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Could cannabis be the answer to Bell’s Palsy?

Cannabis is helping people suffering from all kinds of ailments all around the world – research over the past few years has highlighted just how much medical potential the herb has. The herb is often used to combat chronic pain and treat inflammatory conditions, but the neuroprotectant properties of some of marijuana’s compounds has led people to question whether it could be used as a medication for Bell’s Palsy and similar neurological conditions.

Unfortunately, there are a few working treatments available right now for Bell’s Palsy, and the science on the potential for cannabis to treat the condition is incomplete. However, that hasn’t stopped people from self-medicating with marijuana, and there’s a glut of anecdotal evidence which shows the plant may indeed be effective.

What is Bell’s Palsy?

Bell’s Palsy is a neurological condition that causes weakness down one side of the face, typically due to “facial nerve” damage. The onset of Bell’s Palsy tends to be sudden and rapid. Facial nerve damage disrupts communication networks between the brain and face, inducing temporary paralysis. Scientists often refer to the facial nerve as the seventh cranial nerve.

While facial paralysis is fairly rare, Bell’s Palsy is one of the more common types of it, with around 40,000 people afflicted with the condition every year. The condition usually only affects nerves in one side of the face, however sometimes it can damage both.

The symptoms of Bell’s Palsy are, to the untrained eye, similar to that of a stroke, however there is no connection between the two. Drooling, jaw pain, general weakness, droopy eyes and an inability to move facial muscles are common Bell’s Palsy symptoms.

Patients with specific underlying medical conditions are more likely to get Bell’s Palsy, says the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). These conditions include viral infections, HIV, trauma, high blood pressure, tumors and chronic middle ear infection.

Treating Bell’s Palsy with marijuana

While research into cannabis and Bell’s Palsy is severely lacking, researchers are studying whether cannabinoid medicines could help to combat the paralysing symptoms of the conditions. Topical cannabis, which interacts primarily with skin-based cannabinoid receptors, is currently thought to be the most promising type of cannabis medication.

Without further clinical and preclinical research, no official progress on Bell’s Palsy is going to be made. However, here are five reasons why marijuana should be comprehensively studied and trialled as a medication.

1) Cannabis is an anti-inflammatory

Bell’s Palsy symptom emerge due to inflammation or compression of the facial nerve. Since cannabis is an anti-inflammatory, with the THC compound thought to be 20 times more potent than aspirin, it’s no wonder scientists want to investigate whether the herb can treat Bell’s Palsy and other neurological conditions.

Indeed, there are studies showing that marijuana is able to calm inflammation in nerve cells linked with debilitating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. A 2016 study found that psychoactive THC reduced inflammation among rodent models induced with the disease.

Not every Bell’s Palsy symptom may be treatable by reducing inflammation, however research points toward it playing a crucial role. Multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy patients may also experience benefits from using medical marijuana.

2) Some cannabis compounds are neuroprotective antioxidants

Several cannabis compounds are being noted for their neuroprotectant and antioxidant effects, which have been revealed in preclinical research. Antioxidants tackle damaging free radicals that attack the skin and inside the body – these toxins are found in pollution, smoke and more.

The neuroprotective antioxidant compounds in cannabis may be able to reduce nerve cell damage, which in turn could help ease Bell’s Palsy symptoms by quelling inflammation.

Despite the lack of research, the U.S. federal government has interestingly picked up on these cannabis properties and have patented cannabinoids as neuroprotectants and antioxidants. This is somewhat contradictory considering Washington has been steadfast in its opposition to cannabis for nearly a century and still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I substance, which declares it to have “no currently accepted medical use.” Neurological traumas and inflammatory conditions are classed as neurological conditions, and therefore treatable by “neuroprotectants.”

3) Bell’s Palsy-related conditions

Studies on cannabis and Bell’s Palsy may be in short supply, but there is a plethora of them on cannabis and closely related conditions. Preclinical research has shown cannabis may be effective in treating viral herpes, diabetes and HIV.

Cannabis is thought to sharpen up T-cells, which helps them spot and kill viruses – essential for HIV patients. Research into the herpes virus has found that some cannabis compounds stop infected, foreign cells from replicating inside the body.

Diabetes-related inflammation can be soothed by cannabidiol (CBD) and the more obscure tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV). Human trials have identified that these compounds improve insulin sensitivity.

4) Headaches

Cannabis has been used as an alternative medicine for headaches for hundreds of years, up until the herb was banned in the 20th century. Bell’s Palsy patients tend to suffer from plenty of headaches.

Not all headaches are the same, however tension headaches and migraines are often medicated successfully through marijuana. There’s no guarantee that cannabis will absolve somebody of all their headache pain, however many headache sufferers find that it significantly reduces the severity of the pain. High-THC strains ease headaches by giving the user a euphoric boost, letting them forget about the pain, whereas high-CBD strains work on reducing pain perception in the endocannabinoid system.

5) Pain

In addition to treating headache pain, cannabis products can also soothe jaw and facial pain that occurs due to Bell’s Palsy. THC is a potent analgesic when microdosed, and in such quantities the hallucinogenic chemical will not make you high. The pain-relieving properties of CBD are also well-documented.

CBD is not considered to have psychoactive effects in the normal sense, although some argue that the mood-influencing effects are technically psychoactive. More importantly, CBD is a potent muscle relaxant, brings much-needed calm and can boost a person’s sense of well-being.

Some patients find that larger doses of THC actually increase pain. If using cannabis to treat pain, opting for one-to-one strains that have balanced concentrations of CBD and THC are more powerful than those with lopsided ratios. In fact, in the United Kingdom, Multiple Sclerosis patients are able to access a cannabinoid medicine that treats pain and spasticity. Sativex, which is manufactured by GW Pharmaceutical, consists of equal amounts of the two cannabinoids.

Best cannabis strains for treating Bell’s Palsy

The absence of research has led some Bell’s Palsy patients to take matters into their own hands and dabble with cannabis treatment for themselves. You should always consult a doctor well-versed in marijuana before attempting to self-medicate and adding a strain to your treatment plan, but these strains are thought to be helpful:

  • Cannatonic – a mood-boosting high-CBD strain
  • Harlequin – a relaxing high-CBD strain
  • Pennywise – a one-to-one strain, great for the entourage effect
  • Purple Kush – a high-THC indica with sedative effects
  • Blue Dream – a mood-lifting high-THC strain
  • Super Sour Diesel – an energizing high-THC strain
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