Treatment with Cannabinoids Improves Dystonia in Huntington’s Disease

7/10/18

Dystonia is a common motor symptom in Huntington’s disease, a progressive brain disorder characterized by uncontrolled movements, loss of cognitive abilities, and emotional disturbances. A team of clinicians from Germany and Austria reported striking results after treating individuals with early onset Huntington’s disease with cannabinoids, synthetic drugs that are derivatives of natural compounds found in cannabis (marijuana).

In all seven patients who participated in the study, the Huntington’s disease was advanced and dystonia symptoms were severe. Cannabinoid treatment reduced dystonia symptoms in every participant. In some cases, the positive impact on quality of life was profound. One patient regained the ability to lift his head, which allowed him to engage socially and improved dental hygiene; he also regained use of a clenched hand. Another patient who was wheelchair bound regained the ability to walk without assistance. Several participants showed improvements in mood and behavior.

The investigators acknowledge the limitations of the study due to a small sample size, limited follow-up, and lack of randomization of the trial. However, the results are so encouraging that a double-blind, placebo controlled trial is highly warranted to study in more depth the effects of cannabinoids on dystonia in Huntington’s disease.

Reports on the use of cannabinoids in dystonia are very limited, but new data, often coming from studies like the one described here, increasingly suggest the need for more clinical trials.   

Saft C, von Hein SM, Lücke T, Thiels C, Peball M, Djamshidian A, Heim B, Seppi K. Cannabinoids for Treatment of Dystonia in Huntington's Disease. J Huntingtons Dis. 2018;7(2):167-173.

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