Cerebral Palsy affects patients differently but some are turning to medical marijuana to help improve their daily functions and experience some symptom relief. As CBD has grown in popularity, many patients are hopeful that it can help treat the effects of cerebral palsy. Learn more here.
Can Medical Marijuana Help Patients with Cerebral Palsy?
For many patients with cerebral palsy, muscle stiffness, chronic pain , and muscle spasticity are just part of their daily life. Cerebral palsy (CP) begins in the womb or at birth and is caused by abnormal brain development that affects the child’s ability to speak and move their muscles, among other possible complications. It is the leading cause of motor disability in children as it causes issues with involuntary movements, motor skills, stuttering, and stiff muscles (16). Thus, the muscles are also affected and it is considered a life-long neurological and developmental disorder. Fortunately, the severe symptoms of CP can potentially be relieved with reduced amounts or without the use of opioids, and instead with cannabis.
Cannabis contains cannabinoids, the most well-known being Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD ). Cannabinoids work by influencing the endocannabinoid system, which is made up of fat-based neurotransmitters. Cannabis binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors in the body, which influences the levels of endocannabinoids, including anandamide (AEA).
For more information on how the endocannabinoid system works, please see our page on endocannabinoids here .
Treating Cerebral Palsy Patients with Medical Cannabis
Several symptoms of cerebral palsy can be temporarily relieved with the use of cannabis. Research into treating cerebral palsy symptoms is just beginning and has not proven any clear benefits yet, but it is promising based on existing cannabis research for similar symptoms and conditions. Please check out the list below for more information on how cannabis might be able to help your specific symptoms including:
CP is often characterized by spastic, or rigid, muscles. The muscles typically have increased muscle tone that causes arms, legs, hands, and feet to have difficulties functioning, which causes pain and difficulty moving (19).
Please check out our guide on spasticity for more specific information about how cannabis can help treat this symptom of cerebral palsy.
Many CP patients experience a lot of chronic pain due to muscle spasms and muscle tightness. Cannabis can help relieve chronic pain, but for patients who are worried about the psychoactive effects of THC, CBD is a non-intoxicating alternative for pain relief.
Check out our chronic pain page for more information here.
Some cerebral palsy patients can have issues with falling asleep and staying asleep due to spasticity and muscle pain. While taking cannabis specifically for these symptoms can help improve your sleep quality, another option is taking cannabinol (CBN) (20 ).
For more information about relieving sleep issues with cannabis, please check out our guide on insomnia .
Since CP is a neurological disorder that is essentially caused by damage to the brain, seizures are a regular occurrence for some patients. Through the endocannabinoid system, cannabis may decrease the release of neurotransmitters that activate neurons and thereby decrease seizures (18 ). It is extremely important to talk to your doctor before trying to use medical cannabis if you have seizures as cannabis is known to interact with certain anti-epileptic medications.
For more information about treating seizures, check out our page on epilepsy.
Treating Pediatric Patients with Cannabis
Between 35% and 50% of children with CP experience seizures alongside muscle spasticity and chronic pain (12). Since this is a lifelong disorder that begins in infancy, it is important to understand how cannabinoids can help a child. For parents who are concerned about the side effects of THC, it should be ok to use CBD to help relieve these symptoms in their children with a pediatrician’s recommendation. Many parents choose to give their children CBD oil for this reason.
Cannabis was tested in a group of 25 children between 1 and 17-years-old for complex motor disorders, which includes cerebral palsy. Though this study was small and both groups received different combinations of CBD and THC, it had promising results for the pediatric population. Patients in this study experienced improvements in spasticity, aberrant muscle movements, pain severity, and an overall improvement in their quality of life (7).
Considerations to Keep in Mind
It is very important to talk with the doctor who is treating your CP as cannabis treatments may not be right for everyone depending on the complexity of your symptoms. A multimodal approach consisting of physical, speech, and occupational therapists along with appropriate specialist treatment can benefit patients the most.
In addition, some patients who have speech issues due to CP may see benefits in their ease of speaking, though there is no scientific evidence of this (12) (14).
Understanding the Different Types of Cerebral Palsy
CP is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture (16). It is caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain. It is typically diagnosed during childhood or at birth and has lifelong symptoms.
Cerebral palsy can be classified into the following:
Spastic Cerebral Palsy
In Spastic CP, patients have increased muscle tone, making their muscles stiff and movement uncoordinated (16). It is the most common type of CP, affecting 80% of CP patients. The types of this form of CP include (16):
- Spastic diplegia/diparesis – muscle stiffness in this type primarily affects the legs. Patients with this type of CP have a hard time walking because of tight hip and leg muscles that cause the legs to turn inward, pull together, and cross at the knees.
- Spastic hemiplegia/hemiparesis – This type of CP only affects one-half of the body. Usually, the arm is affected more than the leg.
- Spastic quadriplegia/quadriparesis – As the most severe form of CP, it affects the arms, legs, face, and trunk portions of the body. Patients with this type usually cannot talk and also experience intellectual disabilities, seizures, or problems with vision, hearing, or speech.
Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy
This type of CP includes athetoid, choreoathetoid, and dystonic cerebral palsies. Patients with dyskinetic CP have difficulty controlling the movement in their hands, arms, legs, and feet, resulting in uncontrollable movements that are either slow or rapid and jerky (16). In addition, the muscle tone can change from too tight to too loose throughout the day.
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
Patients with this type of CP experience problems with balance and coordination leading to unsteadiness when walking, struggling with movements that need a lot of muscle control, or controlling their hands or arms while reaching for an object (16).
Mixed Cerebral Palsy
This type of CP is classified when a patient has a combination of the above categories. The most common type of mixed CP is spastic-dyskinetic cerebral palsy (16).
A Patient’s Perspective
A 2011 study analyzed survey results about what treatment options adults with CP liked to use for pain. 87 patients indicated their areas of pain as well as what pain treatments they tried in the six months preceding this survey (3). 71% of patients reported that their most painful area was their lower back, and 58% also cited hip and leg pain. Five percent of the patients surveyed have either previously used or are currently using cannabis to help with pain. Patients most commonly used physical therapy to help alleviate their pain.
Though only a small percentage of patients admitted to using marijuana, this study further proves that more research is needed in this area, because patients are interested in trying cannabis for their CP symptoms.
Note: Veriheal does not intend to give this as professional medical advice. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or prescribe treatment based on the information provided on this page. Always consult a physician before making any decision on the treatment of a medical condition.
1. Blimkin, L., Libzon, S., Bar-Lev Schleider, L., Saban, N., Levit, L., Zerem, A., . . . Lerman-Sagie, T. (2017). Medical cannabis in children with complex motor disorders. European Journal of Paediatric Neurology, 21 . https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317591999_Medical_cannabis_in_children_with_complex_motor_disorders
2. Fairhurst, C., Kumar, R., Checketts, D., Tayo, B., & Turner, S. (2020). Efficacy and safety of nabiximols cannabinoid medicine for paediatric spasticity in cerebral palsy or traumatic brain injury: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 62(9), 1031-1039. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/dmcn.14548
3. Hirsh, A. T., Kratz, A. L., Engel, J. M., & Jensen, M. P. (2011). Survey results of pain treatments in adults with cerebral palsy. American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation, 90(3), 207–216. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3036542/
4. Hounie, A., & Almeida Vasques, M. (2019). Neurological improvement with medical cannabis in a progressive supranuclear palsy patient: A case report. Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids, 2 (2), 65-68. https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/503864
5. Jansheski, G., MD. (2020, March 30). Cerebral Palsy and Medical Marijuana. Retrieved March 06, 2021, from https://www.cerebralpalsyguidance.com/cerebral-palsy/treatment/medical-marijuana/
6. Kumar, R., Chambers, W., & Pertwee, R. (2001). Pharmacological actions and therapeutic uses of cannabis and cannabinoids [PDF]. Anaesthesia. https://associationofanaesthetists-publications.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1365-2044.2001.02269.x
7. Libzon, S., Schleider, L. B., Saban, N., Levit, L., Tamari, Y., Linder, I., Lerman-Sagie, T., & Blumkin, L. (2018). Medical Cannabis for Pediatric Moderate to Severe Complex Motor Disorders. Journal of child neurology, 33(9), 565–571. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29766748/
8. Mack A, Joy J. Marijuana as Medicine? The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000. 7, MARIJUANA AND MUSCLE SPASTICITY. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK224382/
9. MEDICAL MARIJUANA IN CERTAIN NEUROLOGICAL DISORDERS [PDF]. (2014). Minneapolis: American Academy of Neurology.
Is CBD a Viable Treatment for Cerebral Palsy?
While there’s no cure for cerebral palsy, studies show CBD may be able to help with some of the symptoms.
This article will explore the most relevant studies into the effectiveness of cannabidiol (CBD) for treating cerebral palsy.
Research has found that CBD has potential broad therapeutic use as an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), neuroprotectant, muscle relaxant, and pain-reliever without eliciting the intoxicating effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Table of Contents
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a congenital condition that affects the brain, as well as body movements, muscle tone, and posture. It is the most common childhood motor disability and is often diagnosed early in childhood or even in infancy.
This debilitating condition is caused by a lack of oxygen flowing to the brain. It can occur in the womb or during a difficult birth. It can also be caused by meningitis or a serious head injury.
There are four different types of cerebral palsy:
- Spastic CP
- Athetoid CP
- Ataxic CP
- Mixed CP
Each affects the body differently, giving some patients the ability to be more independent than others.
Does CBD Oil Help with Cerebral Palsy?
There is only one FDA-approved CBD drug — Epidiolex — and it’s used to treat seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. However, both research and patient testimonies strongly suggest that CBD does help manage symptoms of cerebral palsy.
Common symptoms of cerebral palsy include muscle spasms, tremors, lack of motor skills, speech delay, and tremors. The way cerebral palsy presents is dependent on which type of cerebral palsy a patient suffers from.
Only one known study has specifically examined the effects of CBD on cerebral palsy symptoms. However, there are numerous studies that have been conducted on CBD and multiple sclerosis, a condition that has similar neurological symptoms.
The study revealed that CBD helped reduce spasticity, sleep difficulties, and overall decreased chronic pain in cerebral palsy patients . These findings were supported by another study conducted in 2018, which studied neurological disorders. It was concluded that patients found relief from muscle spasticity due to the anti-inflammatory and relaxative properties of CBD.
What Does CBD Oil Do to Your Brain?
Because cerebral palsy affects neurological functions, you have to take into consideration the effects that CBD has on the brain.
The effects of CBD are unique in the way they affect the endocannabinoid system as it is a non-intoxicating compound, making them an appealing alternative to marijuana which contains THC — the main psychoactive compound in cannabis.
Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t have an affinity to bind to endocannabinoid receptors. Instead, CBD stimulates the endocannabinoid system to produce more cannabinoids while also slowing the breakdown of those cannabinoids. It does this by inhibiting the release of the enzymes and helps to prime CB1 and CB2 receptors for those cannabinoids.
CBD has also been shown to modulate pain receptor sites (vanilloid and opioid receptors) and boost GABA-A activity in the brain to uplift one’s mood, which may also affect one’s perception of pain.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the different ways CBD oil affects the brain:
The Serotonin System
Serotonin is often associated with happiness, but the serotonin system affects so much more than that. The serotonin system affects not only one’s mood but their perception of pain and their appetite and digestion.
So how does CBD come into play?
CBD targets the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor, which is involved with neuromodulation. Researchers have observed a correlation between the 5-HT1A receptor dysfunction with generalized anxiety disorder and depression. While a lot is still unknown, there has been promising research to support claims that CBD oil alleviates pain and anxiety through its modulation at this receptor site .
The Vanilloid Receptors
Vanilloid receptors regulate the body’s temperature and control the body’s reaction to inflammation and perception of pain. CBD binds to the TRPV1 (vanilloid receptors), helping to achieve a calming effect on the body.
Anandamide is a fatty acid neurotransmitter and the first endocannabinoid to be discovered. It binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors, helping to regulate homeostasis and stimulate a sense of happiness and wellbeing — it’s also aptly nicknamed the “bliss molecule.”
CBD has been shown to enhance anandamide signaling and slow the breakdown of these endocannabinoids by blocking the release of enzymes. Animal studies have found that anandamide-mediated signaling of CB1 receptors provided analgesic effects by limiting the input of pain to the central nervous system .
What Dosages of CBD are Effective for Managing Cerebral Palsy Symptoms?
There is no one dosage that is a magic treatment for cerebral palsy.
For some patients, it takes months, even years, of trial and error with different strains, dosages, and forms of CBD to find what works for them.
The way CBD will affect one’s body depends on a variety of factors, including weight, metabolism, what other medications you may be taking, the severity of your condition, the form of CBD, and of course, the dosage.
The form of CBD determines the product’s bioavailability — the percentage of CBD ingested that your body is able to absorb into the bloodstream. This is why certain products are better suited to certain needs.
Here’s the breakdown of CBD bioavailability:
- CBD topicals: less than 1%
- CBD capsules and edibles: 5-15%
- CBD oil: 20-30%
- CBD vapes: about 50%
The easiest and safest way to determine what dosage is most effective for your needs is to start with a lower dosage and gradually increase from there.
As you increase your dosage, pay attention to any reactions such as dry mouth, dizziness, irritation, or diarrhea, as they may be indicators you have taken too much. If using CBD as a tincture, edible, or capsule, it is best to take it on a full stomach to provide maximum absorption into the bloodstream.
Are There Side Effects of CBD Oil?
While side effects of CBD are not common, they can happen. This is why patients should only take CBD for cerebral palsy under the advice of their doctor. This is because CBD can potentially interact with other medications, thus leading to side effects.
Another reason patients may experience side effects is because of the brand — not every company produces quality CBD products, so if you are not careful, you may be ingesting harmful chemicals from the hemp farming or manufacturing process that could cause severe side effects.
In rare cases, CBD oil can cause liver failure as a result of negative drug interactions. This is also a common side effect of antiepileptic medications. Patients should also not stop taking their medications without the green light from their doctor. Doing so can shock the nervous system, causing severe reactions.
Cerebral palsy patients are often on numerous medications at a time, making it hard to pinpoint what exactly may be causing side effects. If there are immediate negative effects with CBD oil, you should see your doctor immediately.
Will CBD Oil Interact With My Cerebral Palsy Medications?
CBD may interact with certain prescription medications used for cerebral palsy. Interactions can range from synergistic (beneficial) to life-threatening. It’s critical you speak with your doctor about using CBD if you’re taking any prescription medications.
Let’s cover some of the most common CBD-drug interactions you may encounter with cerebral palsy medications:
CBD & Anticholinergics
This class of drug works by inhibiting the effects of acetylcholine — which is a key neurotransmitter in the brain as well as in the muscles.
CBD may interact with these medications by slowing their metabolism in the liver. This could lead to a buildup in the bloodstream over the course of several days or weeks. If concentrations become too high, side effects or overdose may occur.
Common anticholinergics used in treating cerebral palsy:
- Carbidopa-levodopa (Sinemet)
- Glycopyrrolate (Cuvposa, Robinul)
- Benztropine (Cogentin)
CBD & Anticonvulsants
There are multiple different classes of medications that could be used as an anticonvulsant with cerebral palsy. These medications are used to reduce muscle contractions and abnormal muscle movements.
Some common medication classes include barbiturates and benzodiazepines.
The most common medication used for this is phenobarbital, a powerful anticonvulsant barbiturate.
CBD will interact similarly with all of these medications — leading to increased effects and slowed metabolic breakdown. Both of these results could be dangerous, leading to increased chances of side effects and overdose.
CBD & Antidepressants
Depression is a common side effect of cerebral palsy. For this reason, it’s common for patients to have a prescription for antidepressants such as SSRIs or SNRIs alongside other medications.
CBD may interact with these medications if used in high doses on a daily basis. However, people who take antidepressants and lower doses of CBD, with breaks every 2 or 3 days, rarely report side effects.
Other classes of antidepressants, such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) or tricyclic antidepressants, have a much higher risk of side effects.
CBD & Anti-inflammatories
Anti Inflammatories is a standard treatment for cerebral palsy. There’s a lot of different classes of these medications, but most doctors stick with simple NSAID medications like acetaminophen (Aspirin and Tylenol) or Ibuprofen.
CBD may interact with these medications by increasing the anti-inflammatory profile (synergistic) but can also slow the breakdown.
If using acetaminophen (or other NSAIDs) alongside other medications, it may be unsafe to use CBD. The combined competition of all these medications and CBD for metabolism in the liver can lead to a buildup of drugs in the bloodstream. Some of these drugs could bring dangerous consequences if the dose gets too high.
Final Thoughts: Can CBD Help With Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition that currently has no known cure.
Patients have found their quality of life to increase greatly after adding CBD oil to their treatment plan for its relaxing and pain-relieving qualities.
However, CBD oil is not a suitable replacement for one’s medications, meaning you by no means should stop taking any medications without orders from your doctor to do so.
To get the most out of your CBD oil, you should take the time to research brands, their manufacturing process and consult your doctor on how the CBD could potentially interact with other medications and if it’s right for you.