Huntington’s Disease


Huntington’s Disease (HD) is a progressive and fatal genetic disorder that wreaks havoc on a person’s brain cells, or neurons. It is characterized by a triad of symptoms: motor, cognitive, and psychiatric disturbances. Named after Dr. George Huntington, who first described the condition in 1872, the disease affects an estimated 3 to 7 per 100,000 people of European ancestry. 

The impact of HD is far-reaching, affecting not only the individuals diagnosed but also their families due to its genetic nature. Despite the devastating prognosis, significant strides have been made in understanding the disease’s biology and developing potential treatments. This includes exploring the role of medical marijuana in managing symptoms, a topic of growing interest in the medical community. 

This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of Huntington’s Disease, its impact, current treatment strategies, and the potential role of medical marijuana in symptom management.

Table of Contents

Introduction to Huntington’s Disease

Definition and Overview of Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s Disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative genetic disorder that affects muscle coordination and leads to cognitive decline and psychiatric problems. It is an autosomal dominant disorder, meaning an affected person has a 50% chance of passing it on to their offspring. HD is characterized by the progressive death of nerve cells in the brain, with symptoms typically beginning between ages 30 to 50, although they can start earlier or later.

The disease is named after Dr. George Huntington, who first described it in the late 19th century. The primary cause of HD is known to be a mutation in the Huntingtin gene. However, the exact mechanism by which this mutation causes the disease symptoms is still not fully understood.

Prevalence and Impact of Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s Disease is relatively rare, affecting about 3 to 7 per 100,000 people of European ancestry. It is less common in other populations. Despite its rarity, the impact of HD is significant due to its severe symptoms and the lack of a cure.

The disease profoundly impacts a person’s quality of life, as it gradually impairs their ability to walk, talk, think, and reason. It also has a significant emotional impact, both on those diagnosed and their families. The genetic nature of the disease means that family members must grapple with the possibility of inheriting HD, leading to psychological stress and anxiety.

The economic impact of Huntington’s Disease is also substantial, with costs arising from medical care, loss of income due to inability to work, and the need for long-term care as the disease progresses. Despite these challenges, research is ongoing, and there are treatment options available that can help manage symptoms and improve the quality of life for those with HD.

Understanding Huntington’s Disease

The Biology of Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s Disease is caused by a mutation in the Huntingtin gene (HTT), which provides instructions for making a protein called Huntingtin. This protein is essential for nerve cells in the brain, although its exact function is not fully understood. The mutation involves a DNA segment known as a CAG trinucleotide repeat. 

This segment is made up of a series of three DNA building blocks (cytosine, adenine, and guanine) that appear multiple times in a row. In people with Huntington’s Disease, the CAG segment is repeated 36 to more than 120 times. Normally, it appears 10 to 35 times. 

This abnormal repetition leads to the production of an abnormally long version of the huntingtin protein, which is cut into smaller, toxic fragments that accumulate in neurons, disrupting their function and eventually leading to cell death.

Causes and Risk Factors

The primary cause of Huntington’s Disease is the genetic mutation in the HTT gene. It is an autosomal dominant disorder, meaning that an individual only needs one copy of the defective gene to develop the disease. If one parent has Huntington’s Disease, each child has a 50% chance of inheriting the mutated gene.

Symptoms and Progression

The symptoms of Huntington’s Disease typically begin between ages 30 and 50 but can start earlier or later. They include motor symptoms such as chorea (involuntary jerking or writhing movements), muscle problems such as rigidity or muscle contracture, and slow or abnormal eye movements. Cognitive impairments often include difficulty organizing, prioritizing, or focusing on tasks. 

Psychiatric symptoms can involve depression, apathy, irritability, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. As the disease progresses, these symptoms worsen, and the individual may have difficulty walking, speaking, and swallowing.

Diagnosis and Testing

Diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease is based on a clinical examination, patient history, and a genetic test to determine if the HTT gene mutation is present. The genetic test can confirm the diagnosis if symptoms are present and can also be used to predict the onset of the disease in individuals who are at risk due to family history but are not yet showing symptoms. However, it cannot predict the age at which an individual will start showing symptoms.

The Impact of Huntington’s Disease

Physical Health Consequences

The physical health consequences of Huntington’s Disease are significant and progressive. The disease affects motor control, leading to difficulty in coordinating movements and maintaining balance. As the disease progresses, individuals may experience difficulty swallowing and speaking, leading to weight loss and malnutrition. 

There is also an increased risk of choking. In the later stages of the disease, individuals often become unable to move or communicate effectively and require full-time care.

Mental and Emotional Impact

Huntington’s Disease also has profound mental and emotional impacts. Cognitive decline can lead to difficulties with memory, concentration, and decision-making. Psychiatric symptoms are also common, including depression, anxiety, and changes in personality or mood. These changes can be distressing for the individual and their loved ones, and can significantly impact their quality of life.

Social and Economic Impact

The social and economic impact of Huntington’s Disease is considerable. The disease often strikes in the prime of life, leading to early retirement and loss of income. The need for full-time care in the later stages of the disease can also place a significant financial burden on families. 

Socially, individuals with Huntington’s Disease may become isolated due to their physical symptoms and changes in their mental and emotional state. The disease can strain relationships and lead to a loss of social support at a time when it is most needed.

Treatment and Management of Huntington’s Disease

Current Therapies and Medications

There is currently no cure for Huntington’s Disease, but there are treatments available to help manage symptoms. Medications such as tetrabenazine and deutetrabenazine can help control movement problems. 

Antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, and mood-stabilizing drugs can be used to manage the psychiatric symptoms of the disease. It’s important to note that these medications can have side effects and their use should be closely monitored by a healthcare provider.

Physical and Occupational Therapy

Physical therapy can help manage movement problems and improve mobility and strength. Occupational therapy can assist with daily activities such as eating, dressing, and writing, helping individuals maintain their independence for as long as possible. Speech therapy can also be beneficial for managing difficulties with speech and swallowing.

Lifestyle Modifications and Self-Care

Lifestyle modifications can also play a role in managing symptoms. Regular exercise can help improve mobility and mood. A healthy diet can help manage weight and improve overall health. Adequate rest and stress management techniques can also be beneficial.

Support for Individuals with Huntington’s Disease

Support for individuals with Huntington’s Disease is crucial. This can include counseling or support groups for both the individual and their family. Social services and home care assistance can also be beneficial. It’s important for individuals with Huntington’s Disease and their families to have a strong support network to help manage the challenges of the disease.

Huntington’s Disease and Medical Marijuana

Role of Medical Marijuana in Managing Huntington’s Disease Symptoms

Medical marijuana, specifically the cannabinoids found within the plant, has been shown to have potential therapeutic effects for a variety of conditions, including Huntington’s disease. Cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system in the human body, a system that plays a role in regulating a variety of physiological processes, including mood, pain sensation, appetite, and memory.

In the context of Huntington’s disease, cannabinoids may help manage symptoms such as movement problems, psychiatric symptoms, and weight loss. However, it’s important to note that while some patients report symptom relief with medical marijuana, the effectiveness can vary greatly from person to person.

Research and Evidence on Medical Marijuana for Huntington’s Disease

Research on the use of medical marijuana for Huntington’s disease is still in its early stages. However, some studies suggest that cannabinoids could have potential therapeutic value. For instance, a study published in the journal “Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience” discusses how cannabinoids are being considered for treating numerous diseases, including neurodegenerative disorders like Huntington’s disease.

The study suggests that cannabinoids could have a role in treating these conditions due to their very low toxicity and generally benign side effects. However, the authors also note that more research is needed to develop more selective cannabinoid receptor agonists/antagonists and related compounds.

Risks and Considerations

While medical marijuana may offer some potential benefits for people with Huntington’s disease, there are also risks and considerations to keep in mind. These include the potential for addiction, the risk of negative side effects (such as dizziness, dry mouth, and changes in mood or thinking), and the legal status of marijuana, which varies by location.

Furthermore, the effectiveness of medical marijuana can vary greatly from person to person, and what works for one person may not work for another. As such, it’s important for individuals considering medical marijuana for Huntington’s disease to discuss this treatment option with their healthcare provider to fully understand the potential benefits and risks.

Navigating Huntington’s Disease in New York

Huntington’s Disease (HD) is a hereditary, progressive brain disorder that causes uncontrolled movements, emotional problems, and loss of cognitive abilities. In New York, an array of services and supports are available to assist individuals living with this debilitating condition, and there are several important legal and regulatory considerations surrounding its treatment.

State Resources and Support for Individuals with Huntington’s Disease

There are numerous state resources in New York aimed at supporting individuals diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease. The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) provides comprehensive healthcare services and promotes wellness, especially for individuals suffering from chronic conditions like HD.

Within the NYSDOH, the Division of Chronic Disease Prevention offers resources, services, and awareness campaigns for those suffering from chronic diseases, including HD. Furthermore, the Office of Rare Diseases is responsible for funding, monitoring, and advocating for research, treatment, and education regarding conditions like HD.

New York also has several nonprofit organizations like the Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA) that offer services including support groups, therapy referrals, and educational programs. HDSA’s New York chapter holds support group meetings, awareness events, and fundraising activities, and provides connections to HD clinics across the state.

Legal and Regulatory Framework for Huntington’s Disease Treatment

The legal and regulatory framework for the treatment of Huntington’s Disease in New York is complex, consisting of state and federal laws, regulations, and guidelines. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the New York State Human Rights Law both prohibit discrimination based on disability, including HD. This protects individuals with HD from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

New York also has laws and regulations specific to healthcare providers, including requirements for informed consent, privacy protections under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and medical malpractice laws. Genetic testing, which is crucial for diagnosing HD, is regulated under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which prohibits health insurers and employers from discriminating based on genetic information.

Accessing Medical Marijuana for Huntington’s Disease in New York

New York’s medical marijuana program, regulated by the NYSDOH, allows qualified patients to use medical marijuana as part of their treatment plans. Huntington’s Disease is listed as one of the qualifying conditions for obtaining medical marijuana in New York.

To access medical marijuana, an individual must first receive certification from a healthcare provider registered with the NYSDOH’s Medical Marijuana Program. The patient will need to provide proof of New York residency and proof of qualifying condition, and they must register with the Medical Marijuana Program to obtain a registry identification card.

Once the patient has been certified and registered, they can purchase medical marijuana from a registered organization’s dispensing facility in the state. These facilities offer a variety of forms of medical marijuana, including capsules, vaporization cartridges, and oral tinctures.

It’s crucial for patients to consult with their healthcare provider to determine the most effective dosage and form of medical marijuana for their specific needs. Additionally, patients should familiarize themselves with the state’s laws and regulations regarding the use and possession of medical marijuana to ensure compliance.

In context, while Huntington’s Disease is a serious and life-altering condition, New York provides a wide array of resources to support individuals with HD and their families. Legal protections and regulatory frameworks guide their treatment, and the state’s medical marijuana program provides an additional option to manage their symptoms.


Huntington’s Disease is a complex and challenging condition that significantly impacts the lives of those diagnosed and their families. The disease, characterized by its progressive nature, affects physical, cognitive, and emotional health, leading to a broad range of symptoms that require comprehensive management strategies.

While there is currently no cure for Huntington’s Disease, advancements in treatment options, including medication, physical and occupational therapy, and lifestyle modifications, have shown promise in managing symptoms and improving quality of life. Emerging research on the potential benefits of medical marijuana for symptom management is also a promising avenue, although more studies are needed to fully understand its efficacy and safety.

In New York, individuals with Huntington’s Disease have access to a range of state resources and support. The legal and regulatory framework for Huntington’s Disease treatment, including the use of medical marijuana, is designed to ensure that patients receive the care they need. However, navigating these resources can be complex, and individuals are encouraged to seek guidance from healthcare professionals and support organizations.

Note: This article’s content is provided for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to serve as a substitute for professional legal or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or queries regarding laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult a lawyer, physician, or other licensed practitioner.