How Medical Cannabis May Help Patients With Muscular Dystrophy

By   |  Medical content reviewed by Dr. Shatha Atiya  |  December 19, 2023  

Cannabis has shown effectiveness in treating the symptoms of muscular dystrophy, such as pain, inflammation, and muscle spasms. And unlike traditional treatments, which often come with a host of side effects, cannabis is relatively safe and well-tolerated. Moreover, besides bringing physical relief to muscular dystrophy patients, cannabis may also help improve their quality of life by alleviating depression and anxiety. CBD, in particular, a compound found in cannabis, is thought to be responsible for most of these beneficial effects. Although scientific evidence is scarce, cannabis may emerge as a safe and effective treatment for muscular dystrophy as further research continues.

muscular dystrophy patient on an electric wheelchair

What is Muscular Dystrophy?

Muscular dystrophy (MD) is a group of inherited and progressive muscle disorders that cause the muscles to weaken and degenerate over time. And although there is no cure for muscular dystrophy, early diagnosis and treatment can help improve quality of life and prolong lifespan.

Muscular dystrophy is caused by mutations in genes that encode proteins needed for muscle function. Parents can pass these mutations down to their children, or they can occur spontaneously. 

Muscular dystrophy risk factors include:

  • having a family history of muscular dystrophy.
  • being male (as muscular dystrophy is often more severe in boys). Boys born to mothers with muscular dystrophy have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the disease-causing gene. In some forms of MD, girls who inherit the defective gene may show few or no symptoms at all. 

The most common symptoms of muscular dystrophy are:

  • muscle weakness
  • muscle wasting
  • difficulty moving

Other symptoms may include joint contractures, scoliosis, respiratory problems, and cardiac abnormalities. Symptoms typically begin in childhood and progress slowly over time. As the disease progresses, people with muscular dystrophy may lose the ability to walk, dress themselves, or even breathe without assistance. 

Types of muscular dystrophy

The different types of muscular dystrophy can vary in severity, with some causing muscle weakness and wasting, while others can lead to paralysis and death. The most common types of muscular dystrophy include Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Becker muscular dystrophy, and congenital muscular dystrophies. 

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is the most common form of childhood muscular dystrophy. One symptom of Duchenne muscular dystrophy is difficulty walking. As the disease progresses, patients may lose the ability to walk, stand, or even sit up. Becker muscular dystrophy is similar to Duchenne muscular dystrophy, but it is less severe and progresses more slowly. 

Congenital muscular dystrophies are a rare form of MD present at birth. It causes muscle weakness and deformities. Other muscular dystrophies include oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy (OPMD) which primarily affects adults. Symptoms of OPMD include drooping eyelids and issues with swallowing. 

Titin muscular dystrophy is another rare form that affects children and adults. Those with titin muscular dystrophy often experience muscle weakness and wasting, as well as heart problems.

Muscular dystrophy treatment options

Although there is no cure for muscular dystrophy, there are a number of treatment options that can improve quality of life. One promising approach is gene therapy, which involves delivering a healthy copy of the defective gene to muscle cells. This treatment is still in the early stages of development, but it shows promise for helping people with muscular dystrophy live longer, healthier lives.

Another option is physical therapy, which can help to preserve muscle function and prevent contractures. Exercise is also necessary for people with muscular dystrophy, as it helps maintain muscle strength and flexibility. However, it is vital to talk to a doctor before starting any new exercise program, as some exercises may not be appropriate for people with certain types of MD.

Finally, a healthy diet is also essential, as it provides the nutrients needed for muscles to function properly. By working with a team of specialists, people with muscular dystrophy can develop a customized treatment plan that meets their individual needs.

Muscular Dystrophy and Medical Cannabis Treatment

Cannabis gummies

Muscular dystrophy is a qualifying condition for medical cannabis in over 24 states in the US–since cannabis contains compounds that help reduce inflammation and pain, two of the most common symptoms of muscular dystrophy. And although medicinal cannabis is not a cure for muscular dystrophy, its potency in easing the physical symptoms plus improving the quality of life in patients makes it a great candidate for those seeking a new form of treatment. Still, patients must consult with an expert medical marijuana doctor before beginning a cannabis regimen.

Quick Med Cards makes it easy for patients with muscular dystrophy to access medical cannabis in a few easy steps. Pick your state below to speak to an MMJ doctor and get your medical marijuana card:

Below are symptoms of muscular dystrophy where medicinal cannabis may come in handy:


Doctors often prescribe muscle relaxants for people with muscular dystrophy for relief. However, these medications are often accompanied by side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea. 

CBD is a well-known remedy for nausea. Whether you’re dealing with occasional nausea from a stomach bug or chronic nausea from a medical condition like chemotherapy, CBD can help ease your symptoms as it is an effective antiemetic. CBD works by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which helps regulate many functions, including appetite, digestion, and mood. When CBD is introduced into the body, it can help to restore balance and relieve nausea. 

Like CBD, THC also exhibits antinausea properties that help ease nausea and vomiting. However, THC also has psychoactive effects, which will make users feel high. For this reason, patients often go for CBD products to avoid the psychoactive effects of THC. Still, if you’re interested in trying CBD for nausea, be sure to talk to an MMJ doctor first to make sure it is safe for you.


One of the most common symptoms of muscular dystrophy is inflammation which can lead to pain, stiffness, and swelling. In some cases, inflammation can also damage the joints and organs. 

CBD is a popular natural remedy for many common ailments that induce pain and inflammation. Research suggests that CBD may help reduce inflammation by inhibiting the enzyme activity that produces inflammatory compounds. Additionally, CBD may also reduce inflammation by modulating the body’s immune system. In one study, mice treated with CBD showed reduced levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (a type of protein that helps regulate the immune system). 

On the other hand, THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, is not as effective in reducing inflammation on its own–compared to when used with CBD. Although CBD and THC both have potential anti-inflammatory effects, more research is needed to confirm their efficacy.

CBD dosage for inflammation

Patients can take CBD oil orally or apply it topically to the affected area. CBD gummies are a popular option for those looking for a convenient and delicious way to get their daily dose of CBD. For best results, it is vital to use a high-quality CBD product that has been third-party tested for purity and potency.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to CBD dosage for inflammation. The amount of CBD you need to take depends on several factors, including your weight, the severity of your symptoms, and your body’s chemistry. Generally, most people find that a starting dose of 10-20mg per day effectively reduces inflammation. Still, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regime. They can help determine the best CBD dosage for inflammation and monitor your progress.

Anxiety & Depression

News of having a disease you can’t even pronounce is overwhelming. And feelings of isolation are bound to set in. While social media has helped patients with the condition connect, medical marijuana plays a role in easing depression and anxiety. 

THC produces feelings of relaxation and euphoria. And for many people suffering from depression, this can provide welcome relief from the negative thoughts and emotions associated with chronic illness. However, THC can also cause unwanted side effects, including feelings of paranoia and anxiety.

CBD can also interact with receptors in the brain that regulate mood and stress levels. And this may help reduce the intensity of negative feelings in people with depression.


Muscle cramps are another unpleasant symptom of muscular dystrophy. When muscles are cramped, they are often inflamed and in pain. CBD can help reduce this inflammation and pain, providing relief from cramping muscles.  

Additionally, CBD may help prevent muscle cramps by reducing levels of neurotransmitters that can trigger muscle contraction. An attribute that makes CBD an excellent choice for athletes looking to prevent muscle cramps during training or competition.


Muscle spasms are involuntary contractions of one or more muscles. They can happen suddenly and often feel like a cramp. While muscle spasms can be painful, treatments are available to help relieve the symptom. Medical marijuana is one such treatment. CBD shows promise in treating muscle spasms. For instance, a 2007 study by Collin et al. revealed that CBD reduced muscle spasms in people with multiple sclerosis by up to 30%.


Pain is synonymous with patients with muscular dystrophy. As a result, pain management is an essential aspect of muscular dystrophy treatment. Medical cannabis is a potent analgesic or pain killer. Leah Leilani, an active member of the muscular dystrophy community, attests to how medical cannabis eased her pain after topical application.

The cannabinoid CBD interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system to influence pain perception, inflammation, and muscle tension. Similarly, THC also has analgesic properties that alleviate the chronic pain that patients experience. Learn more about how medical marijuana works for pain here.


Adequate nutrition is vital for patients with muscular dystrophy. However, most patients often lose their appetite as swallowing and chewing become a tedious undertaking. Medical cannabis can help patients with muscular dystrophy rediscover their desire to eat.

It’s well-known that marijuana can give people the munchies, but what exactly happens in the body that causes this increase in appetite? THC, believed to be the primary appetite stimulant increases levels of a hormone called ghrelin in the body, responsible for stimulating hunger. 

CBD also plays a role in increasing appetite. Studies have shown that it helps regulate metabolism and increase the absorption of nutrients from food. As a result, CBD can help stimulate appetite and promote weight gain. 


Carly, a muscular dystrophy patient, revealed on the CDC website that she could sleep for 20 hours straight but still wake up tired. Fatigue is common among patients with MD. In fact, the tiredness could be so severe that ordinary tasks like eating becomes a struggle.

Preliminary research suggests that cannabis may help reduce fatigue levels. One of the active ingredients in cannabis, CBD, has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve sleep quality, both of which can contribute to fatigue. In addition, CBD can boost energy levels and improve mood, which can also help reduce fatigue. While more research is needed to confirm these findings, medical marijuana may offer a promising solution for people who suffer from chronic fatigue.

Bottom line

Although life with muscular dystrophy may involve a lot of concessions and meticulous planning, it’s not a life devoid of joy. And patients can live fulfilling lives by focussing on the positives while adhering to their treatment regimen. While medical cannabis is not a cure for muscular dystrophy, it may present an opportunity for patients to gain wholesome improvement in their lives.

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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