CBD and Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability to affect children and the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Network estimates that one in 345 children suffer from one form of cerebral palsy or another.
There is mounting evidence to suggest that CBD can be extremely effective in alleviating symptoms of spasticity, not to mention pain and seizures, so does CBD have what it takes to improve the quality of life for CP patients?
CBD and Cerebral Palsy: Can it Help?
Before we jump into the scientific research surrounding CBD and cerebral palsy, let’s take a quick look at what cerebral palsy is and how it manifests in physical symptoms.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, cerebral palsy is defined as:
“a disability resulting from damage to the brain before, during, or shortly after birth and outwardly manifested by muscular incoordination and speech disturbances”.
— Merriam-Webster dictionary
Cerebral palsy is actually a group of five congenital, neurological disorders that affect movement, muscle tone, balance, and posture, which can negatively impact a child’s physical development.
In many cases, cerebral palsy also affects vision, hearing, speech, and sensation, and many people with the disorder also suffer from seizures and tremors. On top of this, cerebral palsy also has a number of co-occurring conditions. Around one in four children with CP suffer from epilepsy and one in 10 suffer from autism spectrum disorder.
Types of Cerebral Palsy and Their Symptoms
Depending on who you speak to, there are four or five different types of cerebral palsy.
The main four types include;
- Hypotonic cerebral palsy.
Spastic cerebral palsy
Involves an abnormal increase in muscle tone and stiffness. Causes stiff and jerky movements, sometimes manifesting in spasms, and patients often feel tightness and chronic pain in their joints.
Ataxic cerebral palsy
Lack of muscle coordination and balance, causing clumsy or jerky movements. Ataxic cerebral palsy can also manifest itself in tremors and cause chronic pain.
Dyskinetic Athetoid cerebral palsy
Uncontrollable and abrupt movements, tremors, and muscle contractions. Can lead to poor posture, twisting of the torso and can be very painful for some people.
Hypotonic cerebral palsy
Abnormally low muscle tone, resulting in loose muscles and flexible joints. People with hypotonic cerebral palsy may have poor balance, lack of head control, and/or difficulty swallowing.
A blend of all four
The fifth type mentioned is mixed type cerebral palsy, which is diagnosed when the patient is displaying symptoms from more than one of the other four types.
Symptoms of cerebral palsy can vary from person to person, depending on what part of the brain was affected. They can also range wildly in severity and may favor one side of the body over the other. Some people may struggle to grasp hold of objects, while others may have difficulty walking or sitting. Symptoms can also increase and decrease in severity over time.
A Brief Introduction to How Cannabinoids Exert Influence
There are well over 100 cannabinoids that have been identified in cannabis and hemp plants, the most famous of which are delta-9 THC and CBD. Cannabinoids are biologically active compounds that are able to influence our body’s processes by interacting with our body’s endocannabinoid systems.
The endocannabinoid system is a complex chemical signaling network that is primarily responsible for helping your body achieve and maintain a state of homeostasis or balance. It is essential in the regulation of many physiological and cognitive functions, including (but not limited to) motor control, pain sensation, sleep, memory, and mood.
It consists of thousands of cannabinoid receptors located throughout our brains and bodies. Cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors are concentrated in the central nervous system, with especially high concentrations found in the basal ganglia, neocortex, hippocampus, cerebellum, and brainstem. Cannabinoid 2 (CB2) receptors are found throughout the body in the peripheral nervous system and immune system.
Our bodies also produce their own naturally occurring, endogenous cannabinoids. Anandamide and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol are just two examples of these endocannabinoid neurotransmitters that carry messages around the brain and body to keep it in balance. Research is only just beginning to uncover how cannabinoids from plants interact with our ECS, activating or inhibiting signals from various receptors throughout our brains and bodies.
A growing number of scientists believe that endocannabinoid system deficiencies could be at the root of all human disease.
Cerebral palsy has no identified cure, but cannabis has been making headlines in helping to alleviate many of the symptoms that manifest in cerebral palsy patients.
Cannabis and Cerebral Palsy
Mounting clinical and anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabis is extremely effective in managing some of the physical symptoms of cerebral palsy, including pain, spasticity, and seizures. If you’d like to see some medical marijuana success stories, then an interesting documentary you should watch is In Pot We Trust (2007), which explores the effects and impact of medical marijuana on several patients with chronic conditions, including cerebral palsy.
Doctors are already able to prescribe medical marijuana to CP patients in some states and it goes without saying that physicians wouldn’t be prescribing cannabis to CP sufferers unless it was working!
So, what is the case for using CBD oil for cerebral palsy?
Medical Marijuana That Doesn’t Get You High
Interestingly, there are many different types of medical marijuana and not all of them get you high. It’s the presence of delta-9 THC that is responsible for the intoxication caused by cannabis and many strains of cannabis grown for medical use actually contain high levels of CBD and very low levels of THC.
High-CBD hemp flower is a type of cannabis that shares most of its characteristics with medical marijuana, including hundreds of other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. However, to be defined as hemp (and therefore be federally legal under the Hemp Farming Act of 2018), the plant must contain 0.3% or less delta-9 THC. Medical marijuana, on the other hand, can (but doesn’t always) contain much higher levels of THC.
So, a bottle of full-spectrum CBD oil, sourced from a reputable and trusted manufacturer, actually has a lot more in common with medical marijuana than you might think!
Can CBD Oil Help With Cerebral Palsy? 5 Reasons it May Help
Unfortunately, CBD oil isn’t going to cure cerebral palsy, but it does have the potential to improve the lives of people suffering from cerebral palsy dramatically by offering better mobility, speech, sleep, and a more pain-free existence.
Evidence suggests that the symptoms CBD has the potential to help the most are;
- Muscle spasms
1. CBD and Spasticity
As mentioned previously, CB1 receptors are found in high abundance in the basal ganglia and cerebellum, which are areas of the brain that control motor function. Our body’s own endocannabinoids have been shown to control spasticity in multiple sclerosis models of mice.
Their research showed that inhibitory effects on spasticity were not the result of CB1 activation, but instead “due to enhancement of endocannabinoid levels and subsequent stimulation of CB receptors.”
So, what does this tell us? As you may already know, THC activates CB1 receptors by binding directly to them, which is how it intoxicates its users, but CBD doesn’t bind to CB1 receptors, meaning that it has the potential to exert powerful therapeutic effects without making the patient high. This makes CBD a far more desirable treatment option to most people, especially where children are involved.
According to the research referenced above, spasticity wasn’t relieved by a compound binding to CBD receptors, but instead by increasing the levels of our own endocannabinoids.
What’s particularly interesting about this finding is that among many other modes of action, both THC and CBD act as reuptake inhibitors of endocannabinoids. This means that they can effectively increase endocannabinoid levels in the brain by preventing them from breaking down and being recycled so quickly.
So, both THC and CBD possess the potential to reduce spasticity, which is probably why many people are turning to CBD oil for spasticity over more-harmful prescription medicines.
EDIT: A human clinical trial is also currently underway, entitled “Full-spectrum Medical Cannabis for Treatment of Spasticity in Patients With Severe Forms of Cerebral Palsy“. Patients will be administered either, full-spectrum medical cannabis (high-CBD, low-THC at a ratio of 10:1) or a placebo, and results are expected in June 2022.
2. CBD and Muscle Spasms (and Dystonia)
There haven’t been a lot of studies focused directly on the use of CBD oil for muscle spasms, but a 2018 research review of all relevant data concluded that (despite the scarcity of research), “CBD seems to be effective on treating dystonic movements, both primary and secondary”.
The authors did also point out that, when it came to MS and Huntington’s disease specifically, clinical benefits were only observed when CBD was combined and administered with THC in a 1:1 ratio, but CBD alone did work in many other cases.
There is also plenty of anecdotal evidence available on the effects of taking CBD for muscles spasms. In this video, you get a brief insight into how CBD completely transformed the life of one lady. Lorna Miller says that after using CBD for around three weeks, the change in her was so dramatic that her friends at church didn’t even recognize her at first.
3. CBD and Tremors
Tremors are also a common symptom of many motor-related diseases, including Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, multiple sclerosis, and ataxic cerebral palsy.
Like with other motor problems, it’s thought that CBD could potentially help to alleviate essential tremors by increasing endocannabinoid tone in the cerebellum and basal ganglia.
The Journal of Psychopharmacology published results of a human clinical trial last year, in which patients with Parkinson’s disease were given 300mg of CBD before undertaking a simulated public speaking test.
The research team found that there were statistically significant differences in the group administered CBD against the group that was administered a placebo, including a reduction in anxiety and tremor amplitude.
Although this research was focused on patients with Parkinson’s disease, you can see why the results would convince many people with ataxic CP to try CBD for essential tremors.
4. CBD and Pain
Depending on the type and severity of the cerebral palsy symptoms suffered, chronic pain is all too often another part of life for CP patients.
CBD is well-known for its analgesic properties, due to various mechanisms of action, as explained in a previous article we published on CBD for pain. The article covers inflammatory pain, as well as more difficult to treat neuropathic pain. We also recommend some of the best CBD products available to help alleviate pain here.
5. CBD and Seizures
CBD stepped into the spotlight roughly ten years ago when one little girl’s CBD success story went viral. Her name was Charlotte Figi and, after exhausting every other treatment option, her parents started treating her with CBD oil at age five. At this point, Charlotte was having approximately 300 seizures per week.
According to her mother, Charlotte was seizure-free for seven days after starting the treatment and her seizures were reduced to just one per month after that. For the first time in over six months, Charlotte laughed, started making eye contact, talking, and walking.
The CBD oil Charlotte took was made by the Stanley Brothers and, subsequently, they named their entire CBD brand after her, Charlotte’s Web.
The anticonvulsant properties of CBD are thought to be mainly attributed to its influence on vanilloid type 1 (TRPV1) receptors, the orphan G-protein coupled receptor-55 (GPR55), and the equilibrative nucleoside transporter 1 (ENT-1).
There have been more human clinical studies monitoring CBD’s effectiveness on seizures and epilepsy than anything else. However, the vast majority of this research focuses on rare, treatment-resistant forms of epilepsy such as Dravet’s syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
One research paper, published back in 2015, found that (according to parents) 85% reported a reduction in seizure frequency, and 14% of those reported complete freedom from seizures. The research team also noted that “A high proportion of respondents reported improvement in sleep (53%), alertness (71%), and mood (63%) during CBD therapy.”
The mountain of evidence supporting CBD’s effectiveness in treating seizures finally culminated in the first-ever CBD-based medication, Epidiolex, receiving approval from the FDA in June 2018, six months before hemp was legalized at the federal level.
CBD and Cerebral Palsy Associated Conditions
Research not only highlights how CBD may be able to help alleviate some of the physical symptoms that manifest in CP but also that it may be used to help to manage associated conditions that often go hand-in-hand with this disorder.
Children with cerebral palsy are also more likely to experience sleep deprivation due to their mobility problems and pain. Further to this, due to inactivity, adults with CP are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular problems.
CBD may also be able to help improve the quality of life of people with CP by helping them sleep better at night, as well as ease feelings of anxiety and depression.
After pain, anxiety and sleep are the second and third most common reasons that people take CBD. There are too many studies to go into here but to give you an idea of how CBD fairs in these areas, we can take a look at a 2019 study that was published in The Permanante Journal that covers both topics.
This human clinical trial involved 72 adults that presented with anxiety or trouble sleeping. Within one month, anxiety scores were reduced in 79% of patients and sleep scores improved in 67% of patients.
Results from Human Clinical Research
There has been just one human study to date, directly involving CBD and cerebral palsy, the results of which were published in the Journal of Child Neurology in 2018.
In this randomized controlled trial, children between the ages of one and 17 with complex motor disorders were treated for five months with one of two CBD-enriched medical cannabis oils. One formula was prepared at a ratio of 20:1 (CBD to THC) and another at 6:1.
Their findings showed “Significant improvement in spasticity and dystonia, sleep difficulties, pain severity, and QOL [quality of life] was observed in the total study cohort, regardless of treatment assignment.”
Full-spectrum CBD oil doesn’t have as much THC as these formulas, but since “significant improvement” was observed “regardless of treatment assignment”, many hope that it can still yield similar results. Especially those living in areas that don’t yet have access to medical marijuana.
Is CBD Safe?
If you have a pre-existing condition (such as CP) or are on medication, you should always consult your physician before introducing CBD into your diet.
Current medications for CP include anticonvulsants and muscle relaxants (valium), which have been shown to produce adverse side effects (including depression). Muscle relaxants also carry the risk of addiction.
CBD, on the other hand, enjoys a remarkably favorable safety profile. Having examined all available evidence, the World Health Organization concluded that CBD is well-tolerated (up to doses of 1,500mg), with no signs of toxicity or serious side effects, offering CBD a good safety profile.
Side effects are infrequent and mild but can include dry mouth, dizziness, drowsiness, diarrhea, decreased appetite, and nausea.
Studies on CBD (in multiple sclerosis) have already demonstrated that CBD administration was so effective at reducing spasms that it led to a decrease in the usage of prescription medications, which can only be a good thing.
CBD Dosing for Cerebral Palsy
Ongoing clinical trials are still trying to determine the best CBD dosages, but anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabinoid therapy may require personalized dosing.
It’s recommended that newcomers to CBD start with a low dose (5/10mg per day) and gradually increase the dose over a long period of time in order to find their sweet spot.
It’s also worth noting that most scientific studies on CBD have utilized pure CBD isolate, which most likely limits the effectiveness of the compound. It is widely accepted that CBD’s efficacy is increased when administered as a whole-plant remedy (full-spectrum product) due to botanical synergy.
This phenomenon is called the entourage effect, where multiple plant compounds work together (cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other inactive substances) to produce maximum pharmacological effects.
Summary: CBD Oil for Cerebral Palsy
A lot more research is needed when it comes to CBD’s efficacy in helping CP patients directly, but evidence does suggest that CBD has great potential in improving the quality of life of people living with CP.
Multiple studies have shown reductions in spasticity, spasms, tremors, pain, sleep difficulties, and anxiety and depression. Considering CBD’s more favorable safety profile against prescription drugs, it does make it an incredibly attractive option.