Monday, January 1, 2018

Medical Cannabis Benefits: Treating Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s disease is an inherited progressive degenerative disease that causes nerve cells in the basal ganglia of the brain to waste away. The disease, also commonly referred to as HD or Huntington’s chorea, causes psychiatric disorders and affects a person’s movement and cognitive abilities. People with Huntington’s disease are born with the defective gene, as there’s a 50 percent chance of getting it if one parent has the disease, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. However, symptoms most commonly don’t develop until middle age.

Movement-related symptoms of Huntington’s disease typically begin with uncontrolled movements, balance problems, and overall clumsiness. Patients can experience dystonia, involuntary jerking movements, and impaired gait and posture. Eventually, the disease can take away the ability to walk, talk, and swallow. Cognitive impairments commonly associated with the disease can include a difficulty organizing, prioritizing, and focusing on tasks, a tendency to get stuck on a thought or action, difficulty learning new information, and a lack of impulse control. The most common psychiatric disorder caused by Huntington’s disease is depression, but the disease can also lead to insomnia, fatigue and loss of energy, social withdrawal, and feelings of irritability, sadness, and apathy.

Functional, cognitive, and psychiatric health worsens over time after the onset of Huntington’s disease. The rate of disease progression and duration varies, but eventually a person requires daily living help. There is no cure for the disorder, but some medications can help manage symptoms. Additionally, physical, occupational, speech, and psychotherapies can help patients address movement, behavioral, and psychiatric problems.
Research has shown that cannabis helps slow the progression of Huntington’s disease through its interaction with the endocannabinoid system. After studies determined that Huntington’s disease was related to a loss of cannabinoid receptors in the basal ganglia, researchers set out to examine whether increasing endocannabinoid activity could be therapeutically beneficial for treating the disease. Results have been encouraging.

In preclinical trials, the major cannabinoids found in cannabis have been found to be effective at protecting the life of neurons in the brain. Research has shown that through the activation of cannabinoid 2 receptors (CB2), the inflammation and toxicity of microglial cells is reduced, which in turn slows the neurodegeneration caused by Huntington’s disease. Through the activation of cannabinoid 1 receptors (CB1), cannabinoids have shown to effectively alleviate specific motor symptoms like tremors and movement disorders and reduce the process in which neurons are damaged and killed to slow the progression of the disease.

Additionally, studies examining the effect of cannabis-based medications on Huntington’s disease have proven cannabinoids effective at delaying the progression of the disorder.

Researchers suggest that targeting the cannabinoid system with cannabinoids may have a potential therapeutic benefit for treating basal ganglia disorders like Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease. Cannabinoids are effective at providing neuroprotection through three methods: reducing inflammation by activating CB2 receptors, limiting cell death by activating CB1 receptors, and providing an antioxidant effect through a mechanism independent of cannabinoid receptors. Studies also indicate that cannabinoids are effective at reducing muscle spasms and the inability to concentrate through their direct activation of vanilloid TRPV(1) receptors.

Currently, Maine, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have approved medical cannabis for the treatment of Huntington’s disease.

Huntington’s disease patients may be able to get legal access to medical cannabis in other states. In Washington D.C., any condition recommended by DC-licensed physician can be approved for medical cannabis. California allows medical cannabis for “any debilitating illness where the medical use of cannabis has been deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician.’” In Connecticut, “other medical conditions may be approved by the Department of Consumer Protection.” Huntington’s disease patients in Massachusetts may be able to get legal access, as the state approves “other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician.” The state of Washington allows medical cannabis for “any terminal or debilitating condition.” In Nevada, Oregon, and Rhode Island, “other conditions are subject to approval."

The administration of substances that increase endocannabinoid activity caused a significant improvement of motor disturbances and neurochemical deficits in mice with Huntington’s disease.
Alleviation of motor hyperactivity and neurochemical deficits by endocannabinoid uptake inhibition in a rat model of Huntington’s disease.

Beneficial Cannabinoids and Terpenoids Useful for Treating Huntington’s Disease

The cannabis plant offers a plethora of therapeutic benefits and contains cannabinoids and terpenoid compounds that are useful for treating the symptoms of Huntington’s Disease. While most of the ongoing research focuses on CBD and THC, the following list also denotes which cannabinoids and terpenoids work synergistically with each other for possible therapeutic benefit. It may be beneficial to seek out strains that contain these cannabinoids and terpenoids.

Americans For Safe Access Condition-based Booklets
These booklets summarize the history of medical cannabis and the recent research used to treat a variety of conditions, including Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Pain, Arthritis, Gastrointestinal Disorders, Movement Disorders, HIV/AIDS, and conditions related to Aging. (About Americans For Safe Access)

Movement Disorders

The therapeutic use of cannabis for treating muscle problems and movement disorders has been known to western medicine for nearly two centuries.


Cannabis has been found to help many patients suffering from conditions that afflict older patients, including arthritis, chronic pain, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and spasticity associated with such diseases as Parkinson’s.

Article: "How to Qualify for Medical Cannabis in New Mexico"


Dowie, M.J., Bradshaw, H.B., Howard, M.L., Nicholson, L.F., Faull, R.L., Hannan, A.J., and Glass, M. (2009, September). Altered CB1 receptor and endocannabinoid levels precede motor symptom onset in a transgenic mouse model of Huntington’s disease. Neuroscience, 163(1), 456-65. Retrieved from

Fernández-Ruiz, J., Pazos, M.R., García-Arencibia, M., Sagredo, O., and Ramos, J.A. (2008, April). Role of CB2 receptors in neuroprotective effects of cannabinoids. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, 286(1-2 Suppl 1): S91-6. Retrieved from

Huntington’s Disease. (2016, February 24). MedlinePlus. Retrieved from

Huntington’s disease. (2014, July 24). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from

Latres-Becker, I., Hansen, H.H., Berrendero, F., De Miguel, R., Pérez-Rosado, A., Manzanares, J., Ramos, J.A., and Fernández-Ruiz, J. (2002, April). Alleviation of motor hyperactivity and neurochemical deficits by endocannabinoid uptake inhibition in a rat model of Huntington’s disease. Synapse, 44(1), 23-35. Retrieved from

Pazos, M.R., Sagredo, O., and Fernández-Ruiz, J. (2008). The endocannabinoid system in Huntington’s disease. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 14(23), 2317-25. Retrieved from

Sagredo, O., García-Arencibia, M., de Lago, E., Finetti, S., Decio, A., and Fernández-Ruiz, J. (2007, August). Cannabinoids and neuroprotection in basal ganglia disorders. Molecular Neurobiology, 36(1), 82-91. Retrieved from