Spasticity Disorders: Does Weed Relax Muscles?

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

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Spasticity is a symptom of a neuromuscular disorder where muscles involuntarily tighten and remain unusually stiff. Spasticity varies in severity and can affect the way you move and speak.

The term “spasm” was first used in history by ancient Greek physician Hippocrates to describe uncontrollable movements caused by epilepsy. It wasn’t until thousands of years later in 1843 that the modern term “spasticity” was coined.1

Spasticity is a common symptom of stroke and other conditions or injuries and affects over 12 million people worldwide.

Experts continue to research the best way to treat spasticity. The most recent developments have concerned treatments like extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) and injections of botulinum toxin.2 And while research is in the early stages, medical cannabis has shown promise for some patients.

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What Causes Spasticity Disorders?

Spasticity is caused by damage to the parts of the brain and spinal cord that are responsible for muscle movement and reflexes. 

Spasticity is a symptom of several medical conditions: 

Spasticity is also caused by certain inherited disorders:

Signs & Symptoms of Spasticity Disorders

If you are experiencing spasticity, you may have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Increased muscle tone (resting tension) that inhibits movement
  • Painful muscle spasms
  • Rapid, involuntary muscle contractions that feel like a tremor
  • Permanently contracted muscles
  • Deformities of muscles, bones, or joints
  • Legs that cross unconsciously
  • Difficulty with routine activities
  • Sleep disruption often caused by uncomfortable muscle spasms or tightness

These symptoms can feel like mild tightness or become so severe that voluntary movement becomes difficult. Treatment for spasticity involves medication and physical therapy focusing on comfort, mobility, and independence.

In some cases, especially when untreated, spasticity can cause complications, including:

  • Immobilized joints called contractures
  • Bone fractures
  • Dislocation of joints
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Long-term constipation

How Cannabis Can Help Alleviate Spasticity Disorder Symptoms

weed smoking while pregnant effects

Medical cannabis has been studied for its effects on spasticity, mainly in people with multiple sclerosis (MS). At least 84% of people with MS experience some form of these involuntary muscle contractions.

In a 2009 review, researchers analyzed six controlled trials where people with MS used a whole-plant cannabis extract containing CBD and THC. In all six trials, the cannabis extract appeared to reduce spasticity, but some adverse events were reported. More in-depth studies are needed to determine safe dosages for the least amount of side effects.3

A study published in 2006 looked at the long-term use of Sativex, a marijuana-based medicine approved in the UK and certain other countries to treat spasticity caused by MS. Researchers concluded that although more study is needed to detail the risks of using Sativex, the medicine is effective in people with MS.4 A later study reported that Sativex was safe in over 1600 patients.5 Although it appears to be effective for MS-related spasticity, the cannabis-based medicine Sativex is not yet approved in the United States.

In a 2010 article published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, experts noted medical cannabis had a better outcome in cases of spasticity when it included the cannabinoid THC.6

In 2019, researchers surveyed 68 patients with ALS to determine whether treatment with marijuana-based Sativex affected their symptoms of spasticity. While some patients did not complete the treatment, Sativex was associated with decreased spasticity. This study was limited because there was no control group for comparison, but supports further investigation into whether THC:CBD has a therapeutic potential for people with ALS.7

While these preliminary studies have shown promise for the anti-spastic abilities of medical cannabis, a 2019 review points out that these results have not been replicated in larger studies. Researchers must also more extensively explore how marijuana may affect spasticity from conditions other than MS.

Spasticity is a qualifying condition for medical marijuana in some states, but it must be noted that side effects from cannabis use are possible. Using cannabis can impair mobility, which can be compounded when already experiencing involuntary muscle movements from spasticity. Marijuana also has the ability to interact with certain medications, so make sure to check with your doctor before adding cannabis to your treatment plan.

Products like tinctures, capsules, teas, and sprays are easy to dose and are available with whole plant ratios of THC:CBD. While THC may have the most anti-spastic properties, products that include some CBD may mitigate unwanted side effects of THC.

Legality and Doctor’s Recommendation

To determine if your state considers spasticity disorders to be a qualifying condition for medical marijuana, check out our Laws & Regulations section for the medical cannabis rules for your state.

If you find that your state recognizes spasticity disorders or their symptoms as a qualifying medical condition, you can seek a doctor’s recommendation to get your medical cannabis card in your state.

How NuggMD Can Help

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NuggMD is the nation's leading medical marijuana technology platform, serving patients in 22 states and growing. We’ve connected over 1,000,000 patients with their new medical marijuana doctors face-to-face via our state-of-the-art telemedicine platform. 

We believe that every human being has the right to explore the benefits of medical cannabis and are fully committed to helping each patient explore all of their options in their journey to wellness. For further information on whether you qualify for medical cannabis, select your state.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Cannabis & Spasticity Disorders

Does cannabis help with spasticity? 

While medical cannabis appears to reduce spasticity, it has mainly been studied in relation to symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). Sativex, a medication containing CBD and THC is approved to treat MS-related spasticity in the UK and certain other countries, not including the US. 

More clinical trials are needed to confirm the safety and efficacy of cannabis in larger groups of people with conditions besides MS.

Which cannabinoid is best for spasticity: CBD or THC? 

An association has been observed between THC and decreased spasticity. Most studies have looked at marijuana containing both THC and CBD but reported outcomes were better when THC was present.

Does cannabis cause spasticity? 

Cannabis seems to have anti-spastic qualities when THC or THC and CBD are present. While THC appears to calm spasticity-related muscle contractions, it may not be necessary to decrease muscle spasms. 


1. Thilmann, A. F. 1993. “Spasticity: History, Definitions, and Usage of the Term.” Spasticity, 1–5.

2. Yang, En, Henry L. Lew, Levent Özçakar, and Chueh-Hung Wu. 2021. “Recent Advances in the Treatment of Spasticity: Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy.” Journal of Clinical Medicine 10 (20): 4723.

3. Lakhan, Shaheen E, and Marie Rowland. 2009. “Whole Plant Cannabis Extracts in the Treatment of Spasticity in Multiple Sclerosis: A Systematic Review.” BMC Neurology 9 (1).

4. Wade, D T, P M Makela, H House, C Bateman, and P Robson. 2006. “Long-Term Use of a Cannabis-Based Medicine in the Treatment of Spasticity and Other Symptoms in Multiple Sclerosis.” Multiple Sclerosis Journal 12 (5): 639–45.

5. Patti, Francesco, Clara Grazia Chisari, Claudio Solaro, Maria Donata Benedetti, Eliana Berra, Assunta Bianco, Roberto Bruno Bossio, et al. 2020. “Effects of THC/CBD Oromucosal Spray on Spasticity-Related Symptoms in People with Multiple Sclerosis: Results from a Retrospective Multicenter Study.” Neurological Sciences 41 (10): 2905–13.

6. Wilkinson, J. D., B. J. Whalley, D. Baker, G. Pryce, A. Constanti, S. Gibbons, and E. M. Williamson. 2003. “Medicinal Cannabis: Is Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol Necessary for All Its Effects?” Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 55 (12): 1687–94.

7. Meyer, Thomas, Andreas Funke, Christoph Münch, Dagmar Kettemann, André Maier, Bertram Walter, Annett Thomas, and Susanne Spittel. 2019. “Real World Experience of Patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in the Treatment of Spasticity Using Tetrahydrocannabinol:cannabidiol (THC:CBD).” BMC Neurology 19 (1).

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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