News & Politics

Rapper's Marijuana Homage to the 'ALS Ice Bucket Challenge' Highlights How Pot Could Treat the Disease

Rapper B-Real's "Pot Bucket Challenge" is surprisingly poignant.

Photo Credit: Doug Shutter /

This week, rapper B-Real of the group Cypress Hill dumped a bucket full of ganja on his head in a goofy, but surprisingly poignant, homage to the Ice Bucket Challenge. The challenge has Internet users everywhere drenching themselves in buckets of ice water to raise awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS (aka Lou Gehrig's disease), which affects roughly 30,000 Americans. It has toddlers cursing like sailors and presidents—current and former—scribbling out checks to raise money and awareness for the debilitating neurodegenerative condition. Participants nominate one another for the challenge, and once nominated you have just 24 hours to dump a bucket of ice water over your head and/or donate to an ALS fund.

B-Real is among many celebrities to accept the Ice Bucket Challenge, and his choice to make it into a "Pot Bucket Challenge" might have been no more than a self-promotional stunt, but it brings attention to the widely-overlooked medicine that has shown to treat the symptoms of ALS: cannabis. There is no known cure for ALS and very few treatments exist, but cannabis medicine has been reported to help, if not treat, the disease. As Chris Roberts notes in a San Francisco Weekly article, a Florida woman named Cathy Jordan "has lived with ALS since 1986, after being told she'd die no later than 1991. She says marijuana has kept her alive. So perhaps B-Real isn't so silly at all. Perhaps every mention of an ice bucket should come with a message that cannabis apparently works on ALS.”

Due to the federal government’s continued prohibition of cannabis, and effective 40-year-old blockade of non-government research on the plant’s medicinal properties, there are no clinical studies of its effects on ALS in humans. However, as Roberts points out, a "preclinical" 2010 study conducted by researchers from California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco “found that mice exposed to THC just before or after the onset of ALS experienced a slowdown in the progression of the disease.” The disease was still present, but it developed at a slower rate.

A number of other studies have shown positive results for cannabis' ability to mitigate the disease. As Andrew Gargano wrote for The Hill,  "[medical cannabis] functions in many ways that are beneficial to those with ALS, from serving as an analgesic to acting as a soothing muscle relaxant. Cannabis also functions as a saliva reducer, and so it has the ability to reduce symptoms of uncontrollable drooling that is common among those with ALS. Additionally, cannabis has been found successful in use as an antidepressant, results which have also been confirmed by an anonymous, self-reported survey of ALS patients conducted by the the MDA/ALS Center at the University of Washington.

A person dying from ALS may be able to use cannabis to prolong their life, as Roberts wrote:

“In Cathy Jordan's case, she's lived with ALS for nearly 30 years. The Parrish, Florida woman says that she tried marijuana after deciding that she was going to commit suicide rather than die from ALS. She tried a joint on the beach [in] Florida on a vacation prior to her determined overdose date, because, why not, she was dying anyway. That was the day the disease came to a halt, she tells the Bradenton Herald.”

Unfortunately pot use, cultivation, and sale remain criminal offenses under federal law despite the many medical uses the plant has shown to possess. And, as Gargano wrote, just 34 percent of Americans can currently access cannabis medicine via state-run programs in the 23 states (and Washington DC), where medical mariuana laws exist.

April M. Short is a national health, wellness  and social  justice journalist of more than a decade. She previously worked as AlterNet's drugs section editor and health section editor. She currently edits part of the time for AlterNet, and freelances for a number of publications nationwide.

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