Muscle spasms can leave you feeling like you’ve lost total control of your body. Whether it’s rigid limbs or general muscle twitching, many sufferers are switching to medical cannabis in an attempt to harness the plant’s antispasmodic properties. The evidence, scientific and anecdotal, is building in favor of treating spasms with cannabis, and patients in the U.S. and abroad are finding relief. Cannabis is also thought to be helpful in treating other muscle-related disorders.
Muscle spasms explained
When a muscle suddenly contracts, it’s referred to as a muscle spasm. Sometimes it’s just the one muscle that’s affected, on other occasions it can be an entire group. Spasms vary in frequency and severity – the pain may come in short, sharp bursts, or it may be delivered in extended, crippling fashion. The worst muscle spasms can even cause groups of muscles to “lock up”, inducing temporary paralysis.
The San Diego School of Medicine at the University of California carried out a study on muscle spasms and cannabis in 2012, and they reported positive findings. The researchers analysed the responses of 30 Multiple Sclerosis patients with walking impairments. One group was administered a synthetic THC treatment, while the other was given a placebo. Several patients were dependent on walking aids to manage their condition.
The group that smoked synthetic THC cannabis experienced around a 30% reduction in muscle spasticity, compared to the patients who took the placebo. The THC group also agreed that their muscles were causing less pain.
Muscle spasms and contractions can be caused by many factors. Some, and these tend to be the most serious, can be the side effect of another disorder. Dehydration and remaining still for long periods can also lead to spasms and contractions.
Medical cannabis can have all kinds of positive impacts for various kinds of muscle spasms. The best cannabis product for you (consider the method of delivery and non-psychoactive CBD) is often determined by the types of spasms that you’re experiencing. Sometimes, cannabis acts to hide the symptoms of muscle spasms. However, some research indicates that in specific scenarios, cannabis works directly to treat the root of the problem (i.e. the disorder causing the spasms).
Different types of spasms? Different types of cannabis products? If you’re feeling a bit intimidated by this first section, rest assured, we’re going to break the facts down in to an easy-to-digest format.
Cannabis and cramps
Up to 1 in 3 Americans suffer with some sort of muscle spasms, typically foot and calve cramps while in bed. The shooting pain from these cramps is sometimes painful enough to wake the affected person up – it’s not always easy to find a working treatment for these cramps, either.
Scientists have yet to ascertain just why painful cramps occur in some people but not in others. Poor blood circulation and bad lifestyle choices are easy targets when looking to place blame, but vitamin deficiencies (particularly a lack of potassium and magnesium) can play a role. Poor circulation can be caused by laying or sitting in the same position for too long.
Cannabis sadly won’t cure these cramps, but it can have a significant impact in easing the symptoms – notably the pain – from them. Since muscle spasms affect a certain area of the body, cannabis creams tend to be the best method of delivery, as they combat the spasms in a localized manner. Furthermore, not even THC creams will get you high when you apply them onto the skin.
The ideal time to spread on a cannabis cream is immediately after a cramp starts – this allows your muscles to begin relaxing as quickly as possible.
The growth of cannabis topicals
Did you know that the cannabis industry beyond the herb itself and edibles? Cannabis topicals are enjoying increased recognition, with infused balms, creams and salves of varying cannabinoid profiles typically the products of choice. Even better, these topicals double up as beauty products – cannabinoids are great for the skin, and many creams also include essential oils. Marijuana topicals don’t get you high either, hence you can medicate with THC without feeling baked.
The effectiveness of cannabis creams is not in doubt, although topicals rarely receive the spotlight. For treating chronic pain and muscle spasms, these products are perfect, as they are applied to a localized, affected area. This means the THC and CBD cannabinoids can link up with the cannabinoid receptors in the part of the body that most needs relief.
Cannabis topicals can help with cramps and spasms all over the body, from your neck to your glutes.
Using cannabis creams
To medicate with marijuana creams, simply apply some of the product to an affected joint or spastic muscle and top up every half an hour or so. It’s important to keep the affected area well circulated, so consider remaining active while medicating and perhaps undertake some light stretching exercises. If you still find no relief after using marijuana topicals, consult a doctor about your spasms or assess your diet for any nutrient deficiencies that may be causing them.
You don’t have to treat your cramps with cannabis topicals, smoking bud or indulging in a tasty edible will produce similar results, albeit at varying speeds. The unique advantage of topicals is that they combat the problem head-on, by directly treating the affected spot.
If you’re seeking a low-cost way of using cannabis skin products, you could even make your own. Coconut oil is great for rubbing on your skin and is the perfect base for a topical.
How can I benefit from medical marijuana?
Muscle spasms are sometimes brought on by injuries. Musculoskeletal disorders are especially prone to causing spasms – these occur when a muscle has been overused or repeatedly injured.
Musculoskeletal disorders are much more common than you’d perhaps imagine, and they aren’t necessarily the result of serious injury. Overuse of muscles doesn’t have to involve heavy work either – typing for hours on end can throw up similar muscular issues to a long day of intense manual labour.
The level of physical exertion required to do a task can be irrelevant in causing strain. For example, somebody who works at a desk on their computer for a living is repeatedly making the same muscular movements with their fingers, hands and wrists. A manual labourer, on the other hand, puts strain on their lower back, legs, hips and maybe other areas depending on the work. Repeatedly using those muscles for weeks, months and years – without extended breaks – can lead to inflammation. If a muscle is inflamed, then the likelihood that it will spasm increases.
However, marijuana has anti-inflammatory properties. This helps to reduce pain and eliminate the inflammation at its source. Once the inflammation is treated, muscle spasms should clear up.
What makes cannabis an anti-inflammatory?
When the body is injured or invaded, it’s natural response is to become inflamed. Unfortunately, muscle spasms are one of the most common symptoms of muscle spasms. Inflammation affects joints, nerve cells, tendons and muscles – without treatment, inflammation will continue to harm affected tissues.
Cannabis can modulate your body’s immune response, which helps facilitate the healing process. Immune cells are activated as soon as an injury occurs, hence why it’s important to act quickly.
As scientists have become more familiar with the endocannabinoid system, their understanding of how it influences the immune system has improved. The cannabinoids (CBD, THC etc) found in cannabis work as catalysts, and sends different messages to the cells responsible for post-injury swelling.
Cannabis is an anti-inflammatory, whatever the method of delivery. Once the cannabinoids have made it into the bloodstream, they can begin linking up with receptors in the ECS and change how the body responds to injury. If you are enduring inflammation-related pain throughout your body, then smoking, vaping or cannabis edibles should serve you well. If your pain is specific to certain areas, then experimenting with localized treatments such as creams and transdermal patches is recommended.
Treating spastic disorder with cannabis
We mentioned further up that cannabis doesn’t just cover-up inflammation and reduce pain as it occurs, but that it can even treat the cause directly in some scenarios. As yet, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is yet to recognize cannabis as medicine for muscle spasms, nor has the agency conducted trials to determine marijuana’s potential at combatting any condition.
Therefore, take the following with a pinch of salt, but bear in mind that many have found a level of success with cannabis that they haven’t with their existing medications.
The conditions we are going to talk about are all the result of brain disorders, which tend to cause spasticity. Neurological disorders that occur due to the brain’s chemical imbalances lead to muscle spasms.
These muscle spasms cannot be treated with cannabis topicals, as this type of treatment doesn’t take cannabinoids to where they are needed – the brain. Inhaling or orally-consuming cannabis is required in this case. Science on how cannabis interacts with the brain is far from comprehensive, and only with more research can we fully get to grips on how cannabinoids work. However, we are aware that they have a modulating effect, and send the necessary signals to maintain homeostasis.
Cannabis and muscle spasms
In this section, we will look at epilepsy, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis, and discuss the most recent cannabis research into these conditions. Once again, there remain plenty of gaps in the science, but the findings are fascinating nonetheless.
Chemical imbalances can be traced back to the synapses. When the body wants to communicate, nerve cells secrete specific molecules, which sends a signal to other cells – that signal is taken on-board and acted upon.
Epileptic conditions are types of neurological disorders that are the result of chemical imbalances. Scientists are uncertain as to why some people get epilepsy and others don’t, although it’s a growing belief that the endocannabinoid system may bear at least some responsibility.
Many adults with epilepsy are turning to cannabis after reports that compounds, and non-intoxicating CBD especially, can have a beneficial impact by reducing the frequency of seizures. CBD is, after THC, generally the second-most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis, although strains are now being specifically bred to have high concentrations of CBD, and minimal amounts of psychoactive THC. Therefore, if you smoke a CBD-dominant strain, it won’t make you high.
Dr Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s Chief Medical Advisor, was once a cannabis sceptic. But after producing a documentary for the channel in 2013 that looked at how children were finding relief from serious, medication-resistant epilepsy through cannabis oils, Gupta did a 180 on his marijuana stance. The documentary, title Weed, was memorable for the story of six-year-old Charlotte Figi, a child patient whose Dravet syndrome was treated with high-CBD oil.
What happened next was truly a miracle. From having to go through 300 grand mal seizures every single week, Charlotte’s seizures cleared up completely in the space of a week. The results stunned her parents, doctors and perhaps even the entire cannabis community.
Studies have shown that CBD has prominent anticonvulsant properties. While there are still grey areas in understanding exactly how CBD reduces epileptic convulsions, it’s thought that the compound calms hyperactivity in the brain. CBD improves the communication network between cells, ensuring that the right signals get sent through at the right time. CBD helps to stop the surge in spastic messages that are sent to the brain when an epileptic convulsion is set to occur.
Cannabis can also prevent brain damage that happens during and post-seizure, thanks to the neuroprotective properties of CBD.
Marijuana researchers in Spain carried out a study involving pigs back in 2008 that investigate whether CBD helped to reduce the damage caused by brain injury. The researchers temporarily stopped blood flowing to important arteries in the brains of the piglets, then treated one group with CBD and the other with a control.
After the researchers removed the block, all of the piglets given control experienced a seizure. Remarkably, while this happened to half of the piglets treated with CBD, the other half remained seizure-free. Furthermore, the brain cells of pigs administered CBD were 50 percent healthier than those without it.
The Spanish research team concluded that CBD could indeed be used to limit brain damage, and the compound was also beneficial to the heart.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, after the famous ballplayer, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) damages the brain cells that control voluntary movement. When ALS strikes, motor neurons situated in the spinal cord and brain start to break down – scientists haven’t yet worked out why. When this happens, patients suffer increasing problems with voluntary movement as they lose control over their limbs.
As ALS worsens, patients generally become weaker and more likely to experience muscle spasms. With time, speech becomes more difficult.
ALS patients often don’t survive for more than two or three years after being diagnosed, as the lack of muscle use causes them to waste away. However, famous theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking managed to live for more than 50 years after getting ALS.
ALS is a peculiar disease that scientists have always struggled to understand. The root cause remains unknown, although researchers have suspicions that immune system disruption and chemical imbalances may be to blame.
However, many have found that cannabis helps them to manage their ALS, and there are a few pre-clinical studies that have emerged over the past 15 years suggesting they are correct. The research indicates that marijuana can slow the onset of ALS, allowing patients to live longer and enjoy a better quality of life.
In 2006, researchers assessed endocannabinoid levels among ALS-induced mice. Their studies found that the progression of ALS was stifled in mice that had lower levels of the FAAH enzyme. An unhelpful enzyme, FAAH breaks down cannabinoids – hence the mice with fewer FAAH enzymes had more cannabinoids to fight ALS.
More research is now needed to confirm whether this research into the endocannabinoid system, FAAH and cannabis regarding ALS treatment is accurate.
One of the main symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is inflammation. An immune disorder, MS inflames both the brain and spinal column. A random trigger causes the body to start making inflammatory immunities for no reason, and these are harmful.
MS causes an array of serious symptoms that have a negative impact on quality of life. Muscles lock up and become stiff and can start twitching at random intervals. Temporary blindness and blurred vision are also regular symptoms.
Sharp, painful muscle spasms can occur from this inflammation, and inflammation in the brain causes significant disruption to other signals the body sends. Over time, vital neurons are killed off due to swelling in the brain.
The exact cause of this unwanted swelling comes from the immune system and chemical imbalance. MS patients can benefit from taking cannabis, an anti-inflammatory herb that helps regulate how the body responds to inflammation. Marijuana promotes a healthy immune system, and therefore it’s possible that the plant could be a direct treatment for MS.
The symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease can be difficult to explain, but actor Michael J. Fox, who has dealt with the condition since 1991, perhaps summed it up best. His analogy was that Parkinson’s feels like getting stuck in the middle of the street and being unable to move out the way of the oncoming bus.
Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disorder. Motor neurons are activated by dopamine, but when the neurons that are meant to secrete dopamine unexpectedly die off, the effects are debilitating. Stiff and rigid muscles, involuntary movement, chronic pain, sleeping troubles, shaking limbs, tremors are all commonly-reported symptoms.
Sadly, this is another disorder where the root cause is yet to be identified. Although, if there’s any good news, is that scientists believe the endocannabinoid system may hold some answers. According to studies, Parkinson’s is most prevalent in patients with abnormal endocannabinoid levels in the parts of the brain that are affected by the disorders. Endocannabinoids are similar to CBD, THC and other cannabinoids in cannabis, except they are made naturally and endogenously. Endocannabinoids control many functions, including our memory, movement, mood, appetite and immune system.
In 2014, researchers conducted a study where Parkinson’s patients smoked cannabis, and were then examined half an hour later. The United Parkinsons’ Disease Rating Score (UPDRS) is a tool used by doctors to determine the severity and progression of Parkinson’s in each person – the researchers also used this scale to establish whether cannabis brought actual improvements.
The participants experienced an average drop of 9.9 points on the UPD scale, from 33.1 to 23.2 – a major reduction, which translates to much-improved motor functions.
On a general note, Parkinson’s patients who take marijuana as treatment find their quality of life is enhanced as a result. Those suffering from advanced Parkinson’s may still experience some shaking and tremors, but cannabis can still help to reduce pain and tackle the side effects of other PD medicines.
Over the past decade or so, research into cannabis has increased majorly thanks to relaxed legislation that makes it possible to comprehensive study the herb and its compound. Hopefully, this article has given you a summary as to where science currently is in terms of working out what causes neurodegenerative disorders and epilepsy, and how cannabis can help.
Has cannabis (or CBD products specifically) helped you eliminate muscle spasms? If so, share your experiences in the comments!