Hydrocephalus – Medical Marijuana Research Overview

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Hydrocephalus is spinal fluid building up in the brain and is a condition that is most common among infants and older adults. Studies have shown that marijuana helps improve the secondary symptoms associated with hydrocephalus.

Overview of Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus is the condition where fluid accumulates in the ventricles, or cavities, of the brain. The fluid that builds up is cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which surrounds both the brain and spinal cord to keep the brain buoyant, provide cushioning, moderate pressure and remove waste products. An imbalance in how much CSF is produced and how much is absorbed in the bloodstream is what causes hydrocephalus and the buildup of CSF can put pressure on the brain and cause impairments in function.

Why hydrocephalus develops is still unknown, but according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, it may result from inherited genetic abnormalities or developmental disorders.

Common symptoms of hydrocephalus include an unusually large head or a bulging or tense soft spot on the top of the head, nausea and vomiting, irritability, seizures, sleepiness, poor feeding, poor balance, headaches, decline in memory and concentration. The condition, especially in infants, poses risks to cognitive and physical development.

Surgery, where a shunt is inserted to divert the CNS elsewhere so that it can be absorbed, is capable of restoring the CSF back to normal levels, but it commonly requires a variety of methods to comprehensively manage the symptoms associated with the condition.

Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Hydrocephalus

Medical cannabis can help treat the symptoms associated with hydrocephalus. Cannabis has shown to be effective at managing seizures, nausea, sleep problems and pain.

Cannabis has been proven to decrease or prevent nausea and vomiting (Parker, et al., 2015). Cannabinoids found in cannabis, including tetrahydrocannabinol, can help regulate nausea and vomiting because they activate cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) of the endocannabinoid system and activating the CB1 receptor has been shown to suppress vomiting (Parker, et al., 2003).

The activation of the CB1 receptor by cannabinoids has also been shown to be a beneficial for reducing or even eliminate seizure activity (Blair, et al., 2006). The activation of the CB1 receptor dampens the release of a neurotransmitter and causes an overall reduction in neuronal excitability.

Cannabinoids have also demonstrated theycan be effective for lowering pain levels (Ware, et al., 2006).

States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Hydrocephalus

Currently, only the states of Illinois and Connecticut have approved medical marijuana specifically for the treatment of hydrocephalus.

However, other states have approved medical marijuana to treat nausea, seizures and pain. The states that have approved cannabis for nausea include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The states that have approved cannabis for the treatment of seizures include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania (intractable seizures), Rhode Island, Tennessee (intractable seizures), Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. Several states that have approved cannabis to treat chronic pain, including  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.

A number of other states will consider allowing medical marijuana to be used for the treatment of hydrocephalus with recommendation by 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”).

In Washington D.C., any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment.

Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Hydrocephalus


  1. Blair, R.E., Deshpande, L.S., Sombati, S., Falenski, K.W., Martin, B.R., and DeLorenzo, R.J. (2006, June). Activation of the cannabinoid type-1 receptor mediates the anticonvulsant properties of cannabinoids in the hippocampal neuronal culture models of acquired epilepsy and status epilepticus. The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 317(3), 1072-1078. Retrieved from http://jpet.aspetjournals.org/content/317/3/1072.long.
  2. Hydrocephalus. (2014, April 2). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hydrocephalus/basics/definition/con-20030706.
  3. Hydrocephalus Fact Sheet. (2013, May). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/hydrocephalus/detail_hydrocephalus.htm.
  4. Parker, L.A., Mechoulam, R., Schlievert, C., Abbott, L., Fudge, M.L., and Burton, P. (2003, March). Effects of cannabinoids on lithium-induced conditioned rejection reactions in a rat model of nausea. Psychopharmacology, 166(2), 156-62. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-002-1329-2.
  5. Parker, L.A., Rock, E.M., Sticht, M.A., Wills, K.L., and Limebeer, C.L. (2015). Cannabinoids suppress acute and anticipatory nausea in preclinical rat models of conditioned gaping. Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 97(6), 559-61. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1002/cpt.98/full.
  6. Ware, M.A., Fitzcharles, M.A., Joseph, L., and Shir, Y. (2010, February 1). The effects of nabilone on sleep in fibromyalgia: results of a randomized controlled trial. Anesthesia and Analgesia, 110(2), 604-10. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/anesthesia-analgesia/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2010&issue=02000&article=00056&type=abstract.
  • September 28, 2015
  • Eve Ripley