Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Epilepsy, Glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, pain, Parkinson's disaese, Peripheral neuropathy, Tumor

Medical marijuana: dispelling myths and fallacies behind cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol

Virginia Thornley, M.D. Neurologist, Epileptologist


The endocannabinoid system is found naturally in the brain. It is responsible for the sense of well-being one gets after running a 5-mile course. It does not work through endorphins or adrenaline, as some people may think. It works at the level of the endocannabinoid system. There is a community of CBD producers and consumers and it is in this mysterious world that it is well-known to be used in many medical conditions, still shunned by the majority of the medical community, Congress and even patients in general. The 2 most commonly known are cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol. Cannabidiol has medical properties and has a weak affinity to the CB1 receptor which is predominantly found throughout the central nervous system, which is likely why it is found to work in numerous neurological conditions. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a well-known cannabinoid most notoriously known for the euphoria of kingpins seen on movies propagated by pop culture. Unfortunately, these connotations overshadow the well-known medicinal benefits. Cannabinoids have been used for centuries even in the B.C. period. It was part of the American pharmacopeia in the 1980’s until it was banned in the 1930’s. Slowly, these products are gaining popularity as a treatment for many medical conditions, primarily neurological because the CB1 receptor is so abundant in the nervous system, due to patients becoming more and more frustrated with the adverse effects and ineffectiveness of conventional treatments. In Europe, a combination of THC and CBD have been used in multiple sclerosis patients since 2010.  Animal studies and cell line culture studies demonstrate many potential mechanisms in which CB1 receptors, CBD and THC may be beneficial at the cellular level in many diseases, mechanisms are still being elucidated. It is most commonly used for chronic pain and epilepsy. As with any medication, it may or not be effective for everybody.


How it works–the nitty gritty

Cannabidiol has none of the psychoactive properties as THC. One needs 100 times the amount of CBD to have the same intoxication as THC. Therefore, it works well for those who are reluctant to go this route but who have found conventional medications which do not provide effectiveness, they are simply not cutting it. Because very little is know about its titration, medical marijuana can seem like entering into the world of an apothecary, or such as that found in the medieval days when potions are concocted. Physicians who use it in their treat it similar to a medication and the guidelines are similar start low and go slowly.  Tetrahydrocannabinol is more potent and at higher doses works more effectively for pain control and seizures. THC is used at relatively low concentrations in order to effect its medical properties, at higher concentrations one may run into side effects which offsets its medical value. There are different ratios of CBD:THC, different ratios correspond to different symptoms treated.  CBD is required in conjunction with THC in order to offset the potential side effects of THC. Tolerance does not build in the system such as that seen with opioids, although if one is medical marijuana naive, the lowest dose possible is ideal. There are no side effects of respiratory depression such as that seen with other medications for pain such as opioids.Consult with your treating physician.

Current legal state of affairs

Currently, there are many states that recognize the medical value of medical marijuana with medical marijuana laws allowing the opening of licensed dispensaries. However, the same cannot be said for the federal law.  In some states, the carrying of THC on your person can result in fines and imprisonment. Despite marijuana laws enacted, qualified physicians are at risk for being questioned by authorities, its recommendation and use is not for the faint of heart on the part of physicians and patients. Cannabidiol comes from hemp oil and is not considered illegal. However, anyone who even has 1% hemp oil in their product can still label that product as cannabidiol, which may be the reason why some patients are not getting the full medical effects when bought from the flea market or a vitamin store.  Tetrahydrocannabidiol which is more well-known for its recreational use and concomitant psychoactive properties at very high doses is federally illegal in many states. Many states often have registries so patients who require this may obtain an ID and verify they are under the care of a qualified physician. It can take a few months to obtain an ID because many patients are often at the end of their ropes in terms of effectiveness of medications. Many patients wish to come off opioids or do not like the idea of needing higher and higher pain medications for their chronic illnesses. It may serve as a great antidote for the current opioid crisis that is well-documented in the news or overdocumented in the news. Many mothers order products online from other countries to counteract the illegalities of their states in order to help their child who may be using 4 potent anti-epileptic agents and is now like a zombie because of the number of medications. While physicians are leery suggesting anything that is in category 1, its medical value cannot be disputed. There is too much evidence tipping it towards the other side of the scale. As tPA was in its infancy of use and physicians were hesitant using it due to its hemorrhagic adverse effect and is now the standard of care for stroke protocols, medical marijuana will likely find its way back into the pharmacopeia, the amount of medical evidence is far too compelling to ignore.


In conclusion

In short, when used wisely, cannabidiol is a non-intoxicating effective treatment for many medical conditions especially neurologic, as evidenced by thousands of years of history of its use and current animal models, clinical trials and wider clinical experience in Europe. When cannabidiol is combined with low concentrations of THC, the medical effect is even greater with the entourage effect without the stigmatized psychoactive effects that are usually associated with THC.



Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Non-pharmacologic aspects of ALS: correlation of higher BMI with greater survival, beneficial use of cannabidiol, respiratory evaluation, exercise and anesthetic considerations 

Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist

March 4, 2018

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative illness which affects the lower motor neurons causing progressive weakness and eventually respiratory failure. There are currently only 2 prescription agents available for slowing the progression of the disease. Management is largely symptomatic treatment of debilitating symptoms.  Much consideration is being directed towards alternative treatments such as dietary considerations and use of cannabidiol.

ALS and supplements and BMI

Based on one large review of studies, there was not enough evidence to support recommendations of Vitamin A, and C or Coenzyme Q10. For Vitamin B complex, Homocysteine, Vitamin D, there is limited data which is not enough to support or refute recommendation, more clinical trials are needed. Vitamin E may be beneficial in preclinical patients with a familial tendency. Omega-3 was found to accelerate disease progression with increased vacuolization of anterior horn cells and are deleterious in presymptomatic patients. L-Carnitine may increase survival time with a slower ALSFRS or ALS functional revised score and greater FVC volumes but more trials are needed (1). Body mass index of less than 18.5kg/m is found with less survival time, while those with a higher BMI have greater survival time. One small study suggested a high calorie, hypercaloric enteral diet was tolerable in patients but unclear if associated with better outcome in terms of survival time.


Cannabidiol as a novel therapeutic agent

Cannabidiol is known in animal models to be anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. In the G93A SOD-1 mouse model, it was found to slow progression of the disease and increase survival time. In a study of 13 patients, it reduced drooling, loss of appetite, pain, and spasticity.

In one study, cannabidiol was used in human gingiva-derived mesenchymal stromal cells. The transcriptomic sequence in the next generation shows a change in gene expression in ALS related genes. There was a change in the genes connected to ALS regarding oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction and excitotoxicity in the human gingiva-derived mesenchymal stromal cells when treated with cannabidiol. This suggests that cannabidiol may serve as a modulatory role in the early pathogenesis of ALS (2).


Other aspects of ALS


Studies regarding exercise showed flaws in methodology or were in small numbers. Therefore, based on available studies it is unclear if exercise benefits a patient’s long-term outcome.



Sialorrhea should be addressed. Aside from conventional medications, other options include botulinum toxin and small doses of radiation therapy delivered to the salivary glands.


Anesthetic agents such as neuromuscular blockers are contraindicated in patients with ALS due to the risk of increased potassium release. In one study of 51 patients with ALS, general anesthesia was safely administered.

Pulmonary function 

Pulmonary function tests are monitored every few months depending on the rapidity of the progression of the disease. Non-invasive positive pressure ventilation is used in patients with ALS with an oral or nasal mask. As force vital capacity (FVC) declines, it may be administered through a bi-level positive airway ventilation machine continuously at night(1).




1. Karam, et al, “Palliative care issues in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: an evidence-based review,” American Journal of Palliative Care, 2016, Feb., 33(1):84-92.

2. Rajan. et al, “Gingival stromal cells as an in vitro model: cannabidiol modulates genes linked with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” Journal of Cellular Biochemistry, 2017, Apr., 118(4):819-828.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Pluripotent stem cell research and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist

March 1, 2108


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a progressive neurodegenerative disease resulting in muscle weakness and respiratory failure. The mechanisms still remain unclear and there is no cure. Recent interest is growing in stem cell research as a novel treatment for ALS.

Stem cells and ALS

Induced pluripotent stem cells have been studied to identify the mechanism underlying ALS and develop treatments using these models. Using stem cells it is possible to grow a disease in a dish and study the mechanisms. The cells are generated from healthy subjects and patients with neurodegenerative disorders cultivating them to produce different types of neurons. CNS neurons are separated from peripheral neurons. Neurotrophins and other factors are used to accomplish this. It is important that these neurons can produce synaptic connections. In some studies, only a low number will differentiate into the neurons with the desired morphologic features and have the desired physiologic functions. The use of pluripotent stem cells is an important landmark in research because it allows researchers to study the disease of ALS with pluripotent cells capable of differentiating into different types of neurons including upper motor neuron, lower motor neuron cells, astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and allows researchers to understand the different dynamics between the cells in the diseased state (2).


Potential mechanisms of stem cell treatment in ALS

One mechanism is by changing the somatic cells into neuron-like cells. There are now established ways of forcing transcription factors into changing somatic cells into neuron-like cells expressing neuron-specific proteins. The majority studied had excitatory traits. The most important feature is being able to propagate action potentials and developing dendrites.There are some reports of fibroblasts transforming into GABAergic cells using neurotrophins. Reprogrammed cells could convert into neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. Some cells cannot convert using genomic insertion which may be a barrier.

Induced pluripotent stem cells can be produced from the patient’s own stem cells. Direct conversion of somatic cells into neural cells is an alternative (1).



  1. Csobonyeiova, et al, “Induced Pluripotent Stem cells in modeling and cell-based therapy of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ” Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 2017, 68(5):649-657.
  2. Guo, et al, “Current advances and limitations in modeling ALS/FTD in a dish using induced pluripotent stem cells,” front. Neuroscience, 2017, Dec.,
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: how diet may be associated with better outcome and management

Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist

February 27, 2018

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder resulting in muscle weakness, atrophy and eventual respiratory failure. It involves mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress, apoptosis, neural inflammation, metallic accumulation, decreased trophic factors, glutamate activation, and superoxide dismutase-1. There is a growing interest in the role of diet in the natural progression and treatment. Risk of ALS may increase with increased intake of macronutrients such as carbohydrates, glutamate, and fat and a reduced intake of micronutrients such as carotenoids, fruits and vegetables, polyunsaturated fatty acids and Vitamin E. Oxidative stress may also increase the risk of ALS.



Good food versus bad food in ALS

In one study of 306 patients in over 16 ALS centers, milk and lunchmeat seemed to correlate with a negative ALS function using the ALSFRS score (ALS functional rating score) or the percentage FVC (forced vital capacity) for the outcome. Milk and lunchmeat are associated with higher fat and potentially promote oxidative stress. It studied foods that were considered good (calcium, iron, potassium, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, zinc, selenium, vitamins C, D, E, K, and B6, magnesium, and glutathione) versus bad(phosphorus, caffeine, food-producing high glycolic index). The components of the good food groups had eggs, poultry, fish, beneficial oils and vegetables and are often associated with anti-oxidants and a healthy diet. The study only provides an association not a causation of good food towards a better outcome. Food high in fiber, carotenoids, and antioxidants provided a better outcome(1).

Another study noted that patients with the lowest score of ALSFRS appear in those with the lowest intake of vegetables, grains, oils, and seasonings (3).

Novel treatments using diet

In one study using a high caloric diet and an MAO-inhibitor/iron-chelating compound  M30 in the superoxide dismutase-1 mouse model, results showed neuroprotection involving motor function and increased survival in the SOD-1 G93A transgenic mouse model. The M3 and CED (high caloric diet) resulted in increased mitochondrial biogenesis and metabolic regulators. A combination of novel approaches may help treat this condition (2).


1. Nieves, et al, “Association between dietary intake and function in Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ” 2016, Dec., 73 (12)1425-1432.

2. Golko-Perez, et al, “Additive Neuroprotective effects of the multifunctional iron chelator M30 with enriched diet in a mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” Neurotoxicity Research, 2016, Feb., 29(2):208-217.

3. Park, et al, “Association between nutritional status and disease severity using amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) functioning rating scale in ALS patients”Nutrition, 2015, Nov.-Dec., 31(11-12):1362-7.