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Cannabis and ALS

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by Mary Biles

Scientifically reviewed by Roni Sharon, MD

Can Cannabis Help ALS?

The compounds in cannabis have promising potential for treatment of ALS, because of their ability to fight cell death and inflammation of the nervous system, elements in the disease process of ALS. 

ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) is a terminal neurodegenerative disease that damages motor neurons leading to progressive muscle wasting, weakness, and death.

Cannabis products have been shown to alleviate some common ALS symptoms, such as chronic pain, spasticity, lack of appetite and depression. Depending on the symptom you’d like to treat, the best marijuana strains for ALS would include either
THC, CBD, and limonene (for pain and spasticity). THC and CBG (for loss of appetite), or CBD, THC, CBG, BCP, limonene and linalool for depression.

Research on ALS and Cannabis

The cannabis plant contains at least 146 compounds called cannabinoids, most notably tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), as well as a host of other organic compounds such as terpenes and flavonoids.

THC directly bonds with the body’s two main cannabinoid receptors and has a neuroprotectant and anti-inflammatory effect. CBD doesn’t activate either receptor, but it blocks the enzyme (FAAH) that degrades anandamide. Commonly known as “the bliss molecule,” anandamide is a cannabinoid that plays a key role in maintaining the health of the ECS and can reduce anxiety and lower systemic inflammation, in addition to other benefits.


So researchers believe that compounds found within the cannabis plant may have therapeutic potential in the treatment of ALS. In one study, ALS mice were treated with THC before and after disease onset. Motor improvement was noted, and disease survival increased, which was thought to be due to a reduction in cell damage and death. 


Research on mice has found that modulating an ECS receptor on a daily basis delayed motor impairment and increased survival by 56%. In particular, raised levels of endocannabinoids were found in ALS mice models, as well as more CB2 receptors in the central nervous system, specifically in damaged or altered tissue.



CBD does not have the psychotropic effects of THC, and is thus often widely-available in jurisdictions where medical marijuana has not been legalized. A study performed on mice with ALS in 2010 found that small doses of CBD given to mice slowed down the progression of the disease.

clinical trial currently underway in Australia is testing the effect of a CBD dominant oil on 30 subjects with ALS.

How Cannabis Works on ALS

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) exists in all vertebrates and helps regulate crucial functions such as sleep, pain, and appetite. The human body produces its own cannabinoids, which modulate and activate its various functions, but as its name suggests, the endocannabinoid system can also be modulated and activated by cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.

2017 paper on cannabinoid pharmacology describes how the ECS has the ability to modulate the key traits contributing to neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, and is “thus, emerging as a viable target for symptom alleviation or disease progression based on pharmacological modulation of endocannabinoid signaling.”


Studies on ALS animal models and ALS patients show some ECS dysregulation in the brain and spinal cord. However, this may well be a sign of the ECS doing its neuroprotective work rather than the dysregulation itself being a cause of the disease.

How to Use Cannabis for ALS

Although mostly based on preclinical studies, cannabis can potentially slow the progression of ALS, due to the antioxidative and neuromodulating properties of marijuana. It can also ease ALS symptoms such as pain, spasticity, loss of appetite, and depression.


Choosing the right marijuana strain for ALS can be challenging; there are thousands of chemovars out there and science is yet to clarify which is the best for ALS. The best bet for now is to narrow down your options by looking at the cannabinoids and terpenes that could help with ALS symptoms.


For pain and spasticity, the evidence suggests using the cannabinoids THC, CBD. The terpenes myrcene and limonene. BCP, linalool and humulene show potential for pain. 

Cannabinoids THC and CBG can stimulate appetite , but there doesn’t seem to be much knowledge about which terpenes can enhance this effect.


And finally, for depression, CBD, THC, and CBG are believed to have antidepressant properties, along with the terpenes BCP, limonene, and linalool. Taking this into consideration, ACDC, Ringo’s Gift and Sour Tsunami strains could potentially help treat multiple sclerosis.

A word on dosing. Although each of our bodies interact with the compounds in cannabis differently, there is some clinical knowledge about general dosages. For patients with no/little prior experience with marijuana, 2.5mg THC is suggested as a starting dose. For those who can’t find relief with lower doses, 5mg THC is a moderate dose, and 10mg THC is suggested as an “experienced users only” dose.


Patients should wait 10-20 min between doses when taken by inhalation, 45min when taken sublingually, and 2 hours when ingested. It’s important to note that you can relieve symptoms even if you don’t get high, and that the recommended daily dose is no higher than 30mg THC. Higher doses are associated with increased chances of negative adverse effects, and very little additional therapeutic effect.

Article Link:

by Mary Biles

Scientifically reviewed by Roni Sharon, MD

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