Muscular Dystrophy

Back to Conditions

Cannabis and CBD for Muscular Dystrophy 

Muscular dystrophy is an inherited condition causing progressive muscle weakness (myopathy) and atrophy (loss of muscle mass) due to defects in one or more of the genes needed for normal muscle function.

What is Muscular Dystrophy?

Muscular dystrophy is a group of genetic illnesses that over time harm and weakens the muscles. This damage and weakness are due to the absence of a protein called dystrophin needed for normal muscle function. Lack of this protein can cause walking, swallowing and muscle coordination problems. Muscular dystrophy may occur at any age, but the majority of diagnoses occur in infancy. Young boys are more likely than girls to have that disease. The prognosis for muscular dystrophy depends on the type of symptoms and their severity. Nevertheless, most people with muscular dystrophy may lose the ability to walk and eventually use a wheelchair.

No known cures for any type of muscular dystrophy are currently available. The most commonly prescribed drugs are prednisone, and a variety of beta-blockers if the disease affects the heart. Popular treatments include a range of movement and physical exercises to keep the patient comfortable for as long as possible. Bracelets are widely used, and surgery is sometimes necessary to correct spinal cord damage.

The goal of treatment for those born with MD who show symptoms is to slow the progression of the disease, and scientists are working on how the faulty gene can be substituted to avoid the disease before it starts. Pain is one of the greatest impediments for MD patients to exercise and physical therapy. Muscle contraction and soft tissue shortening are painful. There is additional pain as those shorter muscles pull joints into abnormal positions. Many MD patients experience extreme, very painful, muscle contractions. 

Symptoms of Muscular Dystrophy

Progressive muscle weakness is the principal sign of muscular dystrophy. Depending on the type of muscular dystrophy specific signs and symptoms begin at different ages and in different muscle groups. The various categories used for diagnosis are given below.

Duchenne type muscular dystrophy – That is the most prevalent type. Although girls can be carriers and be slightly affected, it is much more common among boys. Signs and symptoms usually occurring in early infancy may include:

  • Frequent falls
  • Waddling gait
  • Walking on the toes
  • Large calf muscles
  • Difficulty rising from a lying or sitting position
  • Trouble running and jumping
  • Muscle pain and stiffness
  • Learning disabilities
  • Delayed growth

Progression: A fast progression in boys from three years of age, and is usually non-ambulatory by age 12. Life expectancy is about 20 years.

Becker muscular dystrophy – is similar to muscle dystrophy in Duchenne, but less severe. Most generally this form of muscular dystrophy also affects youth. Muscle weakness occurs mostly in your arms and legs, with symptoms emerging between 11 and 25 years of age. Many people with this disease don’t need a wheelchair until they are in their mid-30s or older, and a small percentage of those with this disease never need one. Most people with Becker muscle dystrophy live to or later in the middle ages. Becker’s other symptoms of muscular dystrophy include:

  • walking on your toes
  • frequent falls
  • muscle cramps
  • trouble getting up from the floor

Progression: Boys between 11 and 25 may begin to show symptoms, and by the mid-thirties or later, it is often non-ambulatory.

Congenital muscular dystrophy – Congenital muscle dystrophies are often noticeable from birth to age 2. This is when the parents start finding that the motor functions and muscle control of their child are not progressing as they should. Although the symptoms vary from mild to severe, most people with congenital muscular dystrophy can not sit or stand without help. Someone with this type also varies in lifespan, depending on the symptoms. In childhood, some individuals with congenital muscular dystrophy die while others survive until adulthood. Symptoms can vary, and include:

  • muscle weakness
  • poor motor control
  • inability to sit or stand without support
  • scoliosis
  • foot deformities
  • trouble swallowing
  • respiratory problems
  • vision problems
  • speech problems
  • intellectual impairment

Progression: Plainly obvious in boys and girls, by age two. Ambulation can never happen, but death in infancy is possible.

Myotonic dystrophy – Is also called myotonic dystrophy or Steinert’s disease. This type of muscular dystrophy causes myotonia which is an inability to relax after contracting your muscles. Myotonia is exclusively involved in this type of muscle dystrophy. This type of dystrophy may also cause males to experience impotence and testicular atrophy. It can be causing irregular periods and infertility in women. Diagnoses of myotonic dystrophy are most common among adults in their 20s and 30s. Symptoms can vary greatly in severity. Some people are experiencing mild symptoms while others have life-threatening symptoms involving the lungs and the heart. Myotonic dystrophy can affect your:

  • facial muscles
  • central nervous system
  • adrenal glands
  • heart
  • thyroid
  • eyes
  • gastrointestinal tract

Symptoms most often appear first in your face and neck. They include:

  • drooping muscles in your face, producing a thin, haggard look
  • difficulty lifting your neck due to weak neck muscles
  • difficulty swallowing
  • droopy eyelids, or ptosis
  • early baldness in the front area of your scalp
  • poor vision, including cataracts
  • weight loss
  • increased sweating

Progression: It starts to develop in men and women ages 20 to 30.

Facioscapulohumeral (FSHD) – It is also known as the Dejerine-Landouzy disease. This form of muscular dystrophy affects the head, shoulders and upper arms muscles. Lesser numbers of people with FSHD can develop hearing and breathing problems. FSHD has a tendency to slow progress. Symptoms typically appear in your teenage years, but sometimes they do not appear until your 40s. Most people living a full life span with this condition. Could cause FSHD to:

  • difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • slanted shoulders
  • a crooked appearance of the mouth
  • a wing-like appearance of the shoulder blades

Progression: Both boys and girls in their teens are affected. Life span is common, but symptoms can weaken.

Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy – Triggers muscle weakening, and muscle bulk loss. This type of muscular dystrophy usually starts in your shoulders and hips, but it can also happen in your legs and neck. If you have limb-girdle muscle dystrophy you may find it difficult to get out of a chair, walk up and downstairs and carry heavy items. You could also more easily stumble and fall. Limb-girdle muscle dystrophy affects males as well as females. Most people with this form of muscular dystrophy will become disabled by the age of 20. Many, however, have normal expectations of life.

Progression: Usually occur in young adults and advance to severe symptoms over the next 20 years.

Oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy (OPMD) – Makes facial, neck and shoulder muscles weak. OPMD occurs in males and females. Individuals get diagnoses usually in their 40s or 50s. Common symptoms include:

  • drooping eyelids
  • trouble swallowing
  • voice changes
  • vision problems
  • heart problems
  • difficulty walking

Progression: Symptoms usually show, and progress slowly, before age 60. Some are becoming non-ambulatory.

Distal muscular dystrophy – Is known as distal myopathy too. It can also affect your respiratory system and muscles in your heart. The symptoms tend to progress slowly including a loss of fine motor skills and walking difficulty. Distal muscular dystrophy is diagnosed in most individuals, both male and female, between the ages of 40 and 60. This affects the muscles:

  • forearms
  • hands
  • calves
  • Feet

Progression: Usually occur between the ages of 40 and 60. Progression is slow but could eventually lead to the need for a ventilator.

Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy – It usually affects more boys than girls. This type of muscular dystrophy usually begins in childhood. Most individuals with Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy die from heart or lung failure in mid-adulthood. Symptoms include the following:

  • weakness in your upper arm and lower leg muscles
  • breathing problems
  • heart problems
  • shortening of the muscles in your spine, neck, ankles, knees, and elbows

Progression: Symptoms often portray at 10 years of age. Heart problems occur in the late 20s, and death from pulmonary or cardiac failure is likely to occur in the middle ages.

Muscular dystrophy – It occurs in both sexes and in all ages and races. Nevertheless, the most common form, Duchenne, is usually found in young boys. Persons with a family history of muscular dystrophy are at higher risk of developing or passing on the disease to their children.

The complications of progressive muscle weakness include:

  1. Trouble walking around. Some people with muscular dystrophy will eventually need to use a wheelchair.
  2. The trouble with arms. Daily activity can become more difficult if the muscles of the arms and shoulders are affected.
  3. Shortening of muscles or tendons around joints (contractures). Contractures can further limit mobility.
  4. Difficulty with breathing. Progressive weakness can affect the muscles associated with breathing. People with muscular dystrophy may eventually need to use a ventilator, initially at night but possibly also during the day.
  5. Curved spine (scoliosis). Weakened muscles might be unable to hold the spine straight.
  6. Heart problems. Muscular dystrophy can reduce the efficiency of the heart muscle.
  7. Issues with swallowing. If the muscles involved in swallowing are affected, nutritional problems and aspiration pneumonia may develop. Feeding tubes may be an option.

How Cannabis Can Help Relieve the Symptoms of Muscular Dystrophy

Many muscular dystrophy sufferers say that cannabinoid therapy has been effective in treating their pain and stiffness. The major cannabinoids used for treatment are THC and CBD. It is also believed that the neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of cannabis help to treat symptoms of MD. Indica strains, in particular, have been reported as the most successful strain in this treatment.

Smoking marijuana has been described as the most powerful and rapid method for relaying active cannabis compounds to the brain, allowing individuals with muscular dystrophy to experience immediate relief from pain. It also offers better control over the number of narcotics. Research has shown that low-dose THC vaporization is successful in the fight against neuropathic pain.

Medical marijuana efficiently relieves extreme pain, including the nerve pain for which opioids are used. In most cases, marijuana is a better pain relief solution than opioids because it can be used for chronic pain in the long term. The brain does adapt to cannabis, but much more slowly than opioids. It ensures that the dosage doesn’t have to increase rapidly to achieve the same effects. Neither do medical cannabis products carry the same side effects as opioids. Opioids suppress pain signals, while simultaneously reducing respiration. Overdoses of opioids also lead to death, as breathing becomes so sluggish that it stops entirely. Marijuana does not have any of these side effects. You may experience a phase of anxiety or nausea if you have too much cannabis in your system, but it isn’t fatal.

Medical Cannabis Treatment for Muscular Dystrophy

Can Medical Marijuana Cure Muscular Dystrophy? Sadly, for any of the MD conditions, there’s no known cure. Conventional treatment attempts to control seizures and muscle spasms and to provide physical, respiratory and speech therapy to provide the patient with the best possible quality of life. Medical marijuana and muscular dystrophy have been known to help treat some of the Muscular Dystrophy-related side effects. Unfortunately, all the conditions that make up the group of muscle dystrophy, or MD, are known to degenerate or become worse over time. Consequently, one of the most influential aims of treatment is often to keep the patient relaxed and as pain-free as possible.

There aren’t many medical studies on the use of cannabis to treat MD, although the medical community continues to make progress in proving medical marijuana’s beneficial properties. The findings of some research on the use of medical cannabis for ALS can also be extended to MD, as ALS entails muscle atrophy and fatigue as well. The basis for treating medical cannabis is to find the right combination of THC and CBD to suit your needs. There are three specific types of cannabis plants, but for every number of combinations of ingredients, thousands of hybrid varieties are bred.  Those with MD also suffer from the disease and have a weakened respiratory system. Smoking marijuana would not be advisable under these circumstances, although it has health benefits.

Vaporizing is a safer form of medical cannabis administration that does not harm the lungs. Vaporization is not as hot as smoking and does not involve the burning by-products.

There are other forms of cannabis consumption that do not rely on the respiratory system to deliver medicine. You may want to get instant relief for acute pain. Using a spray or a few drops of tincture under your tongue can provide very quick relief. There are also topical products available that can be applied directly to areas where it hurts. The relief from these applications is almost immediate as well.

Edibles can be another useful way to consume the benefits of medical cannabis for the relief of symptoms of MD. Capsules may require more control of the swallowing muscle than the MD patient does, but they can be chewed for easier consumption. Medical marijuana doses may be adjusted for use in children and people of low body weight. It is safe for children because there are no real side-effects of medical cannabis treatment. Cannabis items are available in many different forms and with different THC balances, the psychoactive component that may not be necessary.

Personalized Cannabis Consultations

Whether you are new to cannabis and need to learn the basics, or are simply trying to achieve more positive cannabis experiences, Veriheal’s coaches are here to help. You have the opportunity to become informed about this wonderful plant. Book an appointment today with one of our compassionate coaches to have a private discussion about your cannabis journey.

Book Consultation
Back to Conditions

Data Last Updated 03/16/2020