What is Ataxia?

Ataxia refers to neurological disorders often characterized by uncoordinated motor behavior. These disorders result from abnormalities in the nervous system. (1) 

Symptoms of ataxia include (2):

  • Posture abnormalities 
  • Fine motor incoordination
  • Speech and swallowing disorders
  • Visual abnormalities
  • Increased fatigue

Cerebellar ataxia originates from the cerebellum. People with this condition do not only suffer from motor dysfunctions; they also have cognitive and emotional problems. 

Patients with cerebellar ataxia are also likely to develop anxiety, irritability, and depression.

What Causes Ataxia?

Degeneration (atrophy) of the cells in the cerebellum is the leading cause of the conditions that result in ataxia. The cerebellum is responsible for coordinating voluntary muscle movements and maintaining posture, balance, and equilibrium in the body. (3) 

Atrophy can also affect the spine. This damage may be referred to as spinocerebellar degeneration.

The abnormal genes responsible for ataxia produce proteins that cause nerve cells to function poorly and eventually degenerate. These nerve cells can be found in the cerebellum, spinal cord, and other parts of the brain.

Patients with ataxia experience worsening of balance and coordination. Their muscles also become less responsive to the brain’s commands. (4)

There are two types of ataxia differentiated by their origin:

  • Hereditary ataxia
  • Sporadic ataxia (usually begins in adulthood; patients have no family history of ataxia)

Ataxia Treatment

In treating ataxia, it is best to consult with a neurologist. Usual treatments involve speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. (5)

Doctors also prescribe medications to treat ataxia and its symptoms.

Can CBD Help with Ataxia?

There have been studies on cannabidiol (CBD) and its promise in helping treat ataxia and related disorders. CBD is the non-psychoactive component of cannabis plants.

A study (6) reveals CBD’s neuroprotective properties because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Researchers conclude that CBD has great potential in managing neurodegenerative diseases, especially since there were no side effects observed in the research.  

Neurodegenerative diseases occur when nerve cells die, often causing mental function problems and ataxia. 

Though there are only a few studies on CBD and ataxia, there are significant studies that show how CBD helps treat dystonia. This disorder has molecular pathways closely related to spinocerebellar ataxia. (7)

Dystonia is characterized by involuntary muscle contractions, resulting in repetitive movements or abnormal posture. 

The 2018 study outlines CBD’s antipsychotic, anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective effects. CBD helps alleviate symptoms of movement disorders. These conditions are highly-linked to oxidative stress and neurodegeneration. (8)

Another study concluded that CBD has anti-dystonic properties that help improve dystonia in the test subjects. However, some test subjects’ Parkinsonian symptoms were aggravated, namely hyperkinesia and resting tremors. (9)

Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved CBD, it is generally safe to use and has minimal side effects like nausea, fatigue, and irritability. (10)

There is no dosing chart for CBD, but it is recommended that CBD be taken in small amounts. If no adverse effects are observed, the dosage can be gradually increased.

CBD comes in different forms like oils, tinctures (drops), pills, patches, balms, salves, and creams. 

Before administering CBD to patients with ataxia, it is best to consult with a doctor first. 

Conclusion

Ataxia is the collective term for a group of neurological disorders characterized by uncoordinated motor behaviors. It is caused by the degeneration of nerve cells in the cerebellum and sometimes the spinal cord. 

Most symptoms are physical dysfunctions, but patients with cerebellar ataxia develop cognitive and emotional conditions, too, like anxiety, depression, and irritability.

Ataxia is commonly treated through therapy (speech and language, occupational, and physical), although some symptoms can be managed through medications.

CBD is a possible natural alternative that can help treat ataxia’s symptoms. Its neuroprotective, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties are beneficial in neurodegenerative diseases and movement disorders.

CBD use has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Before using CBD, it is recommended to consult with a doctor first. 


  1. “Ataxia Overview.” Ataxia Overview, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/centers_clinics/ataxia/conditions/.
  2. Ibid. 
  3. “Ataxia.” Department of Neurology, www.columbianeurology.org/neurology/staywell/document.php?id=35869.
  4. Ibid.
  5. “What Is Ataxia?” National Ataxia Foundation, 18 Dec. 2019, ataxia.org/what-is-ataxia/.
  6. Iuvone, Teresa, et al. “Cannabidiol: a Promising Drug for Neurodegenerative Disorders?” CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19228180.
  7. Nibbeling, Esther A R et al. “Using the shared genetics of dystonia and ataxia to unravel their pathogenesis.” Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews vol. 75 (2017): 22-39. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.01.033
  8. Peres, Fernanda F et al. “Cannabidiol as a Promising Strategy to Treat and Prevent Movement Disorders?.” Frontiers in pharmacology vol. 9 482. 11 May. 2018, doi:10.3389/fphar.2018.00482
  9. Consroe, P, et al. “Open-Label Evaluation of Cannabidiol in Dystonic Movement Disorders.” The International Journal of Neuroscience, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 1986, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3793381.
  10. Grinspoon, Peter. “Cannabidiol (CBD) – What We Know and What We Don’t.” Harvard Health Blog, 24 Aug. 2018, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476.

 

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