The following information is presented for educational purposes only.
Medical Marijuana Inc. provides this information to provide an understanding
of the potential applications of cannabidiol. Links to third party websites
do not constitute an endorsement of these organizations by Medical Marijuana
Inc. and none should be inferred.
Mitochondrial disease results in the failure of mitochondria within the
body’s cells and primarily affects children. Studies on marijuana’s direct
effect on mitochondrial disease remains limited, but research does show it’s
effective at helping patients manage the symptoms associated with the
Overview of Mitochondrial Disease
Mitochondrial disease is when mitochondria, which are specialized
compartments in the blood stream that are responsible for processing oxygen
and converting substances from the food we eat into energy, fail. When they
do fail, the body is limited on the amount of energy it can generate within
a cell and the cell becomes injured or dies. If this process continues,
whole systems throughout the body can fail and can threaten one’s life. The
disease is most commonly present in children, but it can develop in adults.
Most susceptible to damage caused by mitochondrial disease, according to the
United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, are the brain, heart, liver,
skeletal muscles, kidney, and the endocrine and respiratory systems. Cells
are not able to make RNA or DNA in order to grow and function without
The development of mitochondrial disease is caused by either inherited or
spontaneous mutations in genes, which lead to altered functions of the
proteins or RNA molecules that normally reside in mitochondria.
Common symptoms associated with mitochondrial disease are loss of motor
control, muscle weakness, muscle pain, gastro-intestinal disorders, cardiac
disease, liver disease, diabetes, developmental delays and poor growth,
respiratory complications, seizures, visual and hearing problems and
There is no cure for mitochondria disease, so treatment focus is on reducing
symptoms and delaying or preventing the disease’s progression with vitamins,
supplements, diet therapy and anti-oxidant treatments.
Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Mitochondrial Disease
Most of the research on cannabis’ effect on mitochondrial disease focuses on
the symptomatic relief it offers by improving seizure control and reducing
pain. Scientific reviews analyzing previously-published research on
cannabis’ effect on epilepsy conclude that a major cannabinoid found in
cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD) is a well-tolerated and promising therapeutic
treatment that has demonstrated the ability to reduce or even eliminate
seizures (Blair, Deshpande & DeLorenzo, 2015). Cannabis has also
demonstrated the ability to significantly lower pain that has proven
refractory to other treatments (Boychuck, Goddard, Mauro & Orellana, 2015).
Research does suggest, however, that the function of mitochondria is
modulated by the endocannabinoid system—a system that regulates a variety of
cellular and physiological processes through the activation of receptors (Lipina,
Irving & Hundal, 2014). The cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) are
activated by the major cannabinoids found in cannabis. The activation of
cannabinoid receptors has shown to have a number of positive effects on the
integrity of mitochondria, including oxidative phosphorylation and energy
production (Lipina, Irving, & Hundal, 2014).
In support of the endocannabinoid system’s role in mitochondrial health is
one particular study, which found that cannabis improved the mitochondrial
function in rodents. The researcher suggested that cannabis triggers the
release of antioxidants, which serve as a cleaning mechanism to remove
damaged cells and ultimately improve the efficiency of mitochondria (Bilkei-Gorzo,
2012). Cannabis has also been shown to have the capability to restore all
mitochondrial parameters to normal after they had been deliberately
aberrated, and to improve mitochondrial membrane potential (Lu & Anderson,
2015). Cannabis treatments have also been shown effective at increasing
mitochondrial activity (Silvestri, et al., 2015).
States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Mitochondrial Disease
Currently, only the state of Georgia has
approved medical marijuana specifically for the treatment of mitochondrial
Other states, however, allow medical marijuana to be prescribed to treat
symptoms that are commonly associated with mitochondrial disease, like
seizures and pain. Several states have approved medical marijuana to treat seizures.
These states include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New
Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania (intractable
Island, Tennessee (intractable
seizures), Vermont and Washington.
Additionally, many states have approved medical marijuana specifically to
states include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New
Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode
Island and Vermont.
The states of Nevada, New
Dakota, Montana, Ohio and Vermont allow
medical marijuana to treat severe
pain. The states of Arkansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington have
approved cannabis for the treatment of intractable
A number of other states will consider allowing medical marijuana to be used
for the treatment of mitochondrial disease with recommendation by a
physician. These states include: California (any
debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been recommended
by a physician), Connecticut (other
medical conditions may be approved by the Department of Consumer
Protection), Massachusetts (other
conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician), Nevada (other
conditions subject to approval), Oregon (other
conditions subject to approval), Rhode
conditions subject to approval), and Washington (any
“terminal or debilitating condition”).
D.C., any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a
DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment.
Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Mitochondrial Disease
Activating the cannabinoid receptors in rats with deliberately altered
mitochondria resulted in the mitochondrial parameters returning to
normal and an improvement in mitochondrial membrane potential.
Effect of Cannabinoid Receptor Activation on Aberrant Mitochondrial
Bioenergetics in Hypertrophied Cardiac Myocytes.
Bilkei-Gorzo, A. (2012, October 29). The endocannabinoid system in normal
and pathological brain ageing. Philosophical
Transactions of the Royal Society, B,
367(1607). Retrieved from http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/367/1607/3326.abstract?sid=20cf2c23-e4fd-49e3-9398-ec8be2e00226.
Blair, R.E., Deshpande, L.S., and DeLorenzo, R.J. (2015, September).
Cannabinoids: is there a potential treatment role in epilepsy? Expert
Opinion on Pharmacology,
Boychuck, D.G., Goddard, G., Mauro, G., and Orellana, M.F. (2015 Winter).
The effectiveness of cannabinoids in the management of chronic nonmalignant
neuropathic pain: a systematic review. Journal
of Oral & Facial Pain and Headache,
Lipina, C., Irving, A.J., and Hundal, H.S. (2014, July 1). Mitochondria: a
possible nexus for the regulation of energy homeostasis by the
endocannabinoid system? American
Journal of Physiology. Endocrinology and Metabolism,
307(1). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24801388.
Lu, Y., and Anderson, H.D. (2015, June). 6B.09: Effect of Cannabinoid
Receptor Activation on Aberrant Mitochondrial Bioenergetics in Hypertrophied
Cardiac Myocytes. Journal
33. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26102932.
Silvestri, C., Paris, D., Martella, A., Melck, D., Guadagnino, I., Cawthorne,
M., Motta, A., and Di Marzo, V. (2015, June). Two non-psychoactive
cannabinoids reduce intracellular lipid levels and inhibit hepatosteatosis. Journal
What is Mitochondrial Disease? (n.d.). United
Mitochondrial Disease Foundation.
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