Intractable Spasticity: An Overview
Studies show that medical marijuana can play a key role in treatment for conditions that affect the central nervous system. These conditions can result from an underlying, chronic condition or from a spinal cord or traumatic brain injury. One such condition is intractable spasticity. Today, we will look more closely at this condition and the relationship between medical marijuana and intractable spasticity.
What is Spasticity?
Spasticity is a condition where muscles stiffen or tighten, thus preventing normal fluid movement. Muscles are difficult to stretch, affecting movement, speech, and gait. Signs of spasticity could be a flexed elbow, bent wrist, pronated forearm, clenched fist, or thumb in palm. Spasticity affects about 12 million people worldwide.
Intractable is a word assigned to certain medical conditions that are difficult to treat (visit to read more about intractable pain). Due to the nature of spasticity, it can be a difficult condition to treat, let alone diagnose. There are various non-surgical and surgical treatments available, which can improve quality life for those suffering from intractable spasticity.
What Causes Intractable Spasticity?
In intractable spasticity, muscle patterns are disrupted, which causes muscles to remain contracted and tightened. These patterns are typically controlled by a complex system allowing certain muscle to tighten, while others relax. Damage to the central nervous system can disrupt these patterns.
Spasticity is commonly associated with multiple sclerosis, but damage to the central nervous system can also be caused by spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, stroke, or traumatic brain injury.
Symptoms of Intractable Spasticity
Generally, intractable spasticity affects the muscles that support an upright standing position. This includes back, groin, foot, calf, and thigh muscles. Here is a more thorough list of symptoms:
As with many chronic conditions, symptoms of range from mild to severe. Mild symptoms present as stiffness or tightness of muscles, while severe symptoms can include painful and uncontrollable spasms. Pain or tightness in joints is also common universally. Here is a more thorough list of symptoms:
- Muscle stiffness
- Muscle spasms
- Involuntary crossing of legs
- Muscle and joint deformities
- Muscle fatigue
- Inhibition of longitudinal muscle growth
- Inhibition of protein synthesis in muscle cells
Medical Marijuana as Treatment for Intractable Spasticity
Several studies suggest that medical marijuana can be an effective treatment for reducing chronic nerve pain associated with conditions like intractable spasticity.
Traditional treatment for intractable spasticity is not always effective. One form of treatment is oral medication, which include drugs like benzodiazepines, Gabapentin, and analgesics like opioids. As with any form of oral drug treatment, there are associated side effects. These side effects are sometimes not worth the little relief experienced by the user.
Side effects, coupled with the fact that traditional treatments don’t always work, have caused those that suffer from intractable spasticity to seek alternative treatment. This includes medical marijuana. Research shows that tetrahydrocannabinol, aka THC, can block lesion inflammatory action and improve communication between muscles and nerves. Medical marijuana reduces inflammation, which could further protect nerve degeneration, which could slow intractable spasticity.
Marijuana can affect the central nervous system. Since intractable spasticity originates in the central nervous system, it only seems logical that it could then be used as treatment to address the root of the issue.
As with any treatment, whether traditional or alternative, be sure to thoroughly discuss your options with your treatment team. Depending on the cause of spasticity, medical marijuana could worsen the symptoms of spasticity. This has occurred specifically with those that suffer from multiple sclerosis. Clinical trials have indicated that although users perceived to have decreased muscle spasticity, observers found no significant decrease and medical marijuana actually impaired coordination.