Cannabis is a Significant Treatment for ALS Patients, Study Suggests

With the incidence of ALS increasing in frightening proportions across the world, sufferers of this dreaded disease may now find some comfort in using marijuana to help alleviate their symptoms. Notable individuals who have been diagnosed with ALS include baseball great Lou Gehrig.


ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Translated from the Latin it means: “No muscle nourishment.” When a muscle has no nourishment, it “atrophies” or wastes away. “Lateral” identifies the areas in a person’s spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that signal and control the muscles are located. As this area degenerates it leads to scarring or hardening (“sclerosis”) in the region.

Eventually, as the disease progresses, the signals from the brain to initiate movement of skeletal muscles no longer functions properly leading to paralysis. When the disease affects the diaphragm (a muscle for breathing) it can lead to respiratory failure and death.


Currently, there is no cure and no effective medication to halt the progression of this disease. It is 100% fatal.

About 15 new cases are diagnosed each day (US statistics). Survival is slim. Half of all people affected with ALS live at least three or more years after diagnosis. Twenty percent live five years or more; up to ten percent will live more than ten years. Once ALS starts, it almost always progresses, eventually taking away the ability to walk, dress, write, speak, swallow, and breathe and shortening the life span. How fast and in what order this occurs is very different from person to person.

In Europe, the incidence of this disease parallels the US with approximately 2.16 cases per 100,000 person-years. Men are affected more often. ALS incidence is homogeneous across Europe.


Recently Dr. Jacob Kaufman, a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania Department of Neurology, performed a survey of 127 patients suffering from ALS who attended their clinic. He stated the following in a publication in the journal Neurology in his 2014 study titled “Medical Marijuana Utilization and Perceived Therapeutic Value in Patients with ALS”:

Cannabis has immunomodulatory [capable of regulating immune functions] properties and effects upon excitotoxicity [process by which neurons are damaged] that suggest that it might have a disease-modifying role in ALS [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease]. There have also been some anecdotal reports suggesting that marijuana may be effective in alleviating certain ALS symptoms…

Out of 127 patients, 102 completed the survey. Surprisingly, just over twenty percent of responders (21%) reported using medical marijuana to treat their ALS symptoms. The majority of those that used marijuana considered it very effective in providing appetite stimulation (75%), aiding sleep (65%), relieving anxiety (80%), relieving depression (70%), and providing muscle relaxation (60%).

The authors conclusions demonstrated that those patients using medical marijuana reported a significant treatment effect on many ALS symptoms.

This is a terrible disease which affects much more than skeletal movement. As you can see from their survey questions, many of the problems patients have to deal with are mental/emotional issues such as insomnia, anxiety, depression and loss of appetite.

While it may be years before effective pharmaceuticals are marketed, ALS patients may find that marijuana will allow them to live a more functional life allowing them to sleep better, reducing anxiety and increasing appetite along with several other positive benefits.

It’s interesting to note that Pennsylvania is NOT a medical marijuana state. These patients are going underground to find their medicine. It’s more proof that cannabis is an excellent addition to other therapies for these patients.

Dr. Christopher Rasmussen
Dr. Christopher Rasmussen MD,MS, an anesthesiologist with a Master’s degree in traditional Chinese medicine, is a professor, lecturer, seminar provider, and world authority on preventive medicine.For more information on preventive medicine see


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