Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease that causes the deterioration and eventual death of motor neurons that control voluntary movement in the human body. It is more widely known by its alternate name: Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the famous baseball player from the 1920’s and 30’s. Stephen Hawking the renowned astrophysicist also suffered and eventually died from the disease. Approximately 30,000 Americans suffer from this devastating condition. Due to its effects on the nervous system, it causes weakness, disability, and eventually death. Despite this, it does not affect the neurons in the brain that control consciousness, so patients dying from the disease are fully cognizant of their deterioration. There is no known cure, but using CBD for ALS has been shown to be effective at managing the symptoms of the disorder.
What Causes ALS?
ALS has two classifications for its causes: familial and sporadic. Familial ALS is present when there is a family history of the disease, meaning that it is caused by genetic factors. Sporadic ALS occurs when there is no family history of the disease, meaning that it is largely caused by environmental factors. Researchers do not know what these environmental factors are, but they’re searching. There is some evidence to suggest that exposure to environmental toxins, tobacco use, head trauma, and excessive beta-carotene intake may be possible factors. Sporadic ALS is also referred to as isolated ALS in certain parts of the scientific literature.
Approximately 90% of ALS cases are sporadic. This means that the majority of cases have causes that are unknown or poorly understood. Familial ALS comprises the remaining 10% of cases. Most researchers define familial ALS as occurring when two or more first-degree relatives suffer from the disease. Researchers have identified over 20 genes that are associated with familial ALS. However, the two most common, C9orf72 and SOD1, account for 60% and 20% of the cases, respectively. Furthermore, approximately 10% of sporadic cases have mutations in these same genes, meaning that environment is not the only contributing factor.
Patients suffering from ALS have elevated levels of glutamate in their spinal fluid. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that carries messages for the nervous system. Researchers, however, do not fully understand why and how these elevated levels came about. Furthermore, there is also research to suggest that ALS is partially caused by a malfunctioning immune system. The spinal cord in patients with ALS displays damage to motor neurons caused by their own immune cells, primarily microglia, and macrophages.
ALS Disease Symptoms
The two types of ALS are similar genetically and present nearly identical symptoms. They have similar pathologies and are treated the same by clinicians.
The Symptoms Include:
- Weakness, fatigue and deterioration in the muscles (atrophy)
- Neuropathic pain (pain in the sensory neurons)
- Stiffness/spasms in the muscles (spasticity)
- Loss of coordination and motor ability
- Spasms of the vocal cords and speech impairment (dysarthria)
- Inability to swallow (dysphagia)
- Cognitive deficits and/or impairment
- Severe depression
- Shortness of breath and respiratory problems (eventually causing fatal respiratory failure)
These various symptoms are utterly devastating to any patient suffering from the condition. Furthermore, because ALS is what is known as a neurodegenerative disease, meaning that neurons deteriorate and die, there are significant impairments to the neurons in the brain that govern behavior, memory, and perception. This means that ALS does not only affect the motor neurons. Approximately half of the patients with ALS will exhibit mild cognitive impairments.
This Is A Kind Of Cognitive Impairment That Is Characterized By:
- Repetition of phrases
- Memory loss
- Loss of inhibition
- Inability to understand social cues and behavior
About 15% will also exhibit what is known as frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Frontotemporal dementia puts tremendous pressure on family and caretakers, further complicating the treatment and management of ALS. Furthermore, ALS and FTD are so closely related that they are now recognized as being part of the same spectrum of disease. This is referred to as ALS-FTD. This entire spectrum is characterized by irreversible and catastrophic damage to the neurons in the patient’s central nervous system (CNS).
Treatment Options For ALS
Treatment of ALS is particularly challenging. This is because, despite the tremendous damage caused by the disease on CNS, the patient’s sensory system will still function. This means that all their senses, including touch, are left intact. As a result, the patient suffers from chronic pain that can be extremely debilitating. The rest of the body, however, experiences a near total shutdown as the disease progresses. Eventually, all patients suffering from ALS will go into respiratory failure.
Most treatment options revolve around managing these terrible symptoms and trying to maintain an acceptable quality of life. Some medications, such as riluzole, extend the patient’s life by about three months. There is also a drug called edaravone that slows the progression of the disease in some patients, though it must be administered intravenously every day and has tremendous side effects.
This Results In Two Options:
- Non-invasive ventilation (NIV). The patient uses a machine to breathe via a mask placed over their mouth.
- Invasive ventilation. The patient is given a tracheostomy or an incision to the windpipe. A ventilator tube is then inserted and oxygen is mechanically pumped into the patient’s respiratory system.
Invasive ventilation represents a point of no return, in the management of the disease. Once a patient is administered oxygen in this way, they develop what is known as ventilator-dependence. Eventually, their quality of life declines so dramatically that they are in constant pain until the ventilator is shut off.
CBD & The Endocannabinoid System
Cannabidiol (CBD) belongs to a class of chemicals known as cannabinoids. These chemicals bind to cannabinoid receptors throughout the body. These receptors belong to a communication and control system that spans the entire human body known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is responsible for a variety of functions, including the sensation of pain, muscle tissue health, immune system function, and various cognitive processes.
There Are Two Primary Types Of Receptors In The ECS:
- Cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors. These are found primarily in the brain and CNS.
- Cannabinoid 2 (CB2) receptors. These are found all over the body and peripheral tissues.
CBD interacts with both CB1 and CB2 receptors, helping to regulate and modulate the healthy function of the ECS.
Benefits Of CBD For ALS
- Reducing inflammation, including neurons and motor neurons.
- Decreasing excitotoxicity.
- Decreasing oxidative cell damage.
CBD has powerful anti-inflammatory effects for the body. This is via its interaction with the ECS. Furthermore, excitotoxicity refers to the damage and death of neurons by the increased presence of glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter). Finally, oxidative stress occurs when the body’s natural metabolism creates free radicals. These free radicals zoom around the interior of the body’s cells like pinballs in a pinball machine. Consequently, they damage parts of the cell, including human DNA. CBD is an antioxidant, which naturally counteracts the negative effects of these free radicals in the body as well as the brain.
CBD As A Neuroprotectant
It is precise because of these antioxidant properties that CBD also works as a powerful neuroprotectant. This simply means that it protects neurons from damage. This damage usually comes from chronic inflammation which increases oxidative stress. ALS causes inflammation and excitotoxicity in the neurons. All this destruction caused by ALS is precisely what causes the degeneration in the motor neurons and brains of patients. The greater the destruction, the worse the symptoms become.
Detoxing With CBD For ALS
Therefore CBD acts as a general detoxifying agent in the human body. Its various neuroprotective and antioxidant properties are perfect for preserving the integrity of various cellular structures. Furthermore, its ability to promote homeostasis in the ECS is integral in allowing the patient to achieve overall health and wellness. It is best to consider CBD as part of a daily medicinal regimen.
Furthermore, because of CBD’s interactions with CB1 receptors in the human brain, it also increases neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the process by which neurons form new connections with each other. This is essential in healing the damage done by ALS.
CBD Oil Treatment & Dosage For ALS
CBD is most effective when taken daily. It is important to use a CBD product that has clearly specified dosage amounts so that the patient may determine a dose that is most therapeutic and beneficial to their needs. An adult may start at 60 milligrams a day, with 30 milligrams in the morning and 30 milligrams at night. If they require a larger dose, it is absolutely safe to increase the level until they get the relief they need.
CBD works best when used in conjunction with physical therapy (PT) to manage and treat symptoms. Remember that ALS has no cure and it is a degenerative disease, so the symptoms can be managed at best. However, with the proper application of PT and regular dosage of CBD, various symptoms, including pain, spasticity, depression, and even cognitive impairments, can be significantly decreased.