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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after the baseball legend, is a debilitating disorder that affects an estimated 30,000 people in the United States at any given time. You might remember ALS from a recent craze when everyone decided to dump ice on their heads to raise awareness for the disease and money for ALS research. Of course, even hopped on the bandwagon for a good cause, and overall, the ALS Foundation received over $100 million in donations by the time the summer of the Ice Bucket Challenge was over.

ALS is a degenerative neurological disorder that causes muscle weakness, wasting, and paralysis of the limbs and control vital functions such as speech, swallowing, and breathing. The deterioration of these crucial muscles often leads to respiratory failure; even with breathing aids or a tracheotomy, the risk of respiratory failure persists.

Being diagnosed with ALS is devastating, and for many, it can feel like a death sentence. The average life expectancy of a person with ALS is two to five years. However, more than half of all people with ALS live more than three years from diagnosis, and there are definitely outliers, such as Stephen Hawking, one of the most iconic figures with ALS. Hawking was diagnosed in 1963, and now, more than 30 years later, he is among only 5% of those diagnosed with ALS who live more than 20 years after diagnosis.

Cannabis has long been known as a viable treatment option to relieve symptoms of ALS, but the most astonishing results have come from several people living with ALS who have managed to slow the progression of the disease through regular, controlled doses of cannabis.

A remarkable case comes from Cathy Jordan, diagnosed with ALS in 1986 and given less than five years to live. In the winter of 1989, Jordan spent the holiday in Florida, preparing for the end of her life, when she made a crucial discovery. While walking on the beach one night, she smoked a joint of Myakka Gold and felt her symptoms cease, essentially experiencing the neuroprotective effects of cannabis before they’d been proven.

Jordan never set out to be a cannabis activist, preferring instead to quietly continue treating her disease. She tried to tell her neurologist in 1989 that cannabis had helped her, and he tried to convince her husband to have her committed to a mental facility. In 1994, Jordan met a new doctor who was astonished by her progress. When he asked what she’d been doing to stay alive, she informed him, and he advised her, “Smoke all the cannabis you can and never tell a soul because they will never believe you.”

Unfortunately, Donnie Clark, the grower of Myakka Gold (named for the Myakka region of Florida), was arrested and sent to prison for 12 years until former President Clinton commuted his sentence. The strain itself, which Jordan credits with stopping the progression of her ALS, has since been eradicated by the DEA.

Cathy Jordan, however, ended up becoming the inspiration for Amendment 2, the medical cannabis initiative in Florida that was edged out last November. Ironically, on February 25, 2013, the same day that the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Amendment was announced, Jordan’s home was raided, and local authorities seized 23 plants. However, charges were dropped when it became evident that she was using cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Now, finally, years later, there has been more and more conclusive research indicating that these patients’ self-medicating regimen was beneficial, after all. Preclinical data shows that cannabis has powerful anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective effects, and with regular applications, it may slow the progress of the disease and prolong the lives of the individuals affected by ALS.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a qualifying condition for medical cannabis programs in Delaware, Washington, D.C., Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York. However, with more promising research emerging, other states’ medical cannabis programs need to follow suit and allow suffering patients the right to try and treat this horrible disease with cannabis if it can provide them with even a little bit of relief.

Molecules to target ALS

Cannabigerol (CBG) must be included in this discussion because it synergizes the other cannabinoids. It has also been found to stimulate brain cell and bone cell growth.

ALS is a painful condition, so these cannabinoids are indicated: delta-9-THC, CBD, CBC, and THCV. 

CBC, THC, and CBG are all anti-depressants, and THCa has antispasmodic properties. CBN should be included in this mix because it is a pretty good antioxidant. Many of the other cannabinoids were included for this same reason.

The terpenes to target for pain are borneol, pinene, myrcene, and eucalyptol for their antinociceptive properties. For depression, linalool and limonene should be included for obvious reasons. Alpha-terpineol is the terpene that comes to mind as an antioxidant and should therefore also be targeted.

It is difficult to find a strain that is high in all these molecules, but this should give you a basic idea of what to look for.

Methods of ingestion

Vaporization is probably best because the medicinal benefits are felt immediately. Edibles should also be considered due to their long-lasting effects, and as usual low dose is critical.