Hydrocephalus – Medical Marijuana Research Overview

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Hydrocephalus is spinal fluid building up in the brain and is a condition that is most common among infants and older adults. Studies have shown that marijuana helps improve the secondary symptoms associated with hydrocephalus.

Overview of Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus is the condition where fluid accumulates in the ventricles, or cavities, of the brain. The fluid that builds up is cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which surrounds both the brain and spinal cord to keep the brain buoyant, provide cushioning, moderate pressure and remove waste products. An imbalance in how much CSF is produced and how much is absorbed in the bloodstream is what causes hydrocephalus and the buildup of CSF can put pressure on the brain and cause impairments in function.

Why hydrocephalus develops is still unknown, but according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, it may result from inherited genetic abnormalities or developmental disorders.

Common symptoms of hydrocephalus include an unusually large head or a bulging or tense soft spot on the top of the head, nausea and vomiting, irritability, seizures, sleepiness, poor feeding, poor balance, headaches, decline in memory and concentration. The condition, especially in infants, poses risks to cognitive and physical development.

Surgery, where a shunt is inserted to divert the CNS elsewhere so that it can be absorbed, is capable of restoring the CSF back to normal levels, but it commonly requires a variety of methods to comprehensively manage the symptoms associated with the condition.

Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Hydrocephalus

Medical cannabis can help treat the symptoms associated with hydrocephalus. Cannabis has shown to be effective at managing seizures, nausea, sleep problems and pain.

Cannabis has been proven to decrease or prevent nausea and vomiting (Sharkey, Darmani & Parker, 2014) (Parker, et al., 2015). Two major cannabinoids found in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) regulate nausea and vomiting because they activate cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) of the endocannabinoid system and activating the CB1 receptor has been shown to suppress vomiting (Parker, et al., 2003).

CBD has been shown to be a well-tolerated and promising therapeutic treatment for reducing or even eliminate seizures (Blair, Deshpande & DeLorenzo, 2015). CBD’s activation of the CB1 receptor dampens the release of a neurotransmitter and causes an overall reduction in neuronal excitability (Wallace, Wiley, Martin & DeLorenzo, 2001) (Hoffman & Frazier, 2013).

THC and CBD have demonstrated they are both effective at lowering pain levels caused by a variety of affections, including some cancer, neuropathy, spasticity, headache, migraines, and other acute pain and chronic pain conditions (Jensen, Chen, Furnish & Wallace, 2015) (Baron, 2015).

States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Hydrocephalus

Currently, only the state of Illinois has approved medical marijuana specifically for the treatment of hydrocephalus.

However, other states have approved medical marijuana to treat nausea, seizures and pain. The states that have approved cannabis for nausea include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The states that have approved cannabis for the treatment of seizures include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania (intractable seizures), Rhode Island, Tennessee (intractable seizures), Vermont and Washington. Several states that have approved cannabis to treat chronic pain, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. The states of Nevada, New Hampshire, North 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 pain.

A number of other states will consider allowing medical marijuana to be used for the treatment of hydrocephalus 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 Island (other conditions subject to approval), and Washington (any “terminal or debilitating condition”).

In Washington 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 Hydrocephalus
  • Cannabis significantly improves neuropathic pain that had proven refractory to other treatments.
    The effectiveness of cannabinoids in the management of chronic nonmalignant neuropathic pain: a systematic review.


Baron, E.P. (2015, June). Comprehensive Review of Medicinal Marijuana, Cannabinoids, and Therapeutic Implications in Medicine and Headache: What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been… Headache, 55(6), 885-916.

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, 16(13), 1911-4.

Hoffman, M.E. and Frazier, C.J. (2013, June). Marijuana, endocannabinoids, and epilepsy: potential and challenges for improved therapeutic intervention. Experimental Neurology, 244, 43-50.

Hydrocephalus. (2014, April 2). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hydrocephalus/basics/definition/con-20030706.

Hydrocephalus Fact Sheet. (2013, May). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/hydrocephalus/detail_hydrocephalus.htm.

Jensen, B., Chen, J., Furnish, T., and Wallace, M. (2015, October). Medical Marijuana and Chronic Pain: a Review of Basic Science and Clinical Evidence. Current Pain and Headache Reports, 19(10), 524.

Parker, L.A., Mechoulam, R., Schlievert, C., Abbott, L., Fudge, M.L., and Burton, P. (2003, March). Effects of cannabinoids on lithium-induced conditioned rejection reactions in a rat model of nausea. Psychopharmacology, 166(2), 156-62.

Parker, L.A., Rock, E.M., Sticht, M.A., Wills, K.L., and Limebeer, C.L. (2015). Cannabinoids suppress acute and anticipatory nausea in preclinical rat models of conditioned gaping. Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 97(6), 559-61.

Sharkey, K.A., Darmani, N.A., and Parker, L.A. (2014). Regulation of nausea and vomiting by cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system. European Journal of Pharmacology, 722, 134-46.

Wallace, M.J., Wiley, J.L., Martin, B.R., and DeLorenzo, R.J. (2001, September 28). Assessment of the role of CB1 receptors in cannabinoid anticonvulsant effects. European Journal of Pharmacology, 428(1), 51-7.

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