped using opioid painkillers, and was able to use her wheelchair again. A 2004 case study noted similar amazing findings with another patient.

A Study Ahead of Its Time

Most studies that have been done on cannabis usually come from within the last 15-20 years, but a pioneering 1986 study took a look at the effect of cannabidiol (CBD) on dystonia. CBD, a major component of cannabis, was able to improve symptoms in all 5 patients to varying degrees, but its effectiveness depended on its dose. Researchers further noted that CBD improved the dystonia in patients who also had signs of Parkinson’s, but that it unfortunately agitated their Parkinson’s. 

A Small Setback

Though all of the previous small studies found marijuana effective for dystonia, this tightly controlled 2002 study failed to note any such reduction in symptoms after administering the synthetic cannabinoid called nabilone. Researchers did note that higher doses could have perhaps yielded better results.

However, it is also important to note that nabilone is the synthetic form of THC, marijuana’s main chemical component, and not of CBD, the molecule that had been used in the previous study.

Success at Higher Doses

A much earlier, 1994 study was the first to demonstrate that THC could likely be useful in the treatment of dystonia at higher doses. Though the research was carried out on animals, it found that symptoms of dystonia did indeed show significant improvement when more cannabinoid receptors were activated in the brain. They also noted the lack of any serious side effects. A 2002 study later confirmed these results, adding to the credibility of the original findings.

Looking Ahead

While there definitely needs to be more research done about the effects of cannabis on dystonia in humans, there is also reason to be hopeful. As a few case studies have shown, some patients have experienced remarkable results, and it would be interesting to see how many more could stand to be helped.