Multiple sclerosis is a debilitating illness affecting over 77,000 people in Canada.
With such a large population of people affected, natural treatment options—even as adjuncts to an existing treatment plan—are a major area of interest.
This article will offer details about what the current research says about this therapy.
Cannabis & MS
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a neurodegenerative disease.
This means that individuals who contract this disease typically experience progressive damage to nerves in the brain and spinal cord.
This damage is the result of the nerves not being protected by fatty sheaths known as myelin. The immune system confuses myelin as something threatening to the body and attacks it, exposing the nerve cells to injury.
As the myelin is broken down and scar tissue accumulates, the communication between the body and the brain is hindered. This results in symptoms such as:
- Sexual dysfunction
- Hindered mobility
- Spasms, spasticity and tremors
- Chronic pain
- Depression and fatigue
- Loss of bowel and urinary control
Research is strong in support of cannabis for MS symptoms.
There is robust, randomized human research demonstrating marijuana’s positive health outcomes for neurological pain, spasticity, bladder dysfunction and more.
There is also a strong base of evidence for using weed to treat adjunct conditions like anxiety that may arise from a MS diagnosis.
If you are considering using marijuana for MS, speak with a licensed medical expert who is literate in cannabinoids and how they interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system.
The facts reviewed in this article are for information purposes and do not constitute a recommendation from WeedWell™ that you self-medicate with marijuana without first consulting a health care practitioner.
Cannabinoids & Multiple Sclerosis
Research on using cannabis in a treatment plan for multiple sclerosis focuses on compounds called cannabinoids.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary cannabinoid in marijuana, and it produces the psychoactive effects that this herb is known for. Apart from creating euphoria and lifts in mood, THC exerts its action in other medically significant ways for MS patients.
For example, THC is understood to be a form of MS pain relief that is natural.
A study published in 2013 evaluated the effectiveness of THC and another cannabinoid known as Cannabidiol (CBD) for relieving central neuropathic pain (CNP) attributed to MS.
This double-blind, randomized study used an MS cannabis spray called Sativex which is essentially a synthetic thc oil that is administered sublingually.
Researchers provided either the weed mouth spray or a placebo to 339 subjects with MS in the first phase of the study as an add-on treatment when existing medications did not provide adequate pain relief.
167 received the sativex for MS, the other 172 were given a placebo. The pain levels of the subjects were observed for 14 weeks.
Of the 339 participants, 58 proceeded to the second phase of the study where withdrawal and maintenance of efficacy were observed.
The findings in terms of the efficacy of THC for MS pain were inconclusive owing to a large number of placebo responders. However, the researchers measured a statistically significant difference in the second phase of the study between the placebo group and the group given cannabis.
57% of the respondents who received the placebo experienced treatment failure compared to 24% of subjects given cannabis spray for ms (Langford et al. 2013).
This increased time to treatment failure for the patients who received the spray indicated that THC can provide relief for CNP. This is just one study in support of the option of marijuana for MS pain .
Cannabis for Motor Symptoms
There is also compelling research exploring the topic of muscle spasms and marijuana.
Tonic spasms were observed to diminish dramatically from 10 mg of THC in a placebo-controlled study of subjects with conditions such as MS, cerebral palsy and injured spinal cord (Petro & Ellenberger 1981).
Other studies on marijuana for spasticity focus on whole plant cannabis containing both CBD and THC. A placebo-controlled study showed that a preparation containing THC and CBD was significantly more effective in alleviating spasticity symptoms when compared to the placebo group (Collin et al. 2007).
Does weed help tremors? Evidence is sparse, but a study published in 1983 claims that THC improved motor coordination in subjects with ataxia and tremors who received oral marijuana (Clifford 1983). Taken together, this research suggests that cannabis has benefits for a number of motor symptoms of cannabis.
CBD Oil & Multiple Sclerosis
Cannabidiol oil—also called CBD oil—has received a lot of media attention recently as a treatment for conditions like epilepsy and anxiety.
But what does the research say about MS and cannabis oil that is CBD-dominant?
Much of the research on multiple sclerosis and cannabinoids focuses on THC, but there is a credible body of research available on CBD and multiple sclerosis as well.
The spray used in the earlier referenced study on pain relief contained CBD as well as THC, which indicates analgesic properties for this cannabinoid as well.
There are other studies that have examined the way cannabidiol works in concert with THC to alleviate neuropathic pain (Rog et al. 2007).
There are also animal studies that have isolated that effects of cannabidiol on multiple sclerosis pain.
One study observed that 20 mg/kg of cannabidiol given to rat models produced declines in hyperalgesia, which is an increased sensitivity to pain that can be symptomatic of MS (Costa et al. 2007).
In another study, CBD was observed to work with THC to improve spasticity, pain and sleep quality in MS patients related to urinary tract symptoms (Brady et al. 2004).
Cannabis oils are one of the most popular weed smoking alternatives, and can come in prescription forms that are ingested, vaped or taken under the tongue. They are available in CBD- and THC-dominant forms by licensed producers in Canada.
This article contains a lot of current information for individuals and caregivers interested in the effectiveness of cannabis for MS.
But this article is no substitute for a doctor’s advice. Before attempting to treat your symptoms with medical cannabis, speak to a licensed expert in MS and cannabinoids.
There is more research available on MS and Cannabis that wasn’t covered in this article, and we hope you will continue to explore the available literature and use it to guide this important conversation with a health care practitioner.
- Brady, C. M., R. DasGupta, C. Dalton, O. J. Wiseman, K. J. Berkley, and C. J. Fowler. “An open-label pilot study of cannabis-based extracts for bladder dysfunction in advanced multiple sclerosis.” Multiple Sclerosis Journal 10, no. 4 (2004): 425-433.
- Clifford, David B. “Tetrahydrocannabinol for tremor in multiple sclerosis.” Annals of Neurology: Official Journal of the American Neurological Association and the Child Neurology Society 13, no. 6 (1983): 669-671.
- Collin, C., P. Davies, I. K. Mutiboko, S. Ratcliffe, and Sativex Spasticity in MS Study Group. “Randomized controlled trial of cannabis‐based medicine in spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis.” European Journal of Neurology 14, no. 3 (2007): 290-296.
- Costa, Barbara, Anna Elisa Trovato, Francesca Comelli, Gabriella Giagnoni, and Mariapia Colleoni. “The non-psychoactive cannabis constituent cannabidiol is an orally effective therapeutic agent in rat chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain.” European journal of pharmacology 556, no. 1-3 (2007): 75-83.
- Langford, R. M., J. Mares, A. Novotna, M. Vachova, I. Novakova, W. Notcutt, and S. Ratcliffe. “A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of THC/CBD oromucosal spray in combination with the existing treatment regimen, in the relief of central neuropathic pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.” Journal of neurology 260, no. 4 (2013): 984-997.
- PETRO, DENIS J., and C. A. R. L. Ellenberger. “Treatment of Human Spasticity with Δ9‐Tetrahydrocannabinol.” The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 21, no. S1 (1981).
- Rog, David J., Turo J. Nurmikko, and Carolyn A. Young. “Oromucosal Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol/cannabidiol for neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis: an uncontrolled, open-label, 2-year extension trial.” Clinical therapeutics 29, no. 9 (2007): 2068-2079.
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