Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is one of the most debilitating of the group of progressive neurodegenerative diseases. It affects only the motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord which causes progressive weakness and atrophy of muscles. The average life expectancy after diagnosis is 2-5 years. There is currently no cure. The focus of this article is to explain how medical cannabis extends the life expectancy of ALS survivors. I will introduce you to one of the longest surviving ALS patients in the US who credits medical cannabis usage with his longevity.
Symptoms of ALS
Like all neurogenerative diseases, the symptoms vary from person to person as does the rate at which the disease progresses. The most common symptom is a painless, gradual onset of progressive muscle weakness which typically leads to paralysis. The disease affects different muscles; for some, it affects speech and swallowing. For others, it can affect the diaphragm which requires ventilatory devices. It almost universally results in paralysis of the arms and legs. Because ALS only attacks the motor neurons, the 5 senses are not affected.
Other symptoms include:
- Dropping things for no apparent reason
- Abnormal fatigue in arms/legs
- Slurred speech
- Muscle cramping and twitching
- Uncontrollable laughing or crying
Diagnosis of ALS
There is no definitive test to diagnose the disease. It is more common to reach a diagnosis by ruling out other diseases that mimic ALS. A diagnostic workup includes:
- Electromyography (EMG)
- Nerve conduction velocity (NCV)
- Blood and urine tests examining thyroid/parathyroid levels, heavy metals and high resolution serum protein electrophoresis
- Spinal tap
- X-rays and MRI
- Myelogram of the cervical spine
- Muscle/nerve biopsy
- Thorough neurological examination
Causes of ALS
- Chemical Imbalance; elevated levels of glutamate in the body
- Gene Mutation accounts for 5-10% of ALS cases known as the familial type of ALS. Sporadic ALS accounts for the majority of cases (90-95%) and is thought to occur at random
- Abnormal Immune Response
- The Body’s Mishandling of Proteins
- Exposure to Environmental Risk Factors
How Medical Cannabis Helps Control ALS Symptoms
Medical cannabis, with its neuroprotective qualities, stops the progression of ALS by preserving the motor neurons in the brain. Here is the link to an article I wrote on the subject.
Meet Barry Coughlin
I first “met” Barry in October, 2016 through the Illinois Medical Cannabis Community FB page. He is still alive and kicking and was diagnosed with ALS in 2001. He currently lives in southern Illinois in Saint Elmo, where he was born. Within 2 years of his diagnosis, he lost 50% of his motor function and after 5 years it was up to 80%. He is in a wheelchair, almost completely paralyzed. He can move his head and his hands and can still speak, although his speech is quite slurred. He does not require any breathing apparati or feeding tubes. Due to the neurorotective qualities of medical cannabis, his symptoms have not gotten any worse as it has preserved his remaining neuron connections.
I had difficulty understanding Barry, so his caretaker, Becky, translated for me when I needed it. He was very fortunate to be one of the few people in the country who was given access to a robotic arm. He uses it to help him with many of the normal tasks that we able-bodied people take for granted. Here is a recent picture of Barry using the arm to help him vape his medicine.
Barry had used cannabis in his early teens and 20s but stopped using it until he met Cathy Jordan at an ALS support group in 2001 in Florida, where he was living at the time. She is another long time survivor of ALS. She was diagnosed in 1986 and is still alive today. She is a fierce advocate of medical cannabis and has toured all over the country, promoting its usage.
Barry returned to his home state of Illinois in 2002 and began using cannabis to manage his symptoms. He was one of the first patients to apply to the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program in December, 2015. He had to overcome some trials and tribulations which included trouble with the fingerprinting process and finding his “medical cannabis home.” He prevailed, as Barry is a survivor. He contracted the swine flu in February, 2019 and wasn’t given very good odds for survival, but he recovered.
I checked in with Barry a few days ago to find out how he is doing. He told me that his symptoms have not worsened in the 2 1/2 years since I first interviewed him. Barry is a writer, BTW. He uses one finger to type and it takes him a very long time to communicate. He told me he types 250 words an hour but doesn’t mind as long as he has the time. He is determined to remain as active and self-sufficient as possible.
Here is what Barry wrote:
Cannabis is a proven neuro-protectant. ALS is a neurological disease with no cure and only 2 FDA approved drugs. Neither of them are effective or recommended by doctors. Cannabis is the only treatment that has worked for symptom control and to slow the disease progression. June 11, 2019 will be the 18th anniversary of my diagnosis. The average lifespan of ALS after diagnosis is 2-5 years. I am living proof that cannabis is effective against the hideous disease, ALS.
Barry uses a modified vaporizer which includes a straw for easy access. His preferred strain is G6. He uses flower as well as wax and shatter. He has no pain, but he does have some muscle spasticity which is relieved by the medical cannabis.
Despite Barry’s disability, he remains upbeat and positive, with a great sense of humor and is just happy to be alive….thanks to medical cannabis.
Healthprep.com, What Causes Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, HealthPrep Staff
Products that help treat ALS: See our menu for the following products
Lucinda Williams Live Sugar
Soma NYC Diesel Live Budder
Frosted Oranges Shatter
Avexia Epsom Salt
Mary’s Medicinals 1:1 Compound
Mary’s Medicinals CBD Gel Pen
Apothecanna Circulating Lotion
Thin Mint Cookies
Ghost Train Haze