Article written by
Dipak HemrajHead of Research and Education
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) is a disorder that breaks down the communications between the brain and the body. FND can encompass a diverse range of symptoms including limb weakness, paralysis, seizures, walking difficulties, spasms, chronic pain, twitching and more.
The symptoms of FND can often seem similar to neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s or epilepsy, but FND is not caused by a structural disease of the nervous system. With FND, the brain and nervous system are structurally fine, but there is a disconnect in the messages being sent by the brain to the nervous system.
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FND – Causes and Current Treatments
FND is a fairly rare condition, with conservative estimates suggesting it affects around 12 in 100,000 people. Other sources suggest FND affects around 14 – 22 in 100,000, but any which way you look at it, suffering from an FND is relatively rare. However, functional disorders represent the second most common reason to see a neurologist after headache and migraine, and is a common cause of disability and distress.
There is no known cause for FND. Suffering from another neurological disease, another illness such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic pelvic pain or fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, or experiencing particularly stressful or traumatic life events are all risk factors associated with the development of FND. However, many patients report no stressors. Due to the lack of any specific cause, some doctors believe that FND arises from unresolved traumatic experiences, whilst others believe that FND may be an unexplained condition much like fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
Current treatment methods for FND include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, painkillers, anti-seizure medications, sleeping tablets, physiotherapy and occupational therapy.
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Medical Cannabis for the Treatment of FND
Dr. Ethan Russo believes that several unexplained conditions like IBS, fibromyalgia and CFS are caused by a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD). We also know that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a role in the development in many neurological disorders. Targeting the ECS for therapy may help prevent and possibly even reverse neurological degeneration.
There are several reasons why cannabis can help treat FND, and many of these reasons are similar to why cannabis can treat other neurological disorders. These reasons include:
- Cannabis contains several neuroprotective compounds such as cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerol (CBG) that “cushion” the brain from further damage.
- Inflammation is a key factor in the development of many diseases, and preventing stress and inflammation by using cannabinoid like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD could be key in saving the brain from greater harm.
- Cannabinoids could help induce brain growth, especially in older people. This could help treat anxiety, depression and brain cell loss associated with neurological diseases and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) such as stroke.
- CBD activates serotonin receptors, helping treat anxiety and depression.
- CBD and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) have significant anticonvulsant properties that make it useful for the treatment of seizures.
- Both THC and CBD could be useful for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Medical cannabis can reduce the need for more addictive and/or harder-to-tolerate medications such as opioid-based painkillers, antidepressants, steroids, benzodiazepines & anti-seizure medications, and anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen.
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Cannabinoids and FND: Overall
While little is known about the cause of FND, this could also be said to be true of IBS, fibromyalgia and CFS. It was not until the discovery of the endocannabinoid system that we had a reasonable theoretical framework with which to understand such conditions more fully. The same could be said for FND. The fact that cannabis has been shown to be useful in the treatment of other neurological conditions only adds to cannabis’ possible efficacy for FND treatment. What’s more is that there are many reports of people who have successfully treated their IBS, fibromyalgia or CFS with cannabis, so why not FND as well?
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