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Although nausea and vomiting are the primary health issues that cannabis treats, it has also been known to work as an anti-spasmodic in the treatment of muscle spasticity and convulsions. Cannabis has been used to treat epilepsy since at least medieval Arabia and sixteenth-century Southeast Asia. When it was first introduced to Western medicine in 1839 by Dr. William O’Shaughnessy, it was used to treat convulsions caused by tetanus (lockjaw) and hydrophobia (rabies) along with puerperal convulsions, chorea, and strychnine poisoning (with marginal success).
Since then, cannabis has been used successfully for a wide range of spasm-inducing disorders (e.g. multiple sclerosis, spinal injuries, and many other conditions). Prescription drugs can treat these diseases but not without some potentially debilitating or even life-threatening side effects. Other patients report that they can almost eliminate their use of conventional medications and achieve better control of their symptoms through smoking marijuana.
Although cannabinoids are well-known to have anticonvulsant properties, they have also been known to promote muscle spasms in some exceptional circumstances. In general, this is likely because of much higher doses, but some animal studies have shown that THC (not CBD) at normal doses can, in fact, foment nerve cell activity so as to promote convulsions. A select few patients have been reported to exhibit myoclonic jerking or seizures after taking Marinol. Still, others note that you’re more likely to get simple leg cramps in bed after smoking marijuana.
Dr. Paul Consroe of the University of Arizona suggests that CBD may have distinctive therapeutic value as an anticonvulsant in and of itself. CBD appears to lack the stimulant activity associated with THC and it might also diminish or entirely counteract THC’s muscle-exciting tendencies (Consroe). For this reason, marijuana with high CBD content could be preferable to Marinol in treating muscle spasticity.
Marijuana can also have adverse effects on muscular coordination—a phenomenon familiar to anyone who has gotten “too high.” This deterioration (known as ataxia) is most apparent in taks that are complicated or require prolonged focus. To test if you’ve gotten to this state, you can hold your hand or finger steady in the middle of a slightly larger hole without touching the edges, or you can try to balance on one leg for thirty seconds. Multiple sclerosis patients might find that the adverse effects of ataxia counterbalance (or even cancel out) the benefits of cannabis especially if their coordination is already impaired.
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