Evidence based

CBD and Huntington's Disease: Current Research & Understanding

Huntington’s disease is a debilitating genetic disorder affecting the brain. There are no effective treatments, so researchers have turned their focus to the cannabinoids like CBD. Can CBD help Huntington’s sufferers with their symptoms?

Article By
Justin Cooke , posted 1 month ago

Huntington’s disease is a genetic disorder affecting the brain.

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for this slowly progressing, but deadly disease.

Recent evidence, however, suggests that CBD oil may offer support to this condition, slowing its progression and improving quality of life for those affected.

Here, we investigate these claims and discuss how CBD can be used to support Huntington’s disease. We also go over how you can start using the neuroprotective effects of CBD to your advantage.

  • Table of Contents

What is Huntington’s Disease?

Huntington’s disease is a progressive brain disorder characterized by uncontrollable muscle movements, inability to control emotions, and a gradual reduction in cognitive function.

It’s a serious and life-long condition caused by a genetic mutation.

Living with Huntington’s disease comes with unique challenges. There’s no cure, but there are a few options that can help slow the progression of the disease and improve quality of life.

One such option growing a lot in interest is cannabidiol (CBD), the main non-psychoactive cannabinoid in the marijuana plant.

How can CBD help Huntington’s disease?

Summary of Using CBD Oil for Huntington’s Disease

The problem with Huntington’s disease is that dysfunctional proteins (huntingtin) build up around the nerve cells which begin to impede their ability to function.

Over long periods of time (10-20 years) this results in widespread inflammation and death of the neurons.

This causes severe neurological symptoms and a gradual reduction in the quality of life.

CBD offers some unique benefits to this condition through its potent anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective effects.

Although there are no conclusive clinical trials yet involving CBD on Huntington’s disease patients, there are a lot of compelling animal trials and case studies published.

On top of this, the effects of CBD are well-known, and these benefits strongly support the theory that CBD can slow the progression of the disease and reduce many of the most debilitating side effects.

Of course, whenever using CBD for medical conditions like this, it’s important to speak with your doctor first and to use only the highest grade CBD Oils available.

When does Huntington’s Disease Start Showing Symptoms?

There are two main types of Huntington’s disease; each indicates when the disease will first start showing signs and symptoms:

1. Adult-Onset Huntington’s disease

Adult-onset describes the age in which symptoms begin to appear. In all people with Huntington’s disease, they have had the disorder from birth; however, it sometimes won’t produce problematic symptoms until adulthood.

Usually, symptoms for adult-onset Huntington’s disease will begin to appear around age 30 or 40.

2. Juvenile-Onset Huntington’s Disease

Juvenile onset Huntington’s disease starts much earlier, either in early childhood or during puberty.

It starts with emotional changes, clumsiness, frequent falling, rigidity, slurred speech, drooling, and a decline in school performance.

Some children with the disease will also experience seizures. This happens in about 3-50% of those affected.

Compared to adult-onset Huntington’s, juvenile-onset tends to progress quickly.

As we’ll discuss in more detail below, people with juvenile-onset tend to have a more severe genetic mutation than those with adult-onset.

Symptoms of Huntington’s Disease

Most of the symptoms involved with Huntington’s disease are the direct result of neuronal death. Proteins build up in the brain, interfering with the nerve cells.

Over time, problems with normal nerve function start to appear, and will gradually get worse over the course of 10-15 years.

Early-Stage Symptoms:

  • Chorea (Involuntary movements)
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Small involuntary movements
  • Poor coordination
  • Trouble learning new information or making decisions

Late-Stage Symptoms:

  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty moving
  • Cognitive decline

What Causes Huntington’s Disease?

Huntington’s is a genetic disorder.

The disease affects an estimated 3-7 people every 100,000, primarily of European descent. The disease is very rare in African and Asian populations.

The disorder comes from a mutation in a gene referred to as HTT.

This gene encodes a protein called huntingtin. Scientists still aren’t sure what it does, but it appears to play a critical role in the ability of the nerve cells function.

People who have Huntington’s disease produce abnormally long huntingtin proteins.

These long proteins are unstable and will break down into smaller chunks, which can tangle together and accumulate around the neurons. Over time these tangles interfere with the neurons ability to function and will eventually cause the neurons to die.

This is what causes the gradual onset of symptoms associated with the condition such as involuntary movements, speech difficulty, and confusion.

This is a similar process to the one that happens with Alzheimer’s disease, but Alzheimer’s involves another protein known as TAU. Protein tangles in the neurons cause them to break down over time.

HTT Gene Mutation

In the healthy HTT gene, proteins are repeated 10 to 35 times, however, in people with Huntington’s disease, these proteins are repeated anywhere from 36 to 120 times (specifically the CAG proteins).

In general, anything less than 39 repeats won’t cause any symptoms; however, over 40 repeats will almost always result in symptoms of Huntington’s disease.

The child inherits this mutation from the parents. It’s very rare for someone to develop Huntington’s disease without a parent who also has the condition.

If you did not receive the gene from your parents, you cannot pass it on to your children. You need to have the genetic mutation in order to pass it on.

As the gene is passed down the generations, the number of repeats tend to increase in size.

People with adult-onset Huntington’s disease tend to have about 40-50 repeats, while people with juvenile-onset usually have at least 60 repeats.

These repeats are important because this is how doctors test for the disease.

How to Test for Huntington’s Disease

Doctors start by considering the symptoms.

“Does the patient show any signs of Huntington’s disease?”

Next, they consider the patient’s ethnic background and family history.

“Are they of European descent? Do they have other family members who have had the condition?”

Huntington’s is an inherited disease, so if there are other family members with the condition, the patient will be a lot more likely to also carry that particular gene mutation.

Doctors will look at the gene through a number of specialized genetic tests and count the number of repeats.

The classifications are as follows:

  1. Less than 26 repeats: Negative for Huntington’s disease.
  2. Between 27 and 35 repeats: Negative for Huntington’s disease, but risk of having children within the Huntington’s disease range.
  3. Between 36 and 39 repeats: Low risk for developing Huntington’s disease. At higher risk of having children with the disease.
  4. 40 or more repeats: High likelihood of developing symptoms of Huntington’s disease and having children with the disease.

CBD and Huntington’s Disease

Over the past 2 decades, we’ve made little progress in finding effective treatments for Huntington’s disease. We have, however, made leaps and bounds in our ability to test for the condition through genetic testing.

Only in the past 10 years have researchers started to look towards the cannabis plant to identify a new potential treatment option for the condition.

Cannabis offers a strong potential as a therapeutic agent for treating the disorder because of its role in regulating the nervous system. CBD, in particular, is also used for treating conditions with similar pathological processes such as Alzheimer’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis.

CBD and The Brain

In the late 1980s, we discovered the existence of small receptors on the surface of our cells known as the endocannabinoid receptors. There are two main types, the CB1, and CB2 receptors.

The CB2 receptors are mainly found on lymph and immune cells, while CB1 receptors are highly concentrated in the brain and spinal cord.

All brain activity relies on sending electrical impulses between the nerve cells. The CB1 receptors were found to play a critical role in this process by sending feedback between the nerves to relay that the message was sent successfully.

This makes the endocannabinoid system a key regulator of the neurological system, helping it speed up when it’s too slow and also to slow down when it’s working too hard.

The Potential Effects of CBD for Huntington’s Disease

CBD is of particular interest because rather than stimulating the endocannabinoid system in one direction or the other, it works simply to make it more efficient at its job.

This is important in relation to Huntington’s disease because mice with Huntington’s disease have lower CB1 activity and higher CB2 activity.

It’s believed that the body increases CB2 activity in an attempt to manage the condition and prevent the death of nerve cells.

CBD offers benefits to patients by supporting the endocannabinoid system’s ability to respond and manage the negative processes taking place with Huntington’s disease.

Research on CBD for Huntington’s Disease

The research involving CBD for this condition is still in its infancy.

There have only been a small handful of clinical trials investigating this relationship. The trials we do have are significantly lacking in key areas of focus.

They’re too short, too small, and involve patients with the wrong focus of symptoms.

We are getting much closer, however.

In order to conduct these large and expensive clinical trials, we first need to confirm that there are benefits from CBD oil towards the pathophysiology involved in Huntington’s disease, through cell cultures and animal testing. The next step is to conduct small human-based trials, before moving on to larger and more widespread clinical trials.

We’ve done plenty of animal studies, many of which have shown that CBD and THC are able to slow the progression of Huntington’s disease in rats [3].

On top of this, there are some case reports of people with Huntington’s disease using CBD and synthetic THC. Some of these reports involve significant improvement in symptoms like chorea (involuntary movement), and speech difficulties [2].

There have so far only been a handful of clinical trials involving CBD and Huntington’s disease. One such trial only investigated the use of CBD in patients not experiencing the main symptom of involuntary movements. This is interesting because the primary theories behind how CBD can be used to improve the symptom is by treating these involuntary movements.

This particular study was also only done over the course of about 6 weeks, which is of little value when you consider the fact that Huntington’s progresses over 20 years. No changes should be expected in as little as 6 weeks, especially in people who have already developed symptoms of Huntington’s disease. 

To no surprise, members of the study taking CBD showed little or no improvement over the course of the study. This has little value to the role CBD may play in the treatment of this disease, however, it’s a good starting point because it proved that CBD doesn’t make the condition any worse (after 6 weeks, at least), which some people originally theorized could happen.

A Note on Mitochondria Dysfunction

The mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, has also been implicated as playing a role in the process behind Huntington’s disease, which CBD has been shown to offer potent modulatory benefits towards [5].

More research is needed to see how mitochondrial dysfunction is linked to Huntington’s and whether or not CBD can be used to correct these dysfunctions.

CBD Oil Dose

Dosing CBD is difficult because everyone reacts differently to it.

There are some standard guidelines you can use to get started.

In the context of something like Huntington’s disease, it’s likely that the high end of the dosage spectrum is going to be more beneficial than the lower end.

Some of the studies being done involving this disease have used very high dosages, in the realm of around 700 mg of pure CBD per day.

This compares to the usual dosage range of about 10-120 mg per day.

Of course, the full-spectrum hemp oils tend to require lower doses because of something called the entourage effect. This is the idea that the other compounds in the cannabis plant improve the effects of CBD by enhancing its absorption, helping it pass the blood-brain barrier, and slowing its breakdown.

For this reason, we prefer a premium full-spectrum hemp oil when using CBD for neurological conditions like Huntington’s disease.

Moving Forward: Future Applications of CBD For HD

CBD is a valuable medicinal constituent of the cannabis family of plants.

Its ability to regulate both neurological and immune function— both of which are heavily involved in the progression of Huntington’s disease make it a prime candidate for future treatment options for this condition.

There has been a growing collection of evidence to support CBD’s ability to slow the progression of Huntington’s disease and improve the quality of life in people suffering from this debilitating condition.

More research needs to be done to understand the extent this compound can help those diagnosed with the condition.

We look forward to seeing this space develop further in the coming years as high-quality clinical trials are published on the topic.


References

  1. Garcia-Miralles, M., Hong, X., Tan, L. J., Caron, N. S., Huang, Y., To, X. V., … & Hayden, M. R. (2016). Laquinimod rescues striatal, cortical and white matter pathology and results in modest behavioral improvements in the YAC128 model of Huntington disease. Scientific reports, 6, 31652.
  2. Bates, G., Tabrizi, S., & Jones, L. (Eds.). (2014). Huntington’s disease (No. 64). Oxford University Press, USA.
  3. Sagredo, O., Pazos, M. R., Satta, V., Ramos, J. A., Pertwee, R. G., & Fernández‐Ruiz, J. (2011). Neuroprotective effects of phytocannabinoid‐based medicines in experimental models of Huntington’s disease. Journal of neuroscience research, 89(9), 1509-1518.
  4. Sagredo, O., Ruth Pazos, M., Valdeolivas, S., & Fernández-Ruiz, J. (2012). Cannabinoids: novel medicines for the treatment of Huntington’s disease. Recent patents on CNS drug discovery, 7(1), 41-48.
  5. Ryan, D., Drysdale, A. J., Lafourcade, C., Pertwee, R. G., & Platt, B. (2009). Cannabidiol targets mitochondria to regulate intracellular Ca2+ levels. Journal of Neuroscience, 29(7), 2053-2063.

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