Medical Cannabis and Brain Disorders

An AAMC Poll Summary

Jay R. Cavanaugh, PhD
November 2002

While conceding that Internet website polls are hardly scientific, they can provide first party experience about medical cannabis, its applications, and effects.

In our latest poll we looked at whether or not patients utilized adjunctive therapy with medical cannabis for a variety of brain disorders. The general public commonly believes (wrongly) that the primary use for medical cannabis is for cancer or AIDS. While useful in these disorders we’ve seen substantial first party evidence of cannabis use for a host of disorders including this latest reporting on brain disorders.

As a neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and mood stabilization drug, cannabis is routinely used by many patients with brain disorders. Often this use is not recognized or sanctioned by patients’ physicians who remain uneducated about the use of cannabis in clinical practice. Our “flash” poll up on our AAMC website just three weeks shows that many patients find cannabis useful in the management of their condition. We hope physicians and researchers take notice.

Due to the limited number of choices available on a poll of this type (a maximum of ten) we deliberately left out a number of brain disorders for which cannabis has shown promise including epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and others. The largest reporting group on the poll (104 patients or 26%) were in this category described as “other”.

The leading disorder on the poll was bipolar disease (81 patients or 20%). Bipolar disease is widely recognized as a psychiatric disorder whose origins have to do with the anatomy, physiology, and function of the brain. Bipolar disease can be notoriously difficult to treat and medications often involve drugs far more toxic than cannabis including Lithium, Depakote, Neurontin, and various anti-psychotics.

Second in numbers was ADHD/ADD with 53 patients (13%) reporting cannabis use for this common brain disorder usually treated with powerful stimulant drugs such as Adderol or Ritalin. Clinic evaluations from a major cannabis clinic in the Bay Area by Dr. Tom O’Connell (soon to be published) indicates that ADHD/ADD is found as a contributing factor in hundreds of patient in astonishing frequency. Much of youthful cannabis experimentation may, in fact, be related to the self medication of this disorder.

Nerve disorders such as multiple sclerosis (32 patients- 8%) and neuropathy (35 patients- 9%) came in third and fourth. Cannabis is apparently highly effective for these patients to treat the pain, tingling, and spasticity of these disorders.

Of extraordinary interest is the finding in the poll that 30 patients (7%) were using cannabis for post-traumatic stress disorder. Recent research findings that demonstrate that cannabis helps extinguish “frightful” or negative memories may explain cannabis use in this population.

Another extraordinary finding is that a number of patients (24 or 6%) use cannabis for the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder. The etiology of OCD remains unknown but its effects can be serious including major reductions in functionality and increased stress.

While relatively unknown, cannabis can be an effective treatment for Tourette ’s syndrome, considered to be a type of seizure disorder. Seventeen patients or 4% of our respondents use cannabis to control symptoms of Tourette’s including vocal tic.

Only recently, research reports have begun suggesting a possible role for cannabis in the treatment of both the progression and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Fifteen or 4% of the respondents use medical cannabis for treating their Parkinson’s. The primary medication for Parkinson’s is levo-dopa or dopamine mimetic drugs which often cause dyskinesthias, rigidity, and involuntary muscle movements. Cannabis attenuates these side effects while providing neuroprotective effects to the dopaminergic cells at risk in Parkinson’s.

Finally, we note an astonishing ten patients (2%) using cannabis for the treatment of autism. It is unknown how cannabis can help stabilize behavior in autistic individuals but we are now receiving credible first and second party reports of amazing results.

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