cerebral palsy and cannabis

Cerebral Palsy – Medical Marijuana Research Overview

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Cerebral palsy is a term used to categorize a group of neurological disorders that cause permanent motor disability. Studies have shown that cannabis can help cerebral palsy patients manage symptoms associated with the disorders, such as spasms, seizures, and pain.

Overview of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is group of permanent neurological disorders that affect muscle coordination and body movement. The disorders appear in infancy or early childhood. Most children with cerebral palsy are born with the disorder and signs typically appear before the age of three.

There are four main types of cerebral palsy, including spastic cerebral palsy, dyskinetic cerebral palsy, ataxic cerebral palsy, and mixed cerebral palsy. Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common, accounting for about 80 percent of people with cerebral palsy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most severe form of spastic cerebral palsy is spastic quadriplegia, which affects all four limbs.

A lack of muscle coordination is the most common symptom associated with cerebral palsy. Children also commonly have stiff or tight muscles and spasticity. The spasticity, which leads to cartilage degeneration and contractures, can cause significant pain. Other neurological symptoms can also develop, such as seizures, hearing loss, bladder and bowel control problems, and impaired vision.

There is no treatment or cure for cerebral palsy, but early intervention and medications have shown to help children overcome developmental disabilities and improve muscle control. Medications to help manage seizures, spasms, and pain are common. Children may use braces, walkers, or wheelchairs to get around. In some cases, surgery to release tight muscles or correct anatomical abnormalities is necessary.

Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Cerebral Palsy

Research examining the effects of cannabis on cerebral palsy is relatively limited, but the studies that have been done show great promise. In one survey, marijuana was found to be the most effective method for reducing pain in adults with cerebral palsy3. In another study, cannabinoids were shown to provide neuroprotective effects in animals with brain damage mimicking that of cerebral palsy in humans7. Another found that two daily mouth sprays of cannabinoids improved the quality of life and decreased the need for assistance in a 28-year-old man with severe cerebral palsy1.

Additionally, cannabis and its cannabinoids have demonstrated therapeutic benefits for managing symptoms that are commonly associated with the neurological disorder., such as spasms, seizures, and pain. In multiple sclerosis patients, cannabinoids have shown to be effective at significantly reducing, and in some cases even eliminating, muscle spasms6. Cannabis has also proven to be an effective pain-relieving agent4.

States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Cerebral Palsy

Connecticut is the only state to specifically approve medical marijuana for minors under 18 with cerebral palsy.

However, nearly all states with medical marijuana laws have approved cannabis for the treatment of “chronic pain,” a symptom commonly associated with cerebral palsy. These states include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. The states of Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Montana, Ohio and Vermont allow medical marijuana to treat “severe pain.” The states of Arkansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, and West Virginia have approved cannabis for the treatment of “intractable pain.”

Several states have approved medical marijuana for the treatment of spasms. These states include: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode IslandUtah (persistent spasms), and Washington.

In Washington D.C., any condition recommended by a DC-licensed physician can be approved for medical marijuana. California allows medical marijuana for “any debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been ‘deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician.’”

Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Cerebral Palsy


  1. Arvio, M., Bjelogrlic-Laakso, N., Salokivi, T. (2014). Cannabinoid mouth spray brought help to a severely spastic young man. Duodecim, 130(14), 1452-4. Retrieved from http://duodecimlehti.fi/lehti/2014/14/duo11742.
  2. Facts About Cerebral Palsy. (2015, July 13). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/facts.html.
  3. Hirsch, A.T., Kratz, A.L., Engel, J.M., and Jensen, M.P. (2011, March). Survey results of pain treatments in adults with cerebral palsy. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 90(3), 207-216. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3036542/.
  4. Lynch, M.E., and Campbell, F. (2011, November). Cannabinoids for treatment of chronic non-cancer pain; a systematic review of randomized trials. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 72(5), 735-744. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3243008/.
  5. NINDS Cerebral Palsy Information Page. (2016, March 15). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/cerebral_palsy/cerebral_palsy.htm.
  6. Pertwee, R.G. (2002, August). Cannabinoids and multiple sclerosis. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 95(2), 165-74. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0163725802002553.
  7. Shouman, B., Fontaine, R.H., Baud, O., Schwendimann, L., Keller, M., Spedding, M., Lelievre, V., and Gressens, P. (2006, June). Endocannabinoids potentially protect the newborn brain against AMPA-kainate receptor mediated excitotoxic damage. British Journal of Pharmacology, 149(4), 442-51. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1751782/.
  • May 10, 2017
  • Eve Ripley