Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease. It affects 6,000 Americans each year, targeting and damaging the nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord. While there is no cure for this disease, medical marijuana for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has helped slow its progression for patients.


As a neurodegenerative disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis kills nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Because ALS interferes with the brain’s control over muscles, the condition hinders all types of movement, including speech, swallowing and breathing. Patients in the later stages of the disease may become paralyzed, and 100 percent of ALS cases result in death.

Three types of ALS exist:

  • Sporadic: The most common form of this degenerative disease is sporadic ALS, which affects 90 to 95 percent of ALS patients. Sporadic means that there are no known genetic causes, underlying conditions or risk factors.
  • Familial: Between 5 and 10 percent of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis patients have familial ALS, which means that they inherited it from a relative. When someone with ALS has a child, there’s a 50 percent chance that their son or daughter will also develop the disease.
  • Guamanian: In the 1950s, Guam residents experienced a high rate of ALS diagnoses. Research suggests that this happened because of a substance produced by cyanobacteria. Since this phenomenon has been resolved, patients are no longer diagnosed with it.


Physicians may not know why ALS occurs, but they do know why it causes the symptoms that it does — brain and nerve cells are being destroyed. Symptoms of ALS are mild and gradual and include:

  • Unsteadiness
  • Problems doing daily tasks
  • Weakness in your extremities
  • Stooped posture and trouble lifting your head
  • Uncontrolled emotional outbursts
  • Cognitive changes
  • Fatigue
  • Chronic pain
  • Speech difficulties
  • Problems with your saliva and mucus
  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing


Medical marijuana can improve an ALS patient’s quality of life. Many of the symptoms that ALS patients experience, like muscle spasticity, are approved for medical weed treatment.

The muscle stiffness or spasticity caused by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis interferes with your daily life, such as by making walking difficult. Some studies indicate that medical cannabis can help with muscle spasticity and make it easier to live your life.

One of the symptoms associated with ALS, chronic pain, can make living with the disorder challenging. Painkillers might work, but they can hurt your liver and have addictive properties. Medical cannabis enhances the cannabinoids in your body that relieve pain.

ALS patients can also experience a reduced appetite. Many folks joke about medical marijuana causing “the munchies,” but it can give patients the desire to eat. In fact, when combined with cognitive behavior therapy, cannabis can help people with eating disorders have a healthier outlook on food.

A symptom of ALS that you might not consider is its emotional effect. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can cause emotional outbursts and those who don’t have them still deal with the mental toll that a terminal illness like ALS puts on someone. For patients dealing with mood problems, especially anxiety and depression, medical weed can provide relief.