Motor Neurone Disease (MND) is a rare neurogenerative condition that progressively affects the motor neurones, which are the nerve cells in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) that send messages to muscles, instructing them to move. Over time, this communication to the muscles is gradually reduced, affecting movement, speech, eating and breathing.

MND can occur in adults of any age but is more commonly seen in people over 50. There are up to 5,000 individuals living with MND at any one time in the UK. The course of the disease varies by individual and is somewhat unpredictable, but the disease is life-limiting and, currently, there is no cure.

Having said this, there are care strategies that can help to alleviate some of the symptoms experienced by patients, and medical cannabis is being explored in this role.

Medical cannabis

Cannabis contains compounds known as cannabinoids, THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol ) and CBD (cannabidiol). These substances act on the endocannabinoid system in the body, which plays a central role in regulating various physiological functions, including immune response, pain and inflammation. THC produces the psychoactive effects associated with cannabis, while CBD is associated with a range of potentially therapeutic properties, including anti-inflammatory effects.

The ratio of THC to CBD content in a medical cannabis product affects its overall performance, so it is important to obtain it from reliable, professional sources.

Medical cannabis in MND

In the absence of a cure, the management of motor neurone disease is focused on the alleviation of symptoms and maximising the patient’s quality of life. There has been increasing interest in the potential of medical cannabis in the management of these symptoms, and research is ongoing.

Medical cannabis has shown promise in a range of symptoms, some of which are commonly experienced by individuals living with motor neurone disease.

Pain relief – chronic pain is a problem commonly associated with MND. Medical cannabis has analgesic properties and may be of some assistance. It has been used in the management of long-term pain conditions.

Muscle relaxation – the THC component ofmedical cannabis is a muscle relaxant, and may help to alleviate spasms and stiffness, potentially improving patient comfort and mobility.

Appetite stimulation – patients with MND may feel disinclined to eat because of mechanical issues with swallowing. Medical cannabis may stimulate the appetite and encourage improved nutritional intake.

Sleep improvement – patients may experience sleep disturbance as a result of physical symptoms, or because of anxiety. Medical cannabis may assist with sleep problems .

Alleviation of anxiety and depression – any long-term illness may be associated with anxiety and/ or depression. Medical cannabis may have a positive impact on mood and the patient’s sense of well-being.

General safety considerations

While cannabis can offer real benefits, as with all medicines, care is required and it may interact with other medications that you are taking. Some people experience side effects when using CBD, these include tiredness, changes in appetite, and diarrhoea. Your doctor should monitor you closely to manage any side effects.

The quality of the cannabis you are taking is also important. Not all cannabis products are created equal. It is essential to ensure you are taking high-quality, tested medical cannabis products to get the most benefit and avoid harmful effects. NICE advises people to stop any non-prescribed cannabis, including over-the-counter, online and illicit products.

Medical guidance should always be sought when embarking on a new therapy.

Medical cannabis, motor neurone disease and MyAccess Clinics

In the United Kingdom, although medical cannabis was legalised in 2018, it can only be prescribed by a registered specialist. At MyAccess Clinics, a leading UK medical clinic, our specialists aim to provide high-quality, personalised medical care to those who have tried at least two other types of therapies and treatments. Dr Michal Modestowicz, MD, PhD, MRCP(UK), FEBN, (known to his patients as Dr Mike) is a Consultant Neurologist at MyAccess Clinics specialising in a range of neurological conditions. He trained in both the UK and Poland and he is an advocate of holistic approach to health and wellbeing.