Huntington’s disease is a progressive, fatal disease caused by a hereditary gene defect. No cure exists, and many of the medications used to relieve the symptoms cause unpleasant side effects or worsening symptoms. While cannabis for Huntington’s disease is not a cure, it may offer some relief of symptoms without the negative side effects.
What Is Huntington’s Disease?
Huntington’s disease is a progressive, fatal disease caused by a hereditary gene defect. No cure exists, and many of the medications used to relieve the symptoms cause unpleasant side effects or worsening symptoms. While cannabis for Huntington’s disease is not a cure, it may offer some relief of symptoms without the negative side effects. Huntington’s disease is a fatal genetic disease that affects the patient’s functioning, both physically and cognitively. It affects the nerves in the brain, which progressively break down over time. Huntington’s disease stems from a gene defect. About 30,000 Americans show symptoms of the disease. Another 200,000 are at risk of inheriting Huntington’s disease.
Symptoms of Huntington’s Disease
The signs of Huntington’s disease typically develop in the 30s or 40s. However, the disease onset sometimes starts earlier. Juvenile Huntington’s disease is considered a situation when the onset occurs before age 20. About ten percent of Huntington’s disease cases occur in children or adolescents. The symptoms may be slightly different for a patient with early onset. The disease may also progress faster in those early onset situations. The symptoms of the condition fall into three main categories: movement, cognitive and psychiatric. The symptoms are often wide-ranging within each of the categories, and they don’t always present in the same order in all patients. The progression of Huntington’s disease is often described in three general phases. The symptoms and the speed of progression may vary, but patients move through the same three phases eventually. The first stage, sometimes called early stage Huntington’s disease, describes subtle changes during the initial onset. The patient may have some difficulty with coordination and involuntary movements. The symptoms start to have an impact on the patient’s life, including work and home activities. The middle stage causes an increase in movement problems. The patient may begin losing speech and having difficulty swallowing. Therapists may become involved to help deal with the continued progression of the disease. The patient has more difficulty handling regular activities. The late stage is described as the period when the patient depends on others for care. Symptoms become very severe, with a high risk of choking. At this stage, the patient is often unable to talk or walk.
While anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, and anti-seizure drugs are often prescribed for a sufferer of Huntington’s disease, each of these drugs comes with a host of possible negative side effects. Aside from the possibility of overdose, these drugs carry a high risk of dependency and addiction as well. They may cause nausea, insomnia, or gastrointestinal problems. Worse still, many of these drugs can actually cause, or contribute to the worsening of, depression or other psychiatric conditions.
Medical marijuana, on the other hand, does not carry with it many of these negative side effects, yet it may help to reduce tension and anxiety as well as help reduce nausea, restlessness, or insomnia. Researchers believe Huntington’s disease may be strongly connected to the body’s endocannabinoid system, which responds to the cannabinoids in marijuana. That connection could aid in relief found from using marijuana for Huntington’s disease. Dystonia, which is often associated with Huntington’s disease, can cause pain. Medical cannabis is a known pain reliever, which can help ease the discomfort felt by the patient. Marijuana often minimizes feelings of nausea, and it tends to stimulate the appetite. Patients with Huntington’s disease often have a loss of appetite and lose weight as the disease progresses. That appetite stimulation may help combat that symptom of the disease in some patients. CBD, a cannabinoid found in medical marijuana, may have a neuroprotective effect on the brain. Huntington’s disease seems to react positively to neuroprotective drugs, which means CBD could have a positive effect on the disease as well. CBD has an antioxidant quality that shows signs of helping neurons. THC may also minimize the jerky movements associated with Huntington’s disease. Reducing those movements can provide relief and make it easier to complete normal tasks. Cannabis can be effective in not only treating the symptoms of Huntington’s disease, but it can also counteract the side effects of medication taken for the disease.