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ALS is one of the conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana in New York according to the Compassionate Care Act. While ALS has no cure, this treatment can significantly improve quality of life by relieving a broad range of symptoms. Many individuals with ALS and their providers are still not aware that medical marijuana is available as a treatment option. The video below discusses 4 tips to consider and shares reports from ALS patients that tried medical marijuana. Please share it with your doctors and friends to raise awareness about how medical marijuana can improve quality of life in ALS. 

What is ALS?

ALS is a motor neuron disease that affects nerves in the brain and spinal cord. It leads to progressively worsening function, voluntary movement and affects involuntary movements. Walking, eating, talking, swallowing and breathing are all affected. Many patients also suffer from significant pain, muscle stiffness, spasticity and other symptoms that are helped by medical marijuana.

Medical Marijuana works throughout the brain, spinal cord and body. It works at some of the same areas that are affected by ALS. It works excellently to control pain and spasticity in patients with ALS and it can also help with other symptoms of ALS. Before I share some of the survey results from patients with ALS who tried medical marijuana, here are a few important tips about treatment with medical marijuana.

Tip # 1: Medical Marijuana and Recreational Marijuana are Different

Recreational strains of marijuana have high levels of THC and are designed to get people high or stoned. They can be laced and they are often contaminated with heavy metals and pesticides. Medical marijuana, on the other hand, is less psychoactive, uses lower levels of THC, and causes fewer side effects without compromising therapeutic benefits. In fact, some strains especially those used for epilepsy, has no THC so it won’t cause cognitive effects or make one feel ‘high’ or ‘stoned.’

Tip # 2: Medical Marijuana is a Group of Medication

Medical Marijuana isn’t one medicine. It’s a group of medication. This is like treatments in other families like the class of antidepressants or NSAIDs. For example, Ibuprofen, Naproxen and Diclofenac–are all NSAIDs–with their own distinct effects and side effects. They are related but different. The variation within the class of medical marijuana is even greater since there are over 500 ingredients in the marijuana plant.

Tip # 3: It’s Important to See a Doctor Specializing in Medical Marijuana

Like any other disease, a physician who understands your ALS and medical marijuana is ideal and can make sure the right strain is used for your condition.

Tip #4: Regular Follow Up with a Physician is Important

To maximize treatment benefits and reduce the risk of side effects seeing a physician within 2 weeks after starting treatment and every month until treatment is optimized is a good idea. In general, the more a doctor knows about medical marijuana the more likely it is that they will want to see you frequently to adjust the treatment.

What did patients with ALS who tried Medical Marijuana report?

In a survey reported in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, in addition to pain and spasticity medical marijuana improved speech, drooling, swallowing, and shortness of breath. Improvements were also noted to appetite, sleep, sexual dysfunction and depression. In another survey of 127 patients with ALS, similar benefits were reported. Additionally, most patients reported improvements to anxiety and sleep.

Please make sure to like and/or share our video and article with friends and doctors, so that those affected by ALS can find out about how medical marijuana can help improve quality of life in ALS.

Michael Morgenstern, MD Dr. Michael Morgenstern is a double board certified neurologist. He treats patients with medical marijuana at Morgenstern Medical at locations in Manhattan, Queens (New Hyde Park) and Hicksville. He is also the founder of the NY Medical Marijuana Association and can be reached at [email protected]