Spastic Quadriplegia – Medical Marijuana Research Overview

Spastic quadriplegia is a rare but severe type of cerebral palsy that causes spasticity in all four limbs. Studies have shown marijuana can help patients manage the spasms, seizures and pain caused by the condition.

Overview of Spastic Quadriplegia

Spastic quadriplegia is the most severe form of cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that appears in infancy or early childhood. Spastic quadriplegia is caused by brain damage or abnormalities that develop most commonly before birth. The damage prevents the brain from effectively controlling movement or maintaining posture and balance.

The specific types of brain damage that can cause spastic quadriplegia, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, is damage to the white matter of the brain, abnormal development of the brain, bleeding in the brain, and severe lack of oxygen in the brain.

The spastic quadriplegia type of cerebral palsy affects all four limbs, the trunk and the face, and often causes moderate-to-severe intellectual disability. Spastic quadriplegia causes children to experience severe muscle stiffness in their limbs and a loose, floppy neck. The condition commonly prevents them from walking or speaking clearly. In addition, it can cause frequent and uncontrollable seizures. Chronic pain develops due to severely tight muscles.

While spastic quadriplegia cannot be cured, treatment can help manage the condition’s associated symptoms and help many children eventually have near-normal lives as adults. Therapy efforts can include physical, occupational, recreational, speech and language therapies, medications to relax stiff muscles, surgery to lengthen muscles, and assistive devices to help with communication and mobility.

Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Spastic Quadriplegia

The limited amount of research on cannabis’ effect on cerebral palsy conditions suggests that marijuana does offer therapeutic benefits. Adults with cerebral palsy participating in a survey on the effectiveness of treatments responded that marijuana, though rarely used, provided the most pain relief (Hirsh, Kratz, Engel & Jensen, 2011). In addition, ne animal research study study found that treating newborn mice or rats with white matter brain damage mimicking that of cerebral palsy provided neuroprotective effects and protected the developing brain (Shouman, et al., 2006).

There’s markedly more research demonstrating cannabis’ medical efficacy for symptoms like spasms, seizures and pain associated with other conditions that support its use as a treatment opportunity for spastic quadriplegia. The two major cannabinoids found in cannabis act upon the endocannabinoid system via the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, which induces a reaction in muscle spasms, seizures and pain.

Studies have shown cannabis to be effective at significantly reducing muscle spasms in patients with multiple sclerosis (Pertwee, 2002). Additionally, evidence indicates that the endocannabinoid system can help regulate seizure activity, indicating that cannabinoids that interact with cannabinoid receptors may be beneficial (Wallace, Martin & DeLorenzo, 2002). In addition, cannabis has demonstrated the ability to significantly lower pain levels in patients suffering from neuropathic and nociceptive pain, and has even shown it can help manage pain that has proven refractory to other treatments (Ware, Wang, Shapiro & Collett, 2015).

States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Spastic Quadriplegia

Currently, Louisiana is the only state to have approved medical marijuana specifically for the treatment of spastic quadriplegia.

A number of other states will consider allowing medical marijuana to be used for the treatment of spastic quadriplegia 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”).

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

In addition, many states have approved medical marijuana for the treatment of spasms, a symptom associated with spastic quadriplegia. 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. Connecticut allows marijuana to be used to treat intractable spasticity and New Jersey allows it for spasticity disorders.

Several states approve medical marijuana to treat seizures, which often occur from spastic quadriplegia. These states include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania (intractable seizures), Rhode Island, Tennessee (intractable seizures), Vermont, Utah, Washington and West Virginia (intractable seizures).

Several states have approved medical marijuana specifically to treat “chronic pain,” which is a symptom that can arise in individuals with spastic quadriplegia. 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, 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.”

Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Spastic Quadriplegia

  • Marijuana found to cause marked improvement in adult man with cerebral palsy and epilepsy.
    Marijuana: an effective antiepileptic treatment in partial epilepsy? A case report and review of the literature.
  • Cannabinoids provided neuroprotection in mice and rats with brain lesions mimicking brain damage found in humans with cerebral palsy.
    Endocannabinoids potentially protect the newborn brain against AMPA-kainate receptor mediated excitotoxic damage.


  1. Cerebral Palsy: Hope Through Research. (2015, July 2). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved from
  2. Facts About Cerebral Palsy. (2015, July 13). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from
  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
  4. Pertwee, R.G. (2002, August). Cannabinoids and multiple sclerosis. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 95(2), 165-74. Retrieved from
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. Ware, M.A., Wang, T., Shapiro, S., and Collet, J.P. (2015, September 15). Cannabis for the Management of Pain: Assessment of Safety Study (COMPASS). The Journal of Pain. Retrieved from
  • October 6, 2015
  • Eve Ripley