Medical cannabis treatment has been shown to be very effective in treating many of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). Next, we’ll look at which symptoms are positively affected by cannabis use or cannabis-based therapies.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an immune-mediated condition in which an abnormal immune response is directed towards the central nervous system. It is a lifelong disorder that affects the spinal cord, brain, and optic nerve. More than two million people are affected worldwide, according to the American National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Cannabis treatment is considered one of the options for people with multiple sclerosis because it has anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antispasmodic effects.
Cannabis has anti-inflammatory properties.
Inflammation of the nervous tissue is the main characteristic of multiple sclerosis. MS is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune cells attack the central nervous system, causing inflammation of the myelin sheaths surrounding neurons (nerves) in the brain and spine. This inflammation ultimately results in irreparable damage to the myelin sheaths, which in turn causes a variety of neurological symptoms, including loss of motor control, muscle weakness and cramps, mood instability, and fatigue.
Cannabis is known to reduce inflammation and has been used by doctors and herbalists around the world for thousands of years as an anti-inflammatory agent. In recent years, the ability of cannabis to reduce inflammation associated with MS has been extensively studied and the foundation has been laid for the world’s first approved cannabis drug, Sativex from UK-based GW Pharmaceutical.
Studies have shown that CB1 receptor agonists (such as THC or the endogenous partial agonist anandamide) are neuroprotective in people with MS. In an important study, mice bred with a deficiency of CB1 receptors were found to have a unidirectional susceptibility to inflammation and neurodegeneration when challenged with an animal model of multiple sclerosis known as experimental allergic encephalomyelitis.
Cannabis has pain relieving properties.
Pain is one of the most common and debilitating symptoms of multiple sclerosis, experienced by 30 to 90 percent of people. MS – associated pain occurs either directly as a result of inflammation of the nervous tissue or as a result of muscle spasms and spasticity and pressure exerted on the musculoskeletal system.
Cannabis has proven its ability to treat pain associated with multiple sclerosis. In a 2005 human clinical study, a cannabis-based drug was administered as a sublingual spray with a 1: 1 THC-CBD ratio. The study found that the cannabis-based drug was significantly more effective than placebo in reducing pain and sleep disturbances in MS patients.
Several studies have shown that smoking cannabis
effective in reducing pain associated with MS. These include, for example, a survey of 112 patients with multiple sclerosis from the US and UK, in which the vast majority reported a reduction in pain after smoking cannabis.
Cannabis reduces pain in patients with multiple sclerosis by working directly to reduce the immune response and associated inflammation, and also reduces musculoskeletal pain caused by muscle spasms and spasticity. A scientific study published in 2007 found that a buccal spray containing both THC and CBD is more effective than just CBD or just dronabinol (a synthetic form of THC) in treating pain specific to MS.
THC and CBD are antispasmodics.
Muscle spasms – sudden, involuntary contractions of a muscle or muscle group – are another common characteristic of multiple sclerosis. Spasticity is reported by 60 to 90 percent of patients. Spasms can cause severe, temporary pain that usually goes away after a short time. A muscle spasm is an abnormal increase in muscle tone or stiffness. It can affect walking, balance, and sometimes speech. Muscle spasm is caused by damage to the nerve pathways that control movement.
Cannabis has been shown to reduce both the frequency of muscle spasms and the severity of muscle spasms. In 2005, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study (considered the gold standard of clinical trials) showed that cannabis (made up of THC and CBD) improved mobility and muscle cramps in 37 of 50 subjects. A 2007 randomized controlled trial found that cannabis supplements containing THC and CBD were more effective than placebo in treating muscle cramps, although this particular study was not statistically significant.
The effects of cannabis on muscle spasms and spasticity are likely related to its ability to reduce neuronal inflammation and slow the overall progression of the disease. A study published in the journal Nature in 2000 showed that cannabinoid receptor agonists such as THC and R (+) – WIN 55.212 (a synthetic agonist) relieve symptoms of spasticity and tremors, while cannabinoid receptor antagonists (especially CB1- Receptor) worsen symptoms.
Cannabis is an antidepressant.
Clinical depression is a common feature of multiple sclerosis, affecting up to 50 percent of people with multiple sclerosis throughout their illness. Depression in multiple sclerosis can result from damage to nerves that help regulate mood, or it can be a side effect of other drugs used to control the progression of the disease. Besides major depression, MS can also lead to a number of accompanying symptoms of emotional dysfunction.
Cannabis’s ability to treat depression is controversial, and there is strong evidence on both sides. Several studies have shown that THC, CBD, and CBC (cannabichromen) may have antidepressant effects. The endocannabinoid system is known to play an important role in regulating mood and subjective levels of happiness, and endocannabinoids such as anandamide play a fundamental role in this process. It is believed that certain genetic variations in CB1 receptor expression may make some people more susceptible to the mood-lifting effects of cannabis.
More than 90 percent of people with MS in the US and UK reported in a survey that cannabis use relieves symptoms of depression. These relationships are complex, and subjective mood improvement may be associated with improvements in other symptoms that can cause emotional distress, including pain and spasticity, and directly affected neurons involved in mood regulation.
Cannabis can reduce abdominal discomfort.
MS can cause a variety of gastrointestinal complaints, including abdominal pain, constipation (in about 40 percent of patients), and fecal incontinence (in 7 percent of patients). These symptoms can be embarrassing, anxious, and painful.
Between 51 and 60 percent of respondents to the patient survey reported that the urgency of bowel movements was reduced by using cannabis, 44 percent reported that fecal incontinence was reduced, and 30 percent reported that constipation was improved. Cannabis has long been associated with gastrointestinal dysfunction, including irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease. The effects of cannabinoids on receptors (especially CB2 receptors) in the peripheral nervous system, which controls bowel function, are thought to be responsible for this.
While cannabis has no medical implications for treating multiple sclerosis or a direct cause, its effects can be extremely helpful in treating symptoms. Depression in people with multiple sclerosis can also be a side effect of other symptoms, and by reducing other symptoms, cannabis can improve the quality of life for people with multiple sclerosis.