Central Nervous System Disorders – Medical Marijuana Research Overview

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Central nervous system disorders are a group of diseases and conditions that affect the health and functioning of the spinal cord and brain. Studies have shown cannabis can limit the progression of many central nervous system disorders and help manage symptoms like pain, seizures and spasms.

Overview of Central Nervous System Disorders

Central nervous system disorders are a broad category of conditions or diseases that affect the spinal cord or brain. There are many different types of central nervous system disorders, some of which include epilepsy, migraine, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Tourette syndrome, dystonia, multiple sclerosis, meningitis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and bipolar disorder. While central nervous system disorders can vary greatly from each other, all the disorders cause a loss of sufficient, intact nervous system circuits that orchestrate particular functions.

The damage that leads to or causes central nervous system disorders can include trauma, infections, degeneration, congenital problems, structural defects, tumors, blood flow disruption and autoimmune disorders.

Symptoms associated with central nervous system disorders vary depending on the specific condition, but can include headaches, tingling or loss of feeling, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, loss of sight or double vision, memory loss, impaired mental ability, lack or coordination, tremors and seizures, muscle rigidity, and back pain.

Most central nervous system disorders cannot be cured, but medications, therapy, surgery and other treatment options can help limit their progression and manage associated symptoms.

Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Central Nervous System Disorders

Studies have shown that cannabis has neuroprotective effects, and in turn supports the health of the brain and spinal cord and helps in the treatment of a variety of central nervous system disorders. The cannabinoids found in cannabis, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), have shown they effectively protect neurons and astrocytes from damage, modulate inflammatory reaction and assist in neuroregeneration (Kubajewska & Constantinescu, 2010) (Croxford, et al., 2008).

Cannabinoids interact with the cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) of the endocannabinoid system, which plays a significant regulatory role in health and disease (Di Marzo, Bifulco & De Petrocellis, 2004). The upregulation of the endocannabinoid system has shown to reduce the severity of symptoms like neuropathic pain and muscle spasms and slow the progression of central nervous system disorders like multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and others (Di Marzo, Bifulco & De Petrocellis, 2004).

Alzheimer’s Disease

Cannabinoids slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by inhibiting the production of beta-amyloid proteins, considered the key contributor to the disease’s progression. They also protects brain cells from the deleterious effects of amyloid-beta, reduces inflammation, and supports the brain’s repair process by enhancing the birth of new cells (Currias, et al., 2016).


Cannabinoids reduces the involuntary muscle contractions, indicating they could be beneficial for symptoms associated with dystonia (Baker, et al., 2000).


Cannabinoids have been shown to effectively and significantly decrease the frequency of seizures (Wallace, Martin & DeLorenzo, 2002).


Studies have found that cannabis is effective at improving sleep disruption, pain, depression, joint stiffness, anxiety, physical function and quality of life in individuals with fibromyalgia (de Souza Nascimento, et al., 2013).


Cannabis reduces inflammation, thus potentially offering therapeutic benefit to those with lupus, and can reduce pain associated with the disorder (Clayton, Marshall, Bountra & O’Shaughnessy, 2002).


Through activation of the cannabinoid receptors, cannabis inhibits the pain response caused by migraines (Akerman, Holland, Lasalandra & Goardsby, 2013) (Greco, et al., 2014).

Multiple Sclerosis

Cannabis reduces pain and muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis and helps slow the disease’s progression (Baker, et al., 2000). One animal study found that cannabinoids reduced damage to myelin caused from inflammation, thereby providing neuroprotection (Pryce, et al., 2003).

Parkinson’s Disease

Cannabis’ neuroprotective effects and ability to encourage cell health reduces the progression of Parkinson’s disease (Zeissler, et al., 2016). It has also shown to help manage the tremors, rigidity, bradykinesia, motor disability and impairments, sleep problems and pain associated with the disorder (Lotan, Treves, Roditi & Djaldetti, 2014).

Tourette Syndrome

Cannabis safely reduces the frequency of tics caused by Tourette syndrome (Muller-Vahl, 2013).

States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Central Nervous System Disorders

No states include central nervous system disorders on their list of approved conditions for medical marijuana. However, many do allow medical marijuana for the treatment of specific central nervous system disorders.

For example, Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming have approved medical marijuana for the treatment of either epilepsy or seizure disorders. California and Illinois have specifically approved medical marijuana for the treatment of migraines. Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Rhode Island have approved medical marijuana for Alzheimer’s disease. Arkansas, Illinois and North Dakota have approved medical marijuana specifically for the treatment of fibromyalgia. Illinois and New Mexico has approved medical marijuana for the treatment of dystonia. Illinois and New Hampshire have approved medical marijuana specifically for the treatment of lupus. Arkansas, Illinois and Minnesota have approved medical marijuana specifically for the treatment of Tourette syndrome. Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, and West Virginia have approved medical marijuana for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Vermont, and West Virginia allow medical marijuana for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

In addition, in Washington D.C., any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment. Plus, various other states will consider allowing medical marijuana to be used for the treatment of central nervous system disorders with the recommendation from a physician. These states include: California (any debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been recommended by a physician), Connecticut (other medical conditions may be approved by the Department of Consumer Protection), Massachusetts (other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician), Nevada (other conditions subject to approval), Oregon (other conditions subject to approval), Rhode Island (other conditions subject to approval), and Washington (any “terminal or debilitating condition”).

Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Central Nervous System Disorder


  1. Akerman, S., Holland, P.R., Lasalandra, M.P. and Goadsby, P.J. (2013, September). Endocannabinoids in the brainstem modulate dural trigeminovascular nociceptive traffic via CB1 and “triptan” receptors: implications in migraine. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(37), 14869-77. Retrieved from http://www.jneurosci.org/content/33/37/14869.
  2. Baker, D., Pryce, G., Croxford, J.L., Brown, P., Pertwee, R.G., Huffman, J.W., and Layward, L. (2000, March 2). Cannabinoids control spasticity and tremor in a multiple sclerosis model. Nature, 404(6773), 84-7. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/35003583.
  3. Cao, C., Li, Y., Liu, H., Bai, G., Mayl, J., Lin, X., Sutherland, K., Nabar, N., and Cai, J. (2014). The potential therapeutic effects of THC on Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 42(3), 973-4. Retrieved from http://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease/jad140093.
  4. Central Nervous System Disease. (2013, October 27). International Neuromodulation Society. Retrieved from http://www.neuromodulation.com/central-nervous-system-disease-definition.
  5. Clayton, N., Marshall, F.H., Bountra, C., and O’Shaughnessy, C.T. (2002, April). CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors are implicated in inflammatory pain. Pain, 96(3), 253-60. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/pain/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2002&issue=04000&article=00005&type=abstract.
  6. Croxford, J.L., Pryce, G., Jackson, S.J., Ledent, C., Giovannoni, G., Pertwee, R.G., Yamamura, T., and Baker, D. (2008, January). Cannabinoid-mediated neuroprotection, not immunosuppression, may be more relevant to multiple sclerosis. Journal of Neuroimmunology, 193(1-2), 120-9. Retrieved from http://www.jni-journal.com/article/S0165-5728(07)00396-7/fulltext.
  7. Currais, A., Quehenberger, O., Armando, A.M., Daugherty, D., Maher, P., and Schubert, D. (2016, June 23). Amyloid proteotoxicity initiates an inflammatory response blocked by cannabinoids. Aging and Mechanisms of Disease, doi:10.1038/npjamd.2016.12. Retrieved from http://www.nature.com/articles/npjamd201612–.
  8. de Lago, E., Moreno-Martet, M., Cabranes, A., Ramos, J.A., and Fernandez-Ruiz, J. (2012, June). Cannabinoids ameliorate disease progression in a model of multiple sclerosis in mice, acting preferentially through CB1 receptor-mediated anti-inflammatory effects. Neuropharmacology, (62)7, 2299-308. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0028390812000500.
  9. de Souza Nascimento, S., Desantana, J.M., Nampo, F.K., Ribeiro, E.A., da Silva, D.L., Araujo-Junior, J.X., da Silva Almeida, J.R., Bonjardim, L.R., de Souza Araujo, A.A., and Quintans-Junior, L.J. (2013). Efficacy and safety of medicinal plants or related natural products for fibromyalgia: a systematic review. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3687718/.
  10. Di Marzo, V., Bifulco, M., and De Petrocellis, L. (2004, September). The endocannabinoid system and its therapeutic exploitation. Nature Reviews, 3(9), 771-84. Retrieved from http://www.nature.com/nrd/journal/v3/n9/full/nrd1495.html.
  11. Greco, R., Mangione, A.S., Sandrini, G., Nappi, G. and Tassorelli, C. (2014, March). Activation of CB2 receptors as a potential therapeutic target for migraine: evaluation in an animal model. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 15, 14. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3995520/.
  12. Kubajewska, I., and Constantinescu, C.S. (2010, August). Cannabinoids and experimental models of multiple sclerosis. Immunobiology, 215(8), 647-57. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0171298509001442.
  13. Lotan, I., Treves, T.A., Roditi, Y., and Djaldetti, R. (2014, March-April). Cannabis (medical marijuana) treatment for motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson disease: an open-label observational study. Clinical Neuropharmacology, 37(2), 41-4. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/clinicalneuropharm/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2014&issue=03000&article=00001&type=abstract.
  14. Muller-Vahl, K.R. (2013). Treatment of Tourette syndrome with cannabinoids. Behavioral Neurology, 27(1), 119-24. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5215298/.
  15. Overview of Nervous System Disorders. (n.d.). John Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/nervous_system_disorders/overview_of_nervous_system_disorders_85,P00799/.
  16. Pryce, G., Ahmed, Z., Hankey, D.J., Jackson, S.J., Croxford, J.L. Pocock, J.M., Ledent, C., Petzold, A., Thompson, A.J., Giovannoni, G., Cuzner, M.L., and Baker, D. (2003, October). Cannabinoids inhibit neurodegeneration in models of multiple sclerosis. Brain, 126(Pt 10), 2191-202. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/brain/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/brain/awg224.
  17. Wallace, M.J., Martin, B.R., and DeLorenzo, R.J. (2002). Evidence for a physiological role of endocannabinoids in the modulation of seizure threshold and severity. European Journal of Pharmacology, 452(3), 295-301. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0014299902023312.
  18. Zeissler, M.L., Eastwood, J., McCorry, K., Hanemann, C.O., Zajicek, J.P., and Carrol, C.B. (2016, July 19). Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol protects against MPP+ toxicity in SH-SY5Y cells by restoring proteins involved in mitochondrial biogenesis. Oncotarget, 7(29), 46603-46614. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5216821/.
  • December 8, 2015
  • Eve Ripley