Autonomic Dysfunction Autonomic dysfunction, also referred to as autonomic neuropathy and dysautonomia, isn’t just a straightforward condition. It can be a complication of many conditions, Dysautonomia includes POTS, neurocardiogenic syncope, and other disorders affecting the autonomic nervous system. Symptoms can be completely debilitating restricting patients from many day to day activities. Cannabis can be a helpful tool for managing symptoms of dysautonomia and POTS, but there are some things to be aware of.
Autonomic dysfunction, also referred to as autonomic neuropathy and dysautonomia, isn’t just a straightforward condition. It can be a complication of many conditions, resulting in diverse symptoms including nausea, vomiting, digestive system problems, depression, and anxiety.
Treatment depends on how autonomic neuropathy affects you and the symptoms you’re experiencing. But medical marijuana for autonomic dysfunction can, by itself, treat an array of symptoms from many different conditions. This is good news for those with autonomic neuropathy.
How and Why Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Autonomic Dysfunction
Research on cannabinoid (CB) has grown tremendously over the past 10 years and has shown researchers different functions of the CB system in pathological and normal conditions.
Studies show medical cannabis for autonomic dysfunction is beneficial and can prevent and treat the condition. Medical marijuana has neuroprotective and antioxidant properties which indicate it supports nervous system health and could limit nerve damage or prevent it altogether.
The cannabinoids in cannabis, including THC, have shown efficacy at encouraging neuroregeneration and limiting neuron damage. Cannabinoids also play a role in immune system regulation. These effects regulate inflammatory reactions through components of the adaptive and innate immune responses.
Please take note that medical pot does have some of its own side effects, including:
You can find a full list of the herb’s side effects here on MarijuanaDoctors.com.
What Side Effects and Symptoms of Autonomic Dysfunction Can Medical Marijuana Treat?
Some symptoms that marijuana for autonomic dysfunction can help with include:
: Studies show medical pot, including THC and other cannabinoids, works as an antiemetic. Sometimes it even works better than prescription medications for nausea. : Research shows a positive association between cannabis and impotence — it may just be the only treatment you need to assist with erectile function. By introducing THC to the endocannabinoid system (ECS) of the body, men could fix their sexual dysfunctions, according to research. : Medical weed stimulates your metabolism, helping to increase your hunger. Chances are excellent you’ve heard the marijuana-related term “the munchies.” These often occur after you’ve taken a hit or two of the herb, causing raging hunger. This food craving encourages people to eat to provide their body with important nutrients, calories and energy. It can also help you gain weight. : Medical cannabis can also potentially work as a treatment for stomach problems and bowel disorders. : The herb also acts as an anti-anxiety medication. Studies about anxiety and cannabis show the herb has similar properties for anxiety symptoms as manufactured pharmaceuticals. : For centuries, individuals have been using marijuana to treat their depression. It provides the user with energy and lifts their mood. Presently, patients use medical cannabis to treat many devastating conditions like HIV and cancer. Patients use the herb to help them cope with their depressive emotions. : Medical cannabis can effectively reduce chronic inflammation and inflammatory-related pain because of its two main cannabinoids, THC and CBD.
Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for the Symptoms of Autonomic Dysfunction
- Lemon G (Sativa)
- Mazar I Sharif (Indica)
- Cookies Kush (Indica)
- Allen Wrench (Sativa)
- King’s Kush (Indica)
- Orange Haze (Hybrid)
Loss of Appetite
- Sugar Kush (Indica)
- Ice (Hybrid)
- Purple Candy (Hybrid)
Depression and Anxiety
- Sour Tangie (Sativa)
- LA Kush (Hybrid)
- Caramelicious (Hybrid)
Best Forms of Marijuana Treatment for Side Effects and Symptoms of Autonomic Dysfunction
There are various ways to consume medical weed. Each method has its benefits and drawbacks. For example, smoking marijuana can have adverse respiratory effects similar to when you smoke tobacco.
It can take a little experimenting to find the perfect delivery method and tackle your symptoms. But once you find a suitable method that works for you, you’ll start to see the benefits of the treatment.
Individuals have found these delivery methods successful. One of them might be a great method for you to start and experiment with:
- Cannabis oils
- CBD inhaler
A marijuana doctor can provide you with their recommendations of the strains and delivery methods they think will benefit you the most, but typically it takes some trial and error at first.
How to Acquire Medical Marijuana for Autonomic Dysfunction
Now that you’ve learned some information on medical cannabis for autonomic dysfunction, you have the foundation you need to get started with the steps to medical cannabis treatment. Here at MarijuanaDoctors.com, we want to ensure you have all the information you need to make the right medical pot decision for you, right under your fingertips.
Begin by booking an appointment with a qualified cannabis doctor. During your consultation, they may provide you with your recommendation to move forward with treatment. After that, all you have to do is browse our extensive list of marijuana dispensaries so you can begin shopping for cannabis products in your area.
What Is Autonomic Dysfunction?
Autonomic dysfunction describes many conditions and diseases that cause the autonomic nervous system (ANS) to stop working properly. While it’s a complication of many conditions and diseases, it can also be a side effect from certain medicines. One of the keys to treatment is managing the underlying causes.
Your ANS controls various basic functions, including your:
- Breathing rate
- Heart rate
- Body temperature
You don’t need to think about these systems for them to function consciously. The ANS is the connection between certain body parts like your internal organs and your brain. For example, the ANS connects your:
- Interior muscles of your eyes
Dysautonomia can range from being mild to threatening your life. It can impact part, or all, of your autonomic nervous system. In some cases, the conditions causing problems are only temporary and reversible. Others, however, are long-term, chronic, and continue to worsen over time.
Two examples of chronic conditions that may cause autonomic dysfunction are Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.
Symptoms of Autonomic Dysfunction
Autonomic dysfunction can affect various organs and cause a whole range of symptoms. Early symptoms include faintness or dizziness upon standing or rising and nausea and vomiting when you eat.
You might also struggle with the functionality of the following organs and body parts:
Bladder symptoms may include urinary incontinence and urinary tract infections or not being able to empty your bladder.
2. Digestive System
Autonomic dysfunction symptoms that affect your digestive system may include:
- Heartburn or frequent indigestion
- Poor appetite
- Vomiting undigested food
- Feeling full after you eat small quantities of food
- Swollen abdomen
3. Reproductive Organs
Autonomic dysfunction symptoms affecting your reproductive organs could include:
- Vaginal dryness
- Erectile dysfunction
- In women — difficulty achieving an orgasm
- Premature ejaculation
4. Heart and Blood Vessels
Autonomic dysfunction symptoms that affect your blood vessels and your heart could include:
- Dizziness when standing or rising
- Rapid heart rate at rest
- Difficulty breathing during exercise
- Heart attack without warning signs
Autonomic dysfunction symptoms that could affect your eyes may include difficulty driving at night and slow pupil adjustment from dark to light.
6. Sweat Glands
Autonomic dysfunction symptoms that could affect your sweat glands may include:
- Lack of sweating
- Excessive sweating
- Dry skin on your feet
Other autonomic dysfunction symptoms may consist of low blood glucose with no warning signals (e.g. shakiness) and weight loss.
Causes of Autonomic Dysfunction
Some factors that could cause autonomic nerve injury include:
- Medications, including chemotherapy drugs
- Chronic illness like Parkinson’s disease or HIV
- Nerve trauma like a burn, cut or a bruise
- Autoimmune disorders like lupus
- An irregular buildup of protein in your organs
- Degenerative disorders like multiple system atrophy
Types of Autonomic Dysfunction
Some types of autonomic dysfunction can be extremely severe and sudden, but they’re also reversible. Some types of ADS include:
1. Neurocardiogenic Syncope (NCS)
NCS, also referred to as vasovagal syncope, often causes fainting or syncope. The fainting occurs because the sudden blood flow slows to the brain. It can be triggered by:
- Standing or sitting for long periods of time
- Stressful emotions
- Warm surroundings
Patients often have sweating, nausea, ill feelings before and after an event, and excessive tiredness
2. Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS)
POTS affects around one to three million people in the U.S., according to dysautonomia Association. Almost five times as many females have POTS compared to men. It may affect adults, children, and teenagers. It may also link with other conditions like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome — an inherited abnormal connective tissue condition.
3. Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathies (HSAN)
HSAN is a cluster of related genetic conditions that lead to widespread nerve dysfunction in adults and children. It can cause an inability to feel:
- Temperature changes
It may also impact a large variety of body functions. The condition is classified by four distinct groups that depend on inherited patterns, age, and symptoms.
4. Multiple System Atrophy (MSA)
MSA is a type of autonomic dysfunction that can be fatal. In the beginning, its symptoms are similar to those of Parkinson’s disease. But individuals with MSA typically have a five-to-10-year life expectancy after their diagnosis. The condition is rare and generally affects adults older than 40. There’s no known cause of MSA, and no treatment or cure slows the disease.
5. Holmes-Adie Syndrome (HAS)
HAS mainly impacts the nerves controlling the eye muscles, leading to vision problems. One pupil is often bigger than the other and constricts slowly in the bright light. HAS often involves both eyes. You may also lose deep tendon reflexes, such as those in the Achilles tendon.
HAS might develop because of a viral infection causing damaged neurons and inflammation. The deep tendon reflex loss is permanent. However, HAS isn’t life-threatening. Glasses and eye drops can help fix vision problems.
Physical Effects of Autonomic Dysfunction
Individuals with progressive, chronic, generalized dysautonomia affecting their central nervous system can have a poor long-term outcome. Pneumonia, sudden cardiopulmonary arrest, and acute respiratory failure can cause death.
Mental Effects of Autonomic Dysfunction
A study published in the Journal of Neurological Sciences evaluated the relationship between anxiety and depression and autonomic nervous system dysfunction in untreated hypertension. In the study, researchers recruited 98 healthy volunteers and 86 newly diagnosed hypertensive patients.
In the hypertension group, researchers observed substantially higher anxiety scores. There wasn’t any statistically substantial difference in the depression level. However, anxiety can play a more significant role in the development of hypertension than depression. Altered heart autonomic control can be one of the pathophysiological associations between psychological factors and hypertension. However, depression can develop with autonomic dysfunction.
To help to cope, patients can attend therapy with a qualified therapist, counselor or psychologist.
Autonomic Dysfunction Statistics
According to Dysautonomia International, here are some facts about autonomic dysfunction:
- Dysautonomia isn’t rare live with a variety of forms of autonomic dysfunction
- Autonomic dysfunction can affect anybody of any gender, age or race
Autonomic Dysfunction History
The term “autonomic nervous system” wasn’t known before 1898 — not until it occurred in a paper about the superior cervical ganglion, associated with the flight or fight response. Before the nineteenth century and after the Renaissance, Knowledge surrounding the autonomic nervous system was derived from anatomical animal studies, and then increasingly in human dissections.
More functional and elaborate anatomical studies were underway by the middle of the nineteenth century. The development of microscopes prompted the evaluation of some tissues and organs, including those of the autonomic nervous system.
Current Treatments Available for Autonomic Dysfunction and Their Side Effects
Autonomic neuropathy treatment includes two parts: treating the underlying condition and managing specific symptoms.
The initial aim of treating autonomic neuropathy is managing the condition or disease that’s damaging your nerves. For instance, if your underlying disease is diabetes, the doctor would have you tightly control your blood sugar to stop the progression of autonomic neuropathy.
Certain treatments may alleviate specific autonomic neuropathy symptoms. Treatment depends on the area of your body the nerve damage effects and can include the following:
1. Gastrointestinal and Digestive Treatments
These may include:
- Taking laxatives for constipation
- Taking medications to help with digestion
- Increasing your fluid and fiber intake
- Eating small, frequent meals
- Taking tricyclic antidepressants for loose stools or stomach pain
Side effects of laxatives may include:
- Severe pain or cramps
- Bloody stools or rectal bleeding
- Unusual tiredness or weakness
- Unexplained changes in bowel patterns
- Constipation lasting longer than a week despite laxative use
Side effects of antidepressants may include:
- Drowsiness and fatigue
- Dry mouth
- Increased appetite and weight gain
- Sexual problems — e.g. loss of sexual desire, fewer orgasms and erectile dysfunction
- Blurred vision
2. Bladder and Urinary Treatments
Treatment for bladder and urinary symptoms include:
- Scheduling your urinating and drinking to retrain your bladder
- Taking medication to empty your bladder
- Threading a catheter through your urethra for draining your bladder
- Taking medication to decrease overactive bladder symptoms
The most common side effect of bladder medication usage is dry mouth. Other side effects may include:
- Dry skin
- Upset stomach
- Dry eyes
3. Sexual Dysfunction Treatment
You can undergo various remedies to treat sexual dysfunction, including:
- Using a vacuum pump to cause an erection by forcing blood into the penis
- Taking medication to cause an erection
- Using vaginal lubricants to help with dryness
4. Heart and Blood Pressure Treatments
Treating heart and blood pressure issues include:
- Taking medication to reduce dizziness when standing or rising
- Undergoing a high-fluid and high-sodium diet for sustaining blood pressure
- Making changes in your posture, slowing your speed when standing or rising to reduce dizziness, flexing your feet
- Taking medication to combat faintness by increasing your blood pressure
- Sleeping with your head elevated to decrease dizziness
- Taking beta blockers to regulate your heart rate with various levels of activity
Side effects of blood pressure treatments will depend on the medication prescribed. Side effects of beta blockers may include:
- A headache
- Fatigue or drowsiness
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Upset stomach
- Cold feet and hands
- Dry eyes, mouth or skin
5. Abnormal Sweating Treatment
Heavy abnormal sweating is known as known as “hyperhidrosis” and can be treated by:
- Taking medication to decrease the excessive sweating
- Getting injections of botulinum toxin A
- Iontophoresis, which is a procedure in which you submerge your hands and/or feet in shallow water while being subjected to electrical currents
Recent Developments in Autonomic Dysfunction
A few recent developments in autonomic dysfunction studied in clinical trials include:
POTS, Dysautonomia, and Medical Cannabis
When I tell people that I have a condition called POTS they often laugh and crack a joke about how it’s the perfectly named condition for me given my line of work and passion. I can’t help but chuckle and agree, but the reality of living with a condition like POTS is far from a laughing matter.
Before I was dealing with the symptoms myself I had no understanding of or awareness of the disorder or it’s umbrella category – dysautonomia. This was a bit of surprise to me considering I’d devoted my entire career to helping people with chronic illness. So how did I learn about it? By passing out cold in the bathroom and slicing my head open on a cabinet and toilet roll holder – more than once. What can I say, I like to learn things the hard way.
POTS stands for Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, a form of dysautonomia.
Let’s break those two down.
Dysautonomia refers to any disorder of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS controls important parts of our body that we don’t have to think about like blood vessels, stomach, intestines, liver, kidneys, heart, etc. Common forms of dysautonomia include POTS, neurocardiogenic syncope, multiple system atrophy, and diabetic autonomic neuropathy. While dysautonomia can develop for a range of reasons, conditions such as diabetes, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and celiac disease can contribute to its onset.
Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome is a form of orthostatic intolerance, meaning symptoms surface when standing from a reclining position and may be relieved upon lying back down. By definition POTS is a rapid increase in heart beat when standing (over 30bpm), but other symptoms can include dizziness, light headiness, fatigue/exhaustion, chest pain, brain fog, temperature deregulation, nausea, and other similar symptoms.
People with POTS have difficulty regulating blood flow and volume, meaning blood pressure and heart rate become unstable. For me this leads to episodes of Neurocardiogenic Syncope (NCS) in which I faint and loose consciousness. When I come to I experience extreme nausea, vomiting, exhaustion, and a general feeling of unwellness. Many individuals with dysautonomia have other related conditions like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, gastroparesis, and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) that include symptoms of severe pain, stomach discomfort, difficulty with appetite, and allergic reactions. Many of these symptoms can be managed with cannabis, but there are also some things to be aware of.
Using Medical Cannabis for Dysautonomia – Things to Know
Every single person will respond to cannabis differently. Patients with dysautonomia find that cannabis helps them immensely for some symptoms, but can exacerbate others. Being aware of these potential side effects is important to getting the most out of your cannabis routine.
THC can raise heart rate.
Individuals with POTS by definition have difficulty with tachycardia, or an elevated heart rate. THC can raise heart rate for the short-term, while lowering it over the long term. Some patients with POTS have difficulty bringing their heart rate back into a normal range – even requiring IV fluids and medications to do so. Some cannabis users are particularly sensitive to this increase in heart rate and finds it worsens these POTS symptoms. Other dysautonomia patients, like myself, actually benefit from this action – I medicate with THC prior to showering as my heart rate and BP tends to bottom out during and after showers. I can use it mindfully to help regulate my heart rate and BP when needed.
Cannabis can trigger orthostatic hypotension.
Cannabis contributes to vasodilation, which for many people with chronic illness is an added benefit (reduces blood pressure). Patients already prone to orthostatic hypotension (a severe drop in blood pressure when changing from sitting/laying to standing) may find these symptoms exacerbated with cannabis, especially with high doses. As orthostatic dysfunction is a hallmark feature of dysautonomia, patients should be mindful of this potential exacerbation when using cannabis and take necessary precautions.
Everyone responds differently.
I do well with THC – I can use it mindfully to raise my heart rate in situations where my dysautonomia causes it to drop, but products and strains dominant in CBD seem to exacerbate my symptoms and propensity towards syncope (more on this below). It’s important that dysautonomia patients are aware of both the positive and potential negative effects of cannabis so they can effectively monitor their symptoms and results.
Benefits are varied and affect multiple systems.
Cannabis has neuroprotective and anti-oxidant properties. There is some suggestion that cannabis may be healing for dysautonomia patients by addressing the underlying nerve damage. However, this is a theoretical assumption and beyond our current understanding of the plant. Most dysautonomia cannabis patients use it to manage day to day symptoms including nausea, fatigue, and pain. Cannabis may also be effective in managing inflammation and other symptoms associated with commonly co-morbid conditions. For example, patients with related MCAS my find cannabis topicals helpful for localized reactions and those with gastroparesis may find it helpful for appetite.
My Personal Experience
Cannabis has been life changing for me in so many ways, but when I started experiencing symptoms of dysautonomia, primarily fainting episodes, my world was thrown upside down. My cannabis physician and friend Dr. Scott Gebhardt suggested to me that my CBD intake could be contributing to my episodes and recommended I take it out of my routine to test if it could be contributing. I was less than willing to take on this experiment, so I initially stopped my oral doses for only a week. My dysautonomia symptoms weren’t improving and my pain was increasing so I called the ‘experiment’ a loss and started taking my oral CBD again.
Months went by and my dysautonomia symptoms were continuing to worsen. I had continued to up my CBD intake over this time – both orally and via inhalation. Dr. Gebhardt was still in my ear about my CBD use dropping my blood pressure and contributing to my orthostatic episodes. I really really didn’t want to hear him.
Every time I faint or have a near fainting episode I feel a little piece of my independence slip away. Not wanting this anymore, I finally gave in and stopped my CBD intake all together – no oral and no CBD dominant strains or 1:1 via inhalation. I had to make adjustments to my overall routine to better manage my pain without the CBD, but to my surprise I went THREE MONTHS without having a fainting episode, something that was happening far more regularly prior to stopping. The first syncope episode I had after cutting out my CBD was when my air conditioner broke (heat is a major trigger). I’ve experienced a drastic reduction in orthostatic intolerance with almost no pre-syncopal episodes.
While I can’t deny that CBD was contributing to my dysautonomia symptoms, my endometriosis symptoms have really ramped up without it. I recently tried to add inhaled CBD dominant products back into my routine to work on this pain. Unfortunately, I was met with the full array of my dysautonomia symptoms – including fainting. Now that I have a better understanding of how cannabis affects my blood pressure and symptoms, I’m better able to manage both my dysautonomia and medical cannabis use.
I Have Dysautonomia and Want to Try Medical Cannabis – What Does This Mean for Me?
Choose a quality cannabis physician (who knows a thing or two about dysautonomia).
Despite all of my knowledge and experience with cannabis, I would have NEVER stopped taking my CBD and identified it as a trigger if it wasn’t for the outside perspective and guidance from my cannabis physician, Dr. Scott Gebhardt. Choose a physician who understands the plant and body, looks at the bigger picture, and is not just there to issue a certification. This will pay you back in ways you never imagined.
EVERY single patient is different. Journal your cannabis use and symptoms to figure out your personal patterns, reactions, and best products.
Take your BP and HR.
As patients with dysautonomia can have difficulty regulating blood pressure and heart rate, be mindful to take regular readings when starting a new cannabis routine.
Keep a positive mindset.
Cannabis is psychoactive and sensitive to set and setting. If you go into a situation expecting a negative reaction, you are more prone to have one. Try to be calm and collected before medicating.