During a muscle spasm, it can feel like your body has suddenly developed a life of its own. From nighttime muscle twitching to painful rigid limbs, many sufferers are turning to marijuana for help. Fortunately for patients all over the globe it looks like marijuana and muscle spasms is a winning combination that can provide relief, along with a number of other muscular disorders.
What Are Muscle Spasms?
Muscle spasms are sudden contractions of a muscle. Entire muscle groups may also be affected at the same time. A spasm can range in intensity between short, tight pulses and long crippling contractions. In severe cases, muscle groups “lock”, causing temporary paralysis.
In a 2012 clinical trial conducted by University of California, San Diego School of Medicine,
30 walking-impaired Multiple Sclerosis patients were given either synthetic THC or a placebo. Many of the subjects relied on walking aids to cope with their various disorders.
The outcome after given synthetic cannabis? The subjects that smoked THC saw a spasticity decrease of one-third more than those given the placebo. They also saw significant reductions in perceived muscle-related pain.
The causes of muscle spasms vary greatly. Sometimes things as simple as staying still too long or not drinking enough water can trigger a spasm. Other times, a spasm or contraction may be caused by a debilitating disorder.
There are a variety of ways medical marijuana can help. Depending on the type of spasm, it may be beneficial to use cannabis in one form over another. In some cases, marijuana is helpful to cover up symptoms like an over-the-counter painkiller. Yet, when it comes to certain illnesses, researchers think marijuana may help treat the disorder directly.
Sound complicated? Don’t worry. We’ll break down what cannabis products to use and when.
How Can Marijuana Help Cramp?
Exhibit A: The common foot cramp. Up to 1 in 3 adults suffer from nighttime foot and calve cramps. These cramps can be painful enough to wake people from sleep, and it’s often difficult to find effective treatment.
Researcher’s still aren’t sure why random painful cramps like the common charley horse happen. So far, lifestyle factors and poor circulation are the most-blamed culprits. Vitamin deficiencies like inadequate magnesium and potassium can lead to cramping. Sitting or lying too long in one position can lead to poor circulation, stimulating a cramp.
Unfortunately, in cases like this, marijuana isn’t the cure to your problem. BUT, medical marijuana can help by alleviating some symptoms. Cannabis creams can be applied topically to muscles while they’re cramping, eliminating pain and helping your muscles relax.
What are cannabis topicals?
News flash: you can do more with weed than just smoke and eat it. A “topical” is a marijuana-infused cream, balm, or salve. Many topicals are loaded with activated THC, but cannabis cream won’t make you ‘stoned’ or get you high.
Cannabis creams are often underappreciated and overlooked. One thing is certain, though: they work. Applied topically, activated marijuana numbs a localized area. This eases away pain and muscle tension.
In addition to night-time calf cramps, cannabis topicals can be used to help similar spasms in other parts of the body. Cramps like the common charley horse can happen in the neck, glutes, arms, and other parts of your body.
To use marijuana topicals for muscle spasms, simply rub cream into the spastic muscle or pain point. Wait 30 minutes, and then apply another round. Remember to stretch out the muscle and keep it moving to increase circulation. If you continue to have trouble with cramps, visit a doctor or address nutrient deficiencies in your diet.
Smoking or eating marijuana can also help with lifestyle-related cramps. Though, topicals are a sure-fire way to deliver powerful cannabinoids directly to the spot that hurts.
How Can Marijuana Help My Injury?
Exhibit B: The musculoskeletal disorder. Another common trigger for muscle spasms is injury. Specifically, injuries classified as musculoskeletal disorders. A musculoskeletal disorder happens after repeated injury or overuse of a muscle.
Tying the word “disorder” to anything makes it sound a little intense, but these types of injuries are far more common than you think. For example, construction and desk workers alike suffer from occupation-related musculoskeletal disorders. It may sound odd, but hours of lifting and hours of typing both do their fair share of muscular damage.
How is that possible? As you use muscles over and over again, they become strained. For a typist, those muscles will be in the hands, wrists, shoulders, and neck. For a heavy-lifter, those muscles may be in the legs, hips, and lower back. As you use those muscles over and over again without relief, they become inflamed. Once they become inflamed, you may experience muscle spasms.
Cannabis can help by reducing pain and inflammation. Once inflammation is gone, injury-related muscle spasms subside.
How does marijuana help inflammation?
One of the primary causes of muscle spasms is inflammation. Inflammation is your body’s response to injury and invasion. As injuries become more inflamed, nerve cells, tendons, joints, and even entire muscle groups are unable to function properly. If inflammation persists, these tissues will continue to deteriorate.
Marijuana is a powerful anti-inflammatory.
The very moment you get a cut or sprain your ankle, immune cells activate on the spot. Marijuana may help expedite the healing process by regulating your body’s immune response.
Recent research shows that the endocannabinoid system may help modulate certain aspects of your immune system. One aspect, in particular, is your body’s inflammatory response. Cannabinoids in marijuana act as catalysts, changing the messages to cells that control swelling at the injury site.
Smoking cannabis, applying it topically, and eating it all reduce inflammation. The goal is to somehow get the cannabinoids into your body and let them work their magic. For acute muscular pain or twitching in a certain area, try a localized treatment like a topical. Marijana will ease pain and relax away muscle tension.
How Can Weed Help My Spastic Condition?
Exhibit C. The spastic disorder. Marijuana can not only calm a muscle spasm while it’s happening, but it can also treat the direct cause of the spasm in some illnesses. Here, we use the word “treat” quite loosely. No clinical trials have yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to test the efficacy of cannabis as a treatment for any disease.
None the less, the herb still may be able to help.
The conditions listed below all have one common trait: a disordered brain. For these diseases, spasticity is a symptom. The root of the problem lies much deeper in our individual biochemistry. Muscle spasms from neurological disorders are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain.
In these instances, applying cannabis topically won’t get active cannabinoids where they’re needed most. When your spasms are caused by brain cell misfirings, you’ll need to eat or smoke your medicine.
When it comes to cannabis and the brain, there’s a lot that we don’t understand. We do know that cannabinoids seem to work in modulatory and regulatory ways. They’re facilitators. They help the cells in our bodies coordinate with each other and stay on track.
For the following conditions, we’ve outlined and summarized the latest findings in cannabis research. As with all cannabis science, there are still many unknowns about marijuana’s role in treating these conditions. Here’s where research has left us:
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Also known as Lou Gherig’s Disease, ALS is a disease that affects the brain cells responsible for voluntary movement. For an unknown reason, motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord slowly begin to deteriorate. This causes patients lose control over their limbs and movements little by little over time.
As the disease progresses, patients may experience:
- muscle spasms
- trouble speaking
Eventually, muscles will begin to atrophy from lack of use. More than half of all ALS patients die within 2.5 years of when their symptoms begin. Though, ALS champion Stephen Hawking has lived over 50 years with the condition.
A true oddity of a disease, scientists are still stumped about what triggers ALS. Chemical imbalances or disturbances in the immune system are the leading theories.
Fortunately, marijuana may help. Pre-clinical trials from as early as 2004 show that weed may delay the progression of ALS and help patients achieve a better quality of life. This study was confirmed by research published in 2006 which found the same results.
The 2006 study also tested the levels of natural endocannabinoids in mice induced with ALS. The researchers found that when levels of a particular enzyme (enzyme FAAH) were lower, the onset of ALS symptoms was delayed. FAAH is an enzyme used to break down cannabinoids in the body. The greater the surplus of cannabinoids, the later onset the symptoms.
This is strong evidence that cannabis and the endocannabinoid system may be able to aid ALS treatment.
Inflammation is the primary villain faced by most MS patients. Multiple sclerosis is an immune disorder that causes inflammation in the brain and spinal column. For some reason, something triggers the body to begin inappropriately producing inflammatory immunities.
Many of the debilitating symptoms of MS occur as a side effect of unnecessary inflammation. In this case, it can:
- Trigger random muscle twitching
- Cause muscles to lock and become stiff
- Blur vision or temporarily blind
This unnecessary inflammation can lead to painful muscle spasms. Inflammation in the brain means that signals to the rest of the body go haywire. Over time, MS related swelling causes important neurons in the brain to die.
Unwelcomed swelling in the brain is caused by chemical imbalances in the immune system. Marijuana helps MS patients by facilitating your body’s inflammatory immune response. Because marijuana signals your immune system to function more regularly, it may actually be effective in treating the condition itself.
“With Parkinson’s, it’s like you’re crossing the street and you get stuck in the middle,” explains actor Michael J. Fox. “You know the bus is coming, and you can’t get out of the way.” Fox has been battling Parkinson’s Disease (PD) since 1991.
Like the other conditions outlined in this section, PD is a neurodegenerative disorder. Neurons responsible for secreting dopamine begin to suddenly die. Dopamine is a chemical that trigger motor neurons to get moving. This produces several debilitating symptoms, including:
- tremors, or shaking limbs
- muscle stiffness, rigidity
- difficulty walking
- involuntary movement
- trouble sleeping
The root cause of PD is unknown, but recent studies show that the endocannabinoid system may play a role. Researchers have found excessively high levels of endocannabinoids in the areas of the brain most affected by the disease. Endocannabinoids are compounds like THC and CBD that our own bodies produce naturally. They help regulate everything from our immune system and appetite, to our memory and ability to move.
One 2014 study examined PD victims 30 minutes after smoking some weed. Researchers evaluated the patient’s motor function based on the United Parkinson’s Disease Rating Score (UPDRS). The UPD is a tool doctors use to measure the progression of the disease from person to person.
Marijuana helped test subjects drop from an average of 33.1 to 23.2 on the UPD rating scale.
Patients with Parkinson’s also reported a greater quality of life after incorporating cannabis into their routine. In advanced Parkinson’s cases, marijuana may not eliminate shaking. But, it can help ease pain and cope with side effects of other medications.
Epilepsy is another neurological disorder caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Scientists have yet to discover why certain people develop epilepsy. Some answers may be found in the endocannabinoid system.
It looks like there may be a reason many epileptic adults have taken to recreational cannabis. Cannabidiol (or CBD) reduces the number of seizures had by epileptic patients. CBD is one of the most prevalent compounds, cannabinoids, found in the marijuana plant. Yet, unlike its more famous counterpart, CBD is not psychoactive.
That’s right. Smoking CBD won’t get you “high”.
In 2013, CNN Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Sanjay Gupta shocked millions when he came out for cannabis in a big way with his documentary series: Weed. While it may be Dr. Gupta’s series, it was a then six-year-old girl named Charlotte that stole the show.
After suffering through 300 grand mal seizures a week due to a rare epileptic disorder, watcher’s around the world were stunned as marijuana oil performed a miracle right before their eyes. In the first week of marijuana use, Charlotte’s 300 weekly seizures quieted to none.
CBD has been proven to be a strong anticonvulsant. Researchers still don’t quite understand the mechanisms behind CBD’s ability to quell epileptic convulsions, but it seems to quiet down a hyperactive brain. Once CBD enters your body, it acts as a type of facilitator for cell-to-cell communication. Rather than your brain receiving rushed, spastic messages, it helps your brain calmly regulate communication signals.
But that’s not all.
Turns out, weed can help prevent brain damage during and after a seizure. How? CBD is neuroprotective.
In 2008, Spanish researchers conducted a study using newborn pigs. To test whether or not CBD helped patients after brain injury, they temporarily cut off blood flow to main arteries in the piglet’s brains. They then administered CBD to some of the piglets, and a control to others. What happened when they lifted the floodgates?
All of the piglets given the control went into seizure. In comparison, only half of the CBD piglets seized. When brain scans were conducted, researchers found that pigs given CBD had 50% increase in healthy brain cells over their counterparts.
Their conclusion? CBD was effective at limiting brain damage. It also had the added bonus of supporting heart health.
Each year, dozens of studies in support of cannabis as medicine pop up around the world. The information collected for this article summarizes the research currently available to us. But, the medical information available to us now is only the tip of the iceberg
Has cannabis helped you or someone you know find relief from muscle spasms? How did it work? We’d love to know! We encourage you to share your experience on social media.
Feature image photo credit: Pixabay