Can compounds within marijuana reduce or eliminate the discomfort of muscle cramps? Based on research coming from the multiple sclerosis (MS) community, the answer is yes. Several years ago, the American Academy of Neurology acknowledged marijuana’s potential to treat the debilitating spasticity associated with MS, and the medical community is increasingly coming to a consensus supporting this position.
And while the muscle cramps and involuntary twitches experienced by many people not afflicted with chronic neuromuscular diseases may be a source of temporary discomfort rather than long-term disability, the same physiological reactions to marijuana that aid in the treatment of MS may provide relief from common muscle spasms.
What Causes Muscle Spasms?
Muscle spasms, known in the medical community as involuntary hypertonicity, can affect anyone from elite athletes to couch potatoes. These spasms are created by the sudden, involuntary contraction of muscle tissue, and may last from a few seconds to several minutes. Mild forms of these contractions are often referred to as cramps, and may be caused by:
- Insufficient stretching before physical activity
- Muscle fatigue
- Exercising in heated temperatures
- Hormone imbalance or pregnancy
- Electrolyte imbalances in potassium, magnesium, and calcium
- Poor blood circulation
- Excess weight
- Prescription drug side effects
Rest and rehydration may provide relief from mild cramping. However, the more persistent and severe spasms that result in violent twitches and elevated levels of pain are not so easily resolved. These ongoing twitches and cramps may be related to one or more of the factors listed above, or they may be caused by underlying conditions such as spinal cord injuries, degenerative conditions such as dystonia or Huntington’s disease, or a number of diseases of the nervous system such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis. These conditions may lead to spasticity, and cause muscles to remain in a state of continuous contraction, causing stiffness or tightness of the muscles and interfering with normal speech, movement and gait.
Treatment of more severe and often chronic forms of muscle spasms typically involve a range of pharmaceutical regimes. Among the more common drugs used to treat muscle spasms are Cyclobenzaprine, Tizanidine and Baclofen. Potential side effects of these drugs include:
- Dry mouth
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
(Each of which comes with its own set of cautions and side effects.)
Medical Marijuana for Muscle Spams
Much of what is know about marijuana’s potential to relieve muscle spasms comes from MS research, resulting in marijuana being recognized as an accepted and effective treatment for conditions such as multiple sclerosis. This acceptance is based on marijuana’s documented ability to reduce certain inflammation responses that trigger muscle spasms.
A study by the University of South Carolina found that cannabinoids such as THC bind with cannabinoid receptors within the human endocannabinoid system to reduced levels of inflammatory proteins. Reduced levels of these proteins in turn result in a suppression of the spasm response. Other studies have examined the effectiveness of THC/CBD combination therapies to decrease muscle spasticity and suppress neuroinflammation.
A recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology stated that:
Cannabinoids extracted from marijuana (Cannabis sativa), as well as synthetic forms have been well-characterized for their anti-inflammatory properties Cannabinoids have also been shown to ameliorate spasticity and neuropathic pain in MS patients. It is for this reason, a combination of Δ9—tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) has been approved as a drug (Sativex) in several countries including Europe, Australia, and Canada.
Other studies reported that the a synthetic cannabinoid, Nabilone, significantly reduces spasticity-related pain and that smoked cannabis provided measurable symptom and pain reduction in patients with treatment-resistant spasticity.
In one of the most comprehensive studies of this type to date, 500 individuals afflicted with spasticity were provided with the synthetic cannabinoid, Sativex, for a period of four weeks. Follow-up reporting showed that approximately half the study participants reported an improvement in spasticity of greater than 20 percent.
Marijuana for Muscle Recovery
In addition to research that supports marijuana’s effectiveness in providing relief for persons afflicted with MS and other diseases of the nervous system, there is considerable anecdotal evidence of is ability to mitigate or prevent the more common but less debilitating muscle aches and spasms associated with exercise, injury, or overuse. One of the primary ways in which marijuana marijuana can help relieve these spasms is though the recovery of the muscle itself.
A growing number of athletes are turning to marijuana for its anti-inflammatory role in muscle recovery. Any form of exercise that results in gains in the size or strength of muscles is the result of a process that first tears down and then regenerates muscle tissue. This process typically results in some degree of inflammation of the muscle tissues, and may create pain signals. The known anti-inflammatory properties of marijuana include the role of cannabidiol (CBD) in reducing the damaging effects of exercise-induced oxidative stress.
As professional and elite athletes endorse CBD compounds for muscle recovery and pain management, even major professional sports leagues are reexamining their position on the use of medical marijuana for pain management and workout recovery. In recognition of these changes, the World Anti-Doping Agency removed CBD from its list of banned substances in 2018.
In addition to aiding in muscle recovery, which may reduce the frequency and severity of muscle spasms, marijuana can mitigate the pain of muscle overuse and injury during that recovery phase. These pain-relieving properties have been well-documented in medical literature and provide further endorsement for medical marijuana’s use in muscle recovery from both exercise and injury.
There is currently a renewed interest in examining marijuana’s role in the treatment of muscle spasms caused by injuries and other issues unrelated to diseases like multiple sclerosis. No conclusive research has yet emerged, but given the long and substantial body of testimonies and anecdotal evidence available, it’s not much of a stretch to conclude that the same healing properties that medical marijuana can provide for those who suffer from MS can be used to treat milder forms of muscle spasms.