Huntington’s disease is a genetic disorder that causes the death of brain cells. As the disease progresses, motor skills are severely affected and mental health issues increase. Symptoms generally appear when patients are approaching middle age, although in Juvenile Huntington’s disease children develop the disease much earlier. Because Huntington’s disease does not show up for the most part during childbearing years, gene testing often does not take place early on. Children of those with the disease have a 50% chance of also having the gene.
There are very few treatments for the disease that causes the wasting away of nerve cells in the basal ganglia. In early studies, one of the chemicals from cannabinoids, CBD, has shown an ability to protect neurons in the brain of mice that have the gene for Huntington’s disease.
Why CBD May Help
In the 1980s it was discovered that humans have two different types of sensors for cannabinoids on cell surfaces-CB1 and CB2. CP1 receptors are in the brain and spinal cord and it is thought that they produce the mind-altering effects associated with cannabis. The CB2 receptors are located on immune cells and have an anti-inflammatory effect.
The cannabis plant has two chemicals that are being used with medical care; THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). One of the primary concerns of THC is that it has a mind-altering effect; this is what people refer to as being ‘high’. This reaction is useful in some conditions to reduce pain. In contrast, the chemical CBD does not alter the mind, making it a better chemical for auto-immune disease medicine.
In the early 1990s, researchers found that there are sensors for cannabinoids in the human body. In a ‘normal’ brain one nerve cell communicates with another by sending a neurotransmitter chemical. Cannabinoids can also pass a message back to the first nerve cells to calm down.
Some Preclinical Trials Are Promising
In some preclinical trials, researchers discovered that THC and cannabidiol CBD protect the life of neurons in the brain in laboratory mice. They have hope that there will be a CBD treatment available for humans to deal with the loss of cannabinoid receptors in the basal ganglia.
It has been discovered that CBD helped to activate cannabinoid 2 receptors in lab mice with the disease. The treatment showed promise in reducing inflammation and toxicity of microglial cells. While there was evidence of slowing down the disease, it did not cure it completely.
The tremors and movement disorders associated with Huntington’s Disease have been reduced in some patients but there are still not enough studies to show if CBD actually will help.
Testing Is Still Early
At this time almost all testing for Huntington’s disease using CBD has used mice test subjects. There has been promise with lab mice with CB1 receptor levels reduction and the increase of CB2 levels. The importance of the CB2-targeting chemicals is that it lessens and delays nerve cell death. It is believed that the chemical effects of CBD calm down the brain’s immune system.
One of the research facilities, GW Pharmaceuticals Ltd. found that when they treated mice with CBD their brain lesions lessened. More promising to the researchers were that blood tests revealed that there was an improvement within the brain. This study did not show a clear finding when it came to improvements in motor and cognitive abilities. This study will be a baseline for trials yet to be started.
According to Dr. Michael Flower, there has yet to be proof that CBD has been effective in treating people with Huntington’s disease. However, the exciting findings seen in early animal trials where CBD has helped to delay the progression of the disease has given researchers hope that they may be able to find the missing piece that will slow or reduce involuntary tremors, reduced cognitive functioning and psychiatric disorders in Huntington’s disease patients in the future using CBD.
Learn more about CBD and how it can help with other disorders in a very popular article we published on this subject. Click here.