Huntington’s disease (HD) is a disorder inherited from a sufferer’s parents which result in the death of brain cells. According to The Huntington’s Society of America, 30 thousand people in the U.S. suffer from Huntington’s Disease. While there is no cure for Huntington’s Disease, treatment focuses on slowing the progress of the disease and managing symptoms. Here, we’ll explore Huntington’s Disease, how it’s usually treated, and how cannabis can help.
What is Huntington’s Disease?
Huntington’s Disease plagues sufferers via a mutated protein that attacks the brain’s cells. Over time, the degeneration of brain cells leads to a host of symptoms. Onset typically begins between ages of 35 and 45 and starts with subtle changes in personality, cognition, and motor skills. Over time, these symptoms gradually worsen and cause chorea or uncontrollable jerky movements. Sleep disturbances are also common as the disease progresses. As more brain cells are destroyed, cognitive and physical symptoms become worse, with decreasing motor skills and worse cognitive, memory, and emotional function.
HD is usually inherited from the patient’s parents, although 10% of cases occur due to a new mutation. If an affected person has a child, that child has a 50% chance of inheriting the disease. Genetic testing can diagnose the disease before symptoms occur, which is an important decision for prospective parents.
As there is no cure for Huntington’s Disease, treatment is focused on slowing the progression of the disease and managing its symptoms. Physical therapy is often used to help minimize falling injuries. Due to difficulty swallowing, a feeding tube may also be utilized.
In 2008, the FDA approved Tetrabenazine to help treat chorea in Huntington’s Disease patients. However, this treatment comes with a host of possible side effects which include:
- Suicidal thoughts
Patients who experience any of these symptoms as a result of medication are left wanting a safer alternative.
Cannabis Treatment Shows Promise
Sleep disturbances suffered by Huntington’s Disease patients is relatively common. In a study done on Sativex, another cannabis-based medication, researchers found that the medication significantly improved the quality of sleep in subjects, making it both longer and more restful. As a result, they note that the quality of life of the patients increased substantially. For those who struggle with Huntington’s Disease, Sativex may improve their quality of sleep as well.
A study on cannabis for the treatment of movement disorders found that cannabinoid receptors in the brain are involved in regulating motor activity. The researchers pointed out that influencing these receptors via the use of cannabinoids can help control movement disorders such as Huntington’s Disease chorea, among others.
Another study conducted in 2006 found that the body’s natural cannabinoid system is involved in the progression of the disease. Because of this, the researchers noted that influencing this system via the use of cannabinoids could help in treating the progression of HD. They recommend further studies to see what potential other cannabinoids may hold in treating the ailment.
Most promisingly, researchers examining Nabilone, a cannabis-based medication, state that the medication not only helps ease symptoms of Huntington’s Disease such as chorea but also provides neuroprotective qualities. In other words, the medication protects against the disease’s ability to kill brain cells! In delaying or outright stopping the damage, Nabilone may not only treat symptoms, but also the disease itself.
While the literature on the relationship between Huntington’s Disease and cannabis is sparse, what research has been conducted shows promise. As experts have said, further research on the subject is warranted. At the very least, it seems conclusive that some cannabis-based medications effectively treat the symptoms of Huntington’s Disease. Whether or not it can treat the root of the disease remains to be seen, but the future looks promising for cannabis as a treatment for Huntington’s Disease.