Marijuana and Multiple Sclerosis
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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system for which there is no cure. Recently more and more claims have been made that marijuana is beneficial and could even be the “miracle treatment” for MS patients. But is this really true and what is known so far about treating MS with medical marijuana?
Thanks to the legalization movement, we’re making huge progress in understanding cannabis. We are slowly learning more about how it affects our bodies, and how we can maximize its potential both as a recreational substance and a medicine.
So far, we’ve already seen that cannabis can work wonders in the treatment of everything from pain and insomnia to epilepsy. Now, recent research also suggests that cannabis might play a major part in the treatment/management of multiple sclerosis symptoms.
UNDERSTANDING MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS
Before diving into the details about how cannabis may help in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, it’s important to understand the condition and how it affects the body.
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease and often leads to disability. The exact causes of MS are unknown, but we do know that a trigger that causes the immune system to attack the brain and spinal cord usually causes it.
This causes damage to myelin (a fatty substance that protects some of our nerve cells) and disrupts the brain's ability to send and receive nervous signals. This ultimately leads to a communication breakdown in our body, which can create a vast variety of unpredictable symptoms.
Some general symptoms of multiple sclerosis include:
- Numbness and tingling
- Mood changes
- Memory problems
It is important to know that everyone experiences MS differently and that individual symptoms and their severity can change dramatically between patients. For example, some people may experience “relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis,” which is characterised by “attacks” of new symptoms followed by periods of time when those symptoms wean off or disappear completely. Others may experience “progressive multiple sclerosis” which is characterized by a gradual onset and worsening of symptoms over time.
There is currently no cure for MS. However, there are treatment strategies for patients with progressive MS and disease modifying therapies for those with relapsing MS. Both are aimed with managing and minimizing symptoms.
More than 400,000 people in the United States and about 2.3 million people around the world have MS. About 200 new cases are diagnosed each week in the United States. Rates of MS are higher farther from the equator.
CANNABIS AND MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS
Recent research has shown that cannabis may be beneficial in treating multiple sclerosis. And treating the condition with medical marijuana is currently approved in 10 countries around the world. The evidence in favour of medical marijuana's suggests that it may help treating and managing symptoms of the disease, although not actually curing it.
The pain, spasticity, and tremors experienced by some MS patients obviously have detrimental effects on their quality of life. These symptoms are also typically hard to treat with currently available treatments. However, new research suggests that medical marijuana can help to alleviate some of these symptoms.
Cannabis contains over 100 unique compounds known as cannabinoids. Arguably the two most famous cannabinoids in marijuana are CBD (cannabidiol), and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). The latter is often praised for its medicinal properties, helping in the treatment of pain, epilepsy, and more, while the latter is often dubbed the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, despite having its own range of medical benefits.
When consumed, the cannabinoids in marijuana interact with our body’s endocannabinoid system; a system of receptors located in the brain and around the body that play active roles in mediating a variety of bodily functions, including appetite, pain management, and more.
In 2014 the American Academy of Neurology published a set of guidelines for complementary and alternative treatments for multiple sclerosis. As part of these guidelines, the AAN studies 4 main types of medicinal marijuana:
- Oral cannabis extract (OCE).
- Synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol (Synthetic THC).
- Oromucosal cannabinoid spray (an oral cannabis spray).
- Smoked cannabis.
The guidelines state that there is strong evidence suggesting that oral cannabis extract containing both THC and CBD helps to manage spasticity and the pain associated with spasticity caused by MS.
The guidelines also state that there is moderate evidence that oral cannabis spray like Sativex can reduce a patient’s reported symptoms of spasticity, pain caused by spasticity, and frequent urination.
However, it's important to note that the guidelines also made it very clear that most of the studies done on cannabis were short term and that medical marijuana could produce a variety of side effects, including:
- Difficulty with attention and concentration
- Drowsiness or tiredness
- Loss of balance and falls
- Nausea, vomiting, and constipation
- Psychological problems such as depression and psychosis
In the UK, however, surveys have shown that a significant number of multiple sclerosis patients actively use cannabis to relieve symptoms including pain, stiffness, spasticity, and more.
In 2009, a systematic review of double-blind, randomized, controlled trials into medical marijuana and its ability to relieve MS symptoms found that 5 out of 6 trials showed that both THC and CBD decreased spasticity and improved mobility. They also noted some side effects, but generally considered that the treatment was well received.
Another trial, held in 2012 by the Macquarie University Special Education Centre, also found cannabis treatment was more effective than a placebo in reducing muscle stiffness, spasms and pain, while also improving sleep quality. The study involved 279 people taking a cannabis based pill or placebo.
There has also been research into cannabis working as a neuroprotectant, which would essentially allow it to help protect the brain from the damage caused by MS. However, studies in this field have generally produced negative findings.
As is often the case with new alternative therapies, there are still some uncertainties about how efficient medical marijuana is in treating the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
Hopefully new research will allow us to better understand both MS and marijuana and eventually come to a clear conclusion on how the two may interact.
Note: We have taken the utmost care and precaution whilst writing this article. That being said, please take note of the fact that we are not medical professionals of any kind. Cannabis.info is strictly a news and information website. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
- ^ Healthline, When is MS usually diagnosed?, retrieved December-07-2018
- ^ American Academy of Neurology, Complementary and alternative medicine for multiple sclerosis, retrieved December-07-2018
- ^ NCBI, Whole plant cannabis extracts in the treatment of spasticity in multiple sclerosis: a systematic review, retrieved December-07-2018
- ^ NCBI, Multiple sclerosis and extract of cannabis: results of the MUSEC trial., retrieved December-07-2018