Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neuromuscular disease characterized by motor nerve cell death and degeneration of voluntary muscles. Usually rapidly progressive, ALS claims the lives of 80% of its victims within two to five years of diagnosis. It’s estimated that currently 2,500 to 3,000 Canadians are suffering from ALS.

Many of us were first made aware of ALS from the “ice bucket challenges” that were so widespread and publicized last summer.

There is no known cure for ALS, but research toward treatment and an eventual cure is actively underway. Among the lines of that research are experiments to determine the possible role of cannabinoids in alleviating symptoms and significantly extending the lives of ALS patients.

Cannabinoids are complex compounds found in cannabis (and some other plants) that interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoid system receptors appear throughout the body, with concentrations in the brain and central nervous system.

Animal studies at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco involving the administration of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol—a cannabinoid prevalent in cannabis) concluded, “Our research indicates that select marijuana compounds, including THC, significantly slow the disease process and extend the life of mice with ALS.” (M. Abood)

An article published in the American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Medicine reports results from the University of Washington (G. Carter; B. Rosen) that concluded, “Marijuana is a substance with many properties that may be applicable to the management of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In areas where it is legal to do so, marijuana should be considered in the pharmacological management of ALS. Further investigation into the usefulness of marijuana in this setting is warranted.”

In March of this year, ALS Canada announced the first recipients of the Clinical Management Grant, providing funding for a pilot study focusing on “cannabinoids for symptom management in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.” This research will involve ALS patients in an assessment of the safety and efficacy of varying ratios of THC and CBD (cannabidiol), monitoring possible effects on measures such as pain, spasticity, mood, sleep and appetite.

We at CMCC thoroughly endorse research in this vital area and remain optimistic that medical cannabis will be proven to provide relief and possibly life extension for those with ALS.

Those who would like to know more about ALS and how to participate in ALS Awareness Month are encouraged to visit ALS Canada.