Could medical cannabis help some disabled people?

Medical cannabis has recently been prescribed on the NHS for some forms of epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. But could it help other disabilities? Vaporizer Chief looks at the research done on the effects of cannabis on people with Down’s Syndrome, autism, multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy to see how it could improve quality of life.

For some time now, various studies and research projects have been conducted to look into the healing properties of medicinal cannabis (also called marijuana). One study of medical cannabis by PubMed shows that medical cannabis could improve the level of functioning and quality of life for people with certain disabilities.

It’s been said that cannabis can be beneficial to our health when it comes to treating post-traumatic stress disorder, nausea, pain, depression and anxiety. But can it be used to treat disabilities, such as Down’s Syndrome, autism, multiple sclerosis, and muscular dystrophy?

Everyone, disabled or not, has an endocannabinoid system. Research into this system and the full breadth of its effects are still being conducted. However, researchers currently believe that it regulates a number of cognitive and physiological processes, such as:

  • sleep
  • mood
  • fertility
  • appetite
  • memory
  • thermoregulation.

Cannabis interacts with the system and affects these processes – potentially with positive results.

Here, we look at the research that has been done to date and how it highlights the potential benefits for people with different conditions.

Please note, the cannabis we’re referencing here is strictly medical and prescribed. In many countries cannabis is illegal. Make sure you check and follow local regulations and obtain proper prescriptions if you require medical cannabis.

In the UK, the recreational use of cannabis is strictly prohibited. Only medical cannabis is legal when prescribed by a specialist physician for medical treatment. 

In the US, cannabis is legal in some states and not others.

In Idaho, Nebraska, and South Dakota cannabis is illegal for any purpose, medical or recreational.

It is legal in Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Wisconsin, and D.C.

In all states not mentioned in the two categories above, cannabis is legal for medical use only.

Down’s Syndrome

Down’s Syndrome occurs in one out of every 700 to 1,000 people around the world. People with Down’s Syndrome often have learning and memory impairments.

It has been theorised that people with Down’s Syndrome have lots of cannabinoid type 1 receptors (CB1) in their hippocampus (a part of the brain), which can be overactive. This ruins the neurons that are connected to it, resulting in cognitive difficulties.

To see whether medical cannabis could help to minimise this, scientists conducted an experiment on Down’s Syndrome-affected mice. The results found that once their CB1 activity was reduced, there were significant improvements in the mice’s memory.

Postmortem studies of people with Down’s Syndrome indicate that their brains have plaques, large numbers of which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. These plaques are believed to be linked to excess fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and CB to receptors.

Because a chronically starved endocannabinoid system has high levels of FAAH, low cannabis doses might keep the CB1 and CB2 receptors busy, break down plaques in the brain, protect neurons, and also reduce access FAAH levels. To make any clearer conclusions though, more human-based research is required.


Autism affects around 1 in every 100 children. Many autistic people are highly intelligent but can struggle with social interactions and understanding behaviours. Autism is considered a spectrum disorder, meaning that treatments and symptoms vary far and wide. In other words, what may work for one person might not work for the other.

Nowadays, some experts believe that autism could be caused by a genetic mutation that produces chronically low levels of natural endocannabinoids in the brain. It even interferes with how the brain interacts with all those chemicals.

Research suggests that medical cannabis supplementation might help as both THC and CBD, which are mostly found in cannabis, share an identical structure with the cannabinoids that are produced naturally in the human body.

This may yield promise as the Autism Research Institute has already conducted a controlled experiment in which people with autism were given small, safe doses of cannabis. In most cases, a considerable reduction in self-destructive behaviour and anxiety were observed within participants.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that affects someone’s coordination, their ability to move and muscle tone. Symptoms can vary greatly, and so can be mild or severe. People with cerebral palsy can also experience chronic pain and seizures.

Because cannabis helps reduce muscle spasms, chronic pain and seizures, supplementation with medical cannabis could be helpful to patients with cerebral palsy. But there may be other benefits too.

Although no official scientific studies have been conducted, there are a variety of anecdotal accounts that suggests it can help with communication difficulties, such as stutters. The documentary In Pot We Trust where Jacqueline Patterson revealed how cannabis helped her.

Muscular Dystrophy

Muscular dystrophy (MD) is a muscle-wasting condition that affects around one in every 1,000 people. Alongside increasing muscle weakness, the symptoms often include involuntary spasms and pain. There are a lot of different types of  MD, which, like autism, can vary from one person to another.

Over the years there have been lots of different efforts made to reduce the symptoms of MD and slow down its progression. One possible treatment for this could be and medical cannabis, which research shows helps activate the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system. Doing so relieves muscle spasms and reduces neuropathic pain.

Medical cannabis

Research has shown that medical cannabis can help people to manage a number of disabilities, and professionals are starting to prescribe it legally.

More human-based research is required for greater clarification and understanding of this widely discussed subject, but the future of access to cannabis to help those who need it seems to be changing.

By Vaporizer Chief

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