Updated on April 1, 2020. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
If you have cerebral palsy, it’s likely that you’ve considered alternative methods of managing the symptoms of your condition. Recently, there has been much in the press about the use and legalization of medical marijuana for many chronic health conditions, including cerebral palsy. Below, we’ll look at what cerebral palsy is, current treatments and their side effects and how medical marijuana for cerebral palsy can potentially help.
What Is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a collection of disorders that affect your muscle tone, movement and balance. It also has an impact on your balance, posture, oral motor functioning, fine motor skills and gross motor skills. The term “cerebral” indicates that the condition is brain-related. “Palsy” relates to a muscle problem or weakness.
It is a group of non-progressive and non-contagious motor conditions that cause physical disability in human development. Cerebral palsy primarily affects various areas of bodily movement. This condition is caused by damage to the motor control centers of the developing brain and can occur during pregnancy, during childbirth or even after birth up until the age of three years old. Results of cerebral palsy are limited movement, poor posture, disturbances of sensation, depth perception and other sight-based perceptual problems.
CP is considered to be a neurological disorder caused by a brain malformation or non-progressive brain injury that happens while a child’s brain is developing. CP damage can occur while a child is in the womb, during birth or immediately after birth. Injury, infections, premature birth, accidents, negligence, medical malpractice and abuse are some of the risk factors known to lead to CP.
Cerebral Palsy’s History and Origin
Back in the mid-1800s, Dr. William John Little, an English surgeon, pioneered cerebral palsy’s study. The physician drew on his experiences with his childhood disability for inspiration. Later, and decades before the medical field accepted the concept, Dr. Sigmund Freud suggested that CP could be the result of abnormalities in fetal development.
In 1948, Jack Hausman, his wife Ethel and Leonard H. Goldenson and his spouse Isabelle set out to create the United Cerebral Palsy Association (UCP). Before this time, there were few options for people with CP and their families. In those days, both the public and the medical community were fearful and didn’t understand the condition — so much so that it was commonplace for healthcare professionals to recommend that CP children be segregated from society and institutionalized. With the help of the UCP, parents and CP individuals had a new lifeline.
In 1952, a book called “Karen,” hit the New York Times bestseller list, continuing to bring CP into the national spotlight. The book was written by Marie Killilea and was based on a true story about her daughter’s life with cerebral palsy. “Karen” is still in print today.
Since then, there have been breakthroughs in the field of cerebral palsy research, and the condition continues to be studied.
Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy
All types of cerebral palsy can be characterized best by abnormal muscle tone, reflexes, motor development and coordination. In particular cases, there can be joint and bone deformities and contractures. The classical symptoms associated with cerebral palsy are spasticities, spasms, other involuntary movements, unsteady gait, problems with balance and decreased muscle mass.
Symptoms of cerebral palsy vary from person to person. Every case of CP is unique to the individual. Coordination, movement and related issues you may suffer from if you have CP include:
- Lack of muscle coordination (ataxia)
- Exaggerated reflexes and stiff muscles (spasticity)
- Variations in muscle tone, for example, being too floppy or too stiff
- Stiff muscles with normal reflexes (rigidity)
- Slow, writhing movements (athetosis)
- Involuntary movements or tremors
- Excessive or too little muscle contraction
- Difficulties with eating or sucking
- Problems with swallowing or excessive drooling
- Walking challenges, such as an asymmetrical gait, a wide gait, a gait with knee crossing, a crouched gait or walking on toes
- Delays in motor skills, such as crawling or sitting up unaided
- Favoring one specific side of the body, such as only using one hand or dragging a leg
- Difficulty with precise motions, such as using a fork or picking up a pencil
- Difficulty speaking or delays in speech development
- Sleep disturbances
A cerebral palsy disability may affect your entire body. It could also be primarily limited to just one side or one limb. The brain disorder of CP itself doesn’t change over time, but the symptoms could worsen — particularly symptoms like muscle rigidity and shortening. The brain anomalies related to cerebral palsy may also bring on further neurological problems. Because of this, you may also have:
- Oral diseases
- Abnormal touch or pain perceptions
- Intellectual disabilities
- Difficulties with hearing and vision
- Urinary incontinence
- Psychiatric (mental health) problems
You or your loved one may have difficulty dealing with one or more of these symptoms. If you’re finding that conventional treatments are not working well for you, perhaps pot can help.
Effects of Cerebral Palsy
Depending on your symptoms, cerebral palsy can be debilitating. As well as the physical problems you face, you’ll likely also be feeling frustrated, angry and down. It’s crucial to enjoy the best quality of life you can, which can involve traditional medications, complementary therapies, medical cannabis for cerebral palsy and more.
Cerebral Palsy Statistics
These statistics will provide you with more information on cerebral palsy and its prevalence today:
- Complications during birth account for an estimated 10 percent of CP cases.
- Cerebral palsy is the most common childhood motor disability.
- Between 3.1 and 3.6 per 1,000 children in the U.S. have CP.
- Cerebral palsy most commonly affects boys more than girls.
Current Treatments Available and Their Side Effects
Whether you’re an adult with the condition or have a child who has cerebral palsy, you or they need long-term care from a full team of medical professionals, which may include physical therapists, surgeons, mental health specialists, social workers, marijuana doctors and more.
Medications are used to treat muscle tightness. They may also work on other symptoms like spasticity complications and pain, as well as to improve your general physical functioning. The drugs you take are dependent on the problems you or your loved one are experiencing. These symptoms include isolated spasticity and generalized spasticity:
If spasticity is isolated to one group of muscles, you may receive Botox injections into your nerve, muscle or both. These injections may also help with drooling and are needed every three months. Unfortunately, these injections may cause severe weakness, bruising, mild flu-like symptoms and pain. More severe problems could include difficulties swallowing and breathing.
If your entire body is affected, your physician may prescribe you with oral muscle relaxants for relief. These include:
- Baclofen (Gablofen). Baclofen side effects include nausea, confusion and sleepiness. This drug can also be pumped directly into your spinal cord rather than being solely an oral medication.
- Dantrolene (Dantrium). Dantrolene side effects include diarrhea, nausea, weakness and sleepiness.
- Diazepam (Valium). Diazepam can cause dependency if it’s used long-term. Its side effects include drooling, weakness and drowsiness.
There are nondrug therapies available to help you if you have CP. These include physical therapy where you engage in exercises, muscle training and occupational therapy where you use adaptive equipment like electric wheelchairs, walkers and quadrupedal canes.
You may also attend speech and language therapy and recreational therapy to promote your speech, motor skills and sense of emotional well-being.
If you have bone abnormalities or muscle tightness, sometimes surgery is an option. Orthopedic surgery may correct severe deformities and help you live a more comfortable life. In some very severe cases when other treatment avenues have been exhausted, nerves may be surgically severed to relax your muscles and reduce pain. This procedure can cause numbness in some cases.
How/Why Marijuana Is an Effective Treatment
Although research into the effects of medical marijuana/cannabis for cerebral palsy is still in its infancy, there are some promising indications that weed can help.
A study of pain treatments published in the American Journal of Physical Medical Rehabilitation for people with cerebral palsy found that pot provided them with the most relief. Although this was the case, less than five percent of the people surveyed had ever used cannabis to treat their pain.
Another study published in Reviews in Neurological Diseases found that a 45-year-old male with epilepsy and CP showed a distinct improvement through using marijuana.
What Symptoms of the Condition Can Marijuana Treat?
Marijuana/cannabis and cerebral palsy are compatible regarding treatment. Cannabis has been shown to be effective for treating various symptoms of cerebral palsy, including:
- Pain. If your muscles are locked and rigid, it’s very painful. Pot is well-known for fighting pain, and many people with chronic, uncomfortable conditions already use it medically for relief from their symptoms.
- Seizures. As many as 35 to 50 percent of children with cerebral palsy develop seizure disorders. It’s good to know that pot can help since it’s anti-epileptic.
- Spasticity. There have been several positive studies into the effects of pot on muscle spasticity. Additionally, the cannabinoid drug Sativex relieves muscle spasms in people with multiple sclerosis. A randomized study from 2012 published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that smoking pot worked far better than a placebo for spasticity and pain management in people with M.S.
- Stuttering. A prolific symptom of cerebral palsy is stuttering and speech repetition, which can be incredibly frustrating and debilitating to you or your loved one when trying to communicate. Anecdotal evidence suggests that as pot relaxes your muscles, it also enables you to speak with more ease.
- General quality of life. Some strains of medical pot make you sleepy and relaxed. There are also some strains that can lift your mood and can make you feel good in general. When you’re suffering from a chronic illness, it can get you down. Therefore, if you would like to feel better but don’t want to take any more conventional medicines, pot is a real option.
As pot is natural and has a relatively low side effect profile, medical marijuana could be an effective therapeutic add on to your treatment plan.
Best Strains of Marijuana to Use
There are many strains of medical cannabis available from dispensaries today. All have different therapeutic effects. If you’re unsure which ones could work for you, you can speak to a marijuana doctor or a budtender at your dispensary. To get you started, we’ve compiled a short list to help:
- Death Star. This is a pain-fighting strain that can be taken day or night. Its stress-reducing properties are also notable.
- ACDC. Containing the cannabinoids THC and CBD, this is one of the most effective painkilling strains available. Generally, strains with high CBD and THC content make the best pain medications.
- ACDC. Again, this strain has anti-seizure properties and helps to relax your body.
- Charlotte’s Web. Anecdotal evidence suggests that parents who gave their daughter the extract of Charlotte’s Web saw a significant drop in her seizures from a few hundred every week to only a few per month. In fact, the youngster found that Charlotte’s Web gave her more relief than anything her doctor had ever prescribed.
Spasticity and Stuttering
- Blackwater. Blackwater is an indica strain that is best taken late at night when you need to sleep. Producing a sort of mental cloudiness, it brings on feelings of relaxation and provides muscle spasticity and speech problems relief. Indica strains are used for their calming effects and helping to alleviate stuttering. However, what works for one person may not necessarily work for another.
- Diablo. This is a strain that is particularly known for its pain and stress-relieving qualities as well as it’s positive effects on muscle spasms. Ask your budtender how Diablo can help you.
General Quality of Life
Cannabis can significantly aid you in enjoying a better quality of life. The strains that will help you most depend on your symptoms:
- Holy Grail Kush. If you’re stressed, Holy Grail Kush strain may help.
- Tahoe OG Kush. If you suffer from insomnia, trying out a strain like Tahoe OG Kush may be beneficial for helping you to sleep. It’s a heavier-than-average strain, but it’s believed to help halt those racing thoughts that can take over your mind at night.
Methods of Marijuana Treatment Available
There are many different ways you can take medical pot for you or your loved one’s cerebral palsy symptoms, including:
- Smoking. Smoking a cannabis joint gives you virtually instantaneous relief. However, it may be harmful to your lungs and will make you smell of the drug.
- Vaping. Like smoking, vaping gives you quick relief. It’s also less harmful to your lungs than smoking and doesn’t have such a strong odor. On the downside, vaping units can be expensive and need recharging often. The device also needs time to warm up.
- Edibles. You can either buy or make your own edibles, like cookies, brownies and so on. The effects of these can take a while to kick in, and you must always keep them out of the reach of children and pets. On the positive side, they’re handy to carry with you and can be made or purchased with precise dosing.
- Tinctures. Cannabis tinctures are alcohol-based extracts that can be placed under the tongue or incorporated into ice creams, juices, mashed potatoes, soups, gelatin and others food. They are often mild tasting.
- Sprays. Cannabis infused sprays are administered sublingually with a quick spritz under the tongue. They are available in pleasant flavors and are discreet. They diffuse into the bloodstream through tissues under the tongue, thereby bypassing your digestive system.
Getting the Medical Marijuana You Need
To date, many states have approved medical marijuana for certain qualifying conditions, including pain, muscle spasms, seizures and insomnia.
Medical marijuana is a great treatment option for those who suffer from cerebral palsy, mainly because of its direct ability to alleviate spasticity symptoms. Medical marijuana serves as a muscle relaxer and can also provide exceptional anti-inflammatory properties you can’t find anywhere else. This type of alternative treatment option also alleviates chronic pain associated with CP as well as any form of stiffness.
If you or a loved one is looking to find relief from symptoms of cerebral palsy, MarijuanaDoctors.com can help. We can connect you with hundreds of quality marijuana doctors working with cerebral palsy patients across the country in all legal marijuana states and ensure you are in compliance with your state laws. Search for a marijuana doctor or dispensary today and let us help improve your quality of life!
Additional Cerebral Palsy & Cannabis Resources
For more information about how cannabis can be used to treat Cerebral Palsy, check out our resources:
See how medical marijuana can help treat cerebral palsy. Get information and recommendations on medical cannabis doctors in your area from Marijuana Doctors.
Cerebral Palsy and Medical Marijuana: What we know
To date, medical marijuana and the non-intoxicating compound of marijuana, CBD oil, have not been standard treatment options for the symptoms of cerebral palsy (CP) and similar conditions, like hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) . A few key studies, however, suggest that they provide benefits in treating some of the symptoms commonly associated with these conditions. These symptoms include pain, spasticity, speech issues, and seizures. Check out some of the details of those studies below.
Marijuana use to treat pain
In 2012, The American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation published the results of a survey on the use of different pain treatments for cerebral palsy (1). Eighty-three adults participated in the survey, which asked questions regarding:
- The intensity and location of their pain experienced over the past three months
- Their use and the effectiveness of 24 different pain treatments
- The frequency of pain-related doctor visits over the past six months.
The study found that marijuana was the treatment that provided the most pain relief out of all 24 options (1). It was only used by a very small portion of the sample group, however, at roughly 5%.
In another study published in 2016 in The Journal of Pain , researchers had 42 participants with neuropathic pain related to disease or injury to the spinal cord inhale either cannabis or a placebo three times (2). They then inhaled the same substance again three hours later. Researchers used an 11-point numerical pain intensity rating scale to find how cannabis treated their pain symptoms. They found a significant analgesic response in the patients who inhaled cannabis.
Marijuana use to treat spasticity
A 2012 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal sought to find out if marijuana could help patients suffering from spasticity symptoms (3). Thirty adult patients with multiple sclerosis and treatment-resistant spasticity were randomly assigned to either intervention or control groups, being treated with cannabis or a placebo, respectively. The study found that smoked cannabis was better than the placebo for pain and symptom reduction.
Marijuana use for speech issues
Marijuana is commonly used to relax muscles, so it can be used to help with speech issues, such as tightness in the facial muscles, tremors in the jaw or lips, and stuttering (4). In the 2007 documentary In Pot We Trust, Jacqueline Patterson, a Missouri woman with cerebral palsy, discussed the severe speech impediment she has as a part of her condition (5). Patterson has been using marijuana to treat her speech impediment since she was 14 years old. The documentary shows footage of her speaking before smoking cannabis, when she struggles to get words out and takes enormous pauses in her speech. Then, after she smokes the cannabis, she speaks again for viewers, clear as day.
Marijuana use to prevent seizures
Perhaps the most astonishing and widely-known case study happened in 2014, when Paige Figi, the mother of 5-year-old Charlotte Figi told Epilepsia magazine about her daughter’s experience with cannabis therapy (6). Charlotte was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, which is a rare and severe form of epilepsy. She had cognitive delays, motor delays, required tube feeding and 24/7 care, and experienced up to 50 generalized tonic-clonic seizures a day. Charlotte’s heart stopped several times. Doctors said that there was nothing more the hospital could do, and even suggested putting Charlotte in a medically-induced coma.
After doing extensive research and obtaining permission from pediatricians (most of whom refused to sign on to the treatment) and their home state of Colorado, Paige acquired a rare, high CBD strain of cannabis. She began administering the cannabis in low doses to Charlotte (6).
This was when, as if by magic, Charlotte went the first full week without a seizure since her seizures had begun.
By the third month of taking this high concentration CBD extract, Charlotte’s seizures reduced by over 90%, and she no longer needed her other antiepileptic medications (6). Twenty months after starting this regime, Charlotte only had 2-3 seizures per month. She was also walking and talking again, could eat and drink on her own, slept through the night, and experienced improved autism symptoms. Charlotte’s mother slowed down on the dose of the CBD at times, even cutting it out entirely, and every time she did this, the seizures came back.
This strain of CBD became known as Charlotte’s Web after young Charlotte’s story was reported on CNN (7). After this, parents started moving across the country to Colorado to access the drug. Controversy resulted, however, when people started treating children with epilepsy with unregulated or self-extracted versions of CBD. The author of the piece explains that achieving quality control of all cannabis substances is impossible at present. Parents of children with epilepsy are urging researchers to study the strain of CBD more closely, and cannabis therapy for children with epilepsy in general.
Where are we today?
As a result of the above studies, in March of 2019, Michigan was the first state to add cerebral palsy to the list of conditions eligible to be treated with medical marijuana (8). The addition of cerebral palsy as a qualifying condition was approved by Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) after unanimous recommendation from a five-member Medical Marijuana Review Panel.
Other states allow the use of medical marijuana for certain symptoms associated with cerebral palsy, such as pain, muscle spasms, anxiety, and seizures. Meanwhile, people across the country urge researchers to test strains of the drug more closely, in the hopes that there will soon be a consistent, regulated strain which can be used to treat CP and its symptoms safely and legally.
Medical marijuana and the non-intoxicating compound of marijuana, CBD oil, have not been standard treatment options for the symptoms of cerebral palsy (CP)