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Cannabinoids, their receptors and metabolising enzymes represent an integral neurochemical system in the central nervous system (“CNS”). Debilitating neurological and neurodegenerative disorders such as MS, epilepsy, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases are known to severely impair the quality of life of patients. Of these diseases, the potential benefit of cannabinoids has been most clinically investigated in, and indicated for, multiple sclerosis (“MS”) and epilepsy. 

Of the many symptoms associated with MS, muscle spasticity and spasm occur in up to 90% of patients. Nabiximols, a combination of THC and CBD, have been clinically shown to ameliorate MS-related symptoms, particularly muscle spasticity, pain and stiffness, and bladder dysfunction. From 2010, a THC/CBD oromucosal spray (Sativex®) was approved across the EU and in other countries for the treatment of moderate to severe spasticity in MS patients resistant to oral treatments.

Epilepsy is a clinically-significant neurological condition involving unprovoked seizures. An estimated 20-30% of epilepsy patients are drug-resistant, which means they have not successfully responded to commonly used anti-epileptic drug schedules. Studies have shown that naturally occurring cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids) have anticonvulsant effects that are mediated by the endocannabinoid system. In particular, CBD and cannabidivarin (“CBN”) have demonstrated anti-seizure effects. A number of human clinical trials led to the approval of CBD as an adjunctive therapy for treatment-resistant paediatric and adult epilepsies.

Beyond MS and epilepsy, evidence suggests cannabinoids have the potential to treat a variety of other neurological indications. For example, a number of studies in various Parkinson’s disease models have shown that modulating the endocannabinoid system may be useful to treat some motor symptoms. A small clinical trial in Huntington’s patients showed improvement of motor symptoms, mainly dystonia. Other studies suggest potential in Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety and more.