Can the use of Medical Marijuana help those with Cerebral Palsy?



Cerebral Palsy is a neuromuscular disorder that is acquired in utero, at birth, or shortly after birth. The disease affects some 500,000 people and 3 out of every 1,000 births can be afflicted with CP. The signs and symptoms of CP are sometimes evident at birth or within the first 6 months or so of life and is not generally a progressive disease – although the slow progression of symptoms may occur slowly with aging.  A childhood disease that is non-curable, some CP patients can live to an almost normal life span.


The cause can be due to a variety of factors (i.e. birth trauma, brain injury, in utero complications) but the symptoms are related to paralysis and damage directly to the brain. The result is a variety of neuro- muscular symptoms which include difficulty in controlling the muscles of your body, which can affect posture, gait, speech, balance, motor activity, and the ability to live normally.

About 25% of patients have minor deficits in motor skills and spasticity, and they are able to live a relatively normal life with minimal assistance. Another quarter of CP patients have more serious issues that greatly inhibit their ability to function, and these include muscle contractures, seizures, pain, difficulty with balance and movement, but these patients can be ambulatory and function with minimal aid or assistance. About half of all CP patients have severe and limiting issues, and may be confined to a wheelchair, and have mental, cognitive, motor, and neuro skeletal issues that are highly debilitating. This disease can occur with just a portion of your body, half of your body (hemiplegia), or your entire body can be immobilized and affected (quadriplegia).


A common list of possible sequela and symptoms of this disease include:

~muscle spasticity

~involuntary movements

~cognitive development and mental issues


~speech and swallowing difficulties

~breathing issues

~hearing, dental, and visual difficulties

~pain and sleep disorders

Medical therapy is necessary for most patients and although there is no cure yet, there are some ways to prevent the disease from occurring. This includes prevention of complications during birth, prenatal health of the mother, and the avoidance of premature delivery.


A team of medical specialists may be necessary to aid these patients, and some require extensive lifetime care. There are several medications and surgical techniques that can be employed in the treatment of this disease, but the goal of therapy and treatment is to help maintain quality of life, integrity, and functionality for the patient.


So, is it possible that medical cannabis can play a role to aid these patients??

The answer to this question is a YES!!

However, before explaining the answer, it is important to note that this disease is not well researched as a whole, and the use of cannabis in CP is confined to just a few NIH studies, as the federal government has prohibited the research from proceeding. Also, it is important to note that many of these patients also require ongoing and diverse medical care from traditional doctors.


The use of medical cannabis can be a huge benefit for some of these patients in these ways.


*CANNABIS can decrease or diminish muscular spasticity and contractures allowing more comfort and increased mobility in some patients.

*CANNABIS can aid in the prevention of involuntary movements and unwanted muscular activity.

*CANNABIS may help address cognitive issues and offer some degree of neuroprotection and protect against further brain injury or damage. Keep in mind that the psychoactive and mental effects of THC must be carefully monitored and titrated properly for each patient.

*CANNABIS can minimize seizure activity, predominantly due to the presence of the cannabinoid CBD.

*CANNABIS is also useful as a sleep aid and in the prevention of pain associated with this disease.


*Note that because of the inherent variety of responses to cannabis, each individual with CP may require a different mode of therapy using cannabis and that the effects vary greatly with each patient. There is certainly some trial and error involved in order to achieve a beneficial patient result.


New research is needed in the area of cannabinoid therapy for Cerebral Palsy. I believe that this will be forthcoming as laws, social mores, and attitudes change which will eliminate the stigma associated with cannabis and its derivatives. GW Pharmaceuticals in Great Britain has recently had their cannabinoid-based medicine Epidiolex approved for use in this country by the FDA, predominantly for childhood epilepsy and Dravets syndrome.  It is a plant-derived compound consisting chiefly of Cannabidiol (CBD) but may also have some other trace cannabinoids present. Because CBD is non-euphoriant, it will not get the user “high” or cause any major psychoactivity. While Epidiolex is not specifically approved for use in CP directly at this time, a similar compound may be developed in the future that is more targeted specifically for this disease.


It is also possible that the THC component of the plant may also be a benefit in treating muscle spasticity, pain, and cognitive deficits but this requires additional research and experimentation and must be approached carefully. Perhaps other cannabinoids and terpenes in the plant may also be of benefit to treat the symptoms of CP. Controlled randomized clinical studies are needed, but not to disregard the benefits many CP patients report using cannabis to treat their symptoms. In the meantime, anecdotal evidence and testimony from CP patients have indicated it is of value in allowing a better and more satisfying quality of life.