Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

Can medical cannabis help with the symptoms of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome? Find out more below. 

What is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome?

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) is a group of inherited disorders that affect the connective tissues in the body, including the skin, joints, and blood vessels. Connective tissue is the material that holds together and supports various structures in the body, such as bones, muscles, and organs. EDS is caused by a defect in the production or structure of collagen, which is the primary component of connective tissue.

There are 13 types of EDS, each with its own symptoms and severity levels. Some of the most common symptoms of EDS include joint hypermobility, skin that bruises easily, chronic joint pain, and easy scarring. In more severe cases, EDS can cause organ and blood vessel rupture and may require surgical intervention.

EDS is a rare disorder, affecting an estimated 1 in 5,000 to 1 in 20,000 individuals worldwide. However, it may be underdiagnosed due to its variable symptoms and genetic heterogeneity.

The way EDS affects individuals can vary widely depending on their EDS type and the severity of their symptoms. Some people with EDS may have only mild symptoms and can lead relatively normal lives. In contrast, others may experience severe joint pain, difficulty with mobility, and a reduced lifespan due to complications from the disorder.

Overall, EDS can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life, and there is currently no cure for the disorder. However, physical therapy, pain management, and surgery can help manage symptoms and improve overall well-being.

What causes Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome?

EDS is caused by genetic mutations that affect the structure or production of collagen, which is the body’s primary component of connective tissues. Collagen strengthens and supports the skin, bones, blood vessels, and organs. There are different types of EDS, and the specific genetic mutations involved can vary depending on the type.

Types of EDS:

  1. Classical EDS: The most common type of EDS, characterized by skin hyperextensibility, joint hypermobility, and easy bruising.
  2. Hypermobile EDS: Similar to classical EDS, but with more pronounced joint hypermobility and less severe skin hyperextensibility.
  3. Vascular EDS: A rare and severe type of EDS characterized by weak blood vessels that can lead to life-threatening complications such as organ rupture or arterial dissection.
  4. Kyphoscoliotic EDS: A rare type of EDS characterized by curvature of the spine, muscle weakness, and joint hypermobility.
  5. Arthrochalasia EDS: A rare type of EDS characterized by severe joint hypermobility and congenital hip dislocation.
  6. Dermatosparaxis EDS: A rare type of EDS characterized by extremely fragile skin and joint hypermobility.
  7. Brittle Cornea Syndrome: A rare type of EDS, characterized by thinning and the cornea’s fragility, the eye’s transparent front part.
  8. Cardiac-valvular EDS: A rare type of EDS characterized by heart valve problems and joint hypermobility.
  9. Periodontal EDS: A rare type of EDS characterized by early-onset periodontitis and joint hypermobility.
  10. Musculocontractural EDS: A rare type of EDS characterized by muscle contractures and distinctive facial features.
  11. Spondylodysplastic EDS: A rare type of EDS characterized by short stature, joint hypermobility, and skeletal abnormalities.
  12. Myopathic EDS: A rare type of EDS characterized by muscle weakness and joint hypermobility.
  13. Chondrocalcinosis EDS: A rare type of EDS characterized by joint pain and calcium deposits in the joints.

Are there Signs & Symptoms?

Some of the most common symptoms of EDS include:

  1. Joint hypermobility: Joints that are excessively flexible or bend beyond the normal range of motion.
  2. Skin hyperextensibility: Skin that is unusually stretchy or fragile and bruises easily.
  3. Chronic joint pain: Pain that is ongoing and affects multiple joints in the body.
  4. Easy scarring: Wounds that heal poorly, leaving visible scars.
  5. Fatigue: Tiredness that is persistent and not alleviated by rest.
  6. Gastrointestinal issues: Problems with digestion, such as constipation or irritable bowel syndrome.
  7. Vascular problems: Weak blood vessels that can cause bruising, bleeding, or organ rupture.

The severity of symptoms can vary widely between individuals, and some people with EDS may only have mild symptoms while others may have severe and life-threatening complications. Symptoms can also change over time, and some may worsen with age.

Diagnosis & Treatment Options

Diagnosis of EDS involves a combination of clinical evaluation, genetic testing, and medical history review. Since EDS is a genetic disorder, doctors often start by taking a detailed family history to identify any condition patterns.

Physical examination is a crucial part of the diagnosis process for EDS. Doctors look for characteristic signs and symptoms, such as skin hyperextensibility, joint hypermobility, and easy bruising. Diagnostic criteria for EDS vary depending on the type, but some standard measures include the Beighton Score, which evaluates joint hypermobility, and skin biopsies to examine collagen structure.

Genetic testing is often used to confirm a diagnosis of EDS. Blood samples or tissue biopsies may be taken to identify specific genetic mutations associated with EDS.

Treatment for EDS is typically focused on managing symptoms and preventing complications. There is currently no cure for EDS, but several treatment options are available to improve an individual’s quality of life. 

These may include:

  1. Physical therapy: Exercises and stretches can help improve joint stability, mobility, and muscle strength.
  2. Pain management: Medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be used to manage chronic joint pain.
  3. Bracing and splinting: Custom-made braces and splints can help support weak joints and prevent further damage.
  4. Surgery: In severe cases, surgery may be required to repair damaged joints or blood vessels.
  5. Lifestyle modifications: Maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding high-impact activities, and reducing stress can help manage symptoms and prevent complications.
  6. Genetic counseling: Individuals with EDS and their families may benefit from genetic counseling to understand their risk of passing the condition to future generations.

Can medical cannabis help? 

There is currently limited scientific evidence to support the use of medical marijuana to treat Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS). While some studies have suggested that cannabinoids, the active compounds found in marijuana, may have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects, more research is needed to determine the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana for EDS.

One study published in 2020 in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research evaluated the effects of medical cannabis on 20 patients with EDS. The study found that medical cannabis use was associated with reduced pain, improved sleep, and increased quality of life. Still, the results should be interpreted cautiously due to the small sample size and lack of a control group.

Another study published in 2018 in the Journal of Pain Research investigated the potential use of cannabinoids to treat chronic pain in EDS patients. The study found that cannabinoids, particularly cannabidiol (CBD), may have pain-relieving effects, but again, further research is needed to determine safety and efficacy.

It is important to note that the use of medical marijuana for any medical condition should only be done under the guidance of a healthcare professional. The safety and efficacy of medical marijuana for EDS have not been established, and there may be potential risks and side effects associated with its use. Additionally, medical marijuana is not legal in all jurisdictions, and patients should familiarize themselves with local laws and regulations before considering its use.

Last Updated: July 25, 2023

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