Medical Monday: Cannabis and Multiple Sclerosis

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When someone has Multiple Sclerosis, their immune systems start to attack neurons in the brain, resulting in extreme pain, loss of movement in the limbs, inflammation, vision impairment and muscle spasms. It affects millions of people worldwide, and around 400,000 in the U.S.

In all states that have legalized medical marijuana, MS is a qualifying condition to receive a medical marijuana card. An increasing number of people have taken advantage of cannabis’ many benefits to treat the symptoms of MS.

There is no cure to MS and not many effective treatments. Many pharmaceuticals are paired with undesireable side effects or are addictive. However, cannabis offers a more natural and nontoxic way to manage the debilitating symptoms of this disease. Thankfully, as legislation progresses, more individuals will have the freedom to choose the medicine they wish to use.

So how does cannabis provide relief from MS-related symptoms?

According to a 2008 study, MS might be directly related  to activity in the endocannabinoid system. The study revealed that CB1 and CB2 receptor stimulation has some neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory qualities. The endocannabinoid system, the study illuminated, helps control the level of degeneration caused by inflammation.  According to the study, “Cannabinoids may not only offer symptom control but may also slow the neurodegenerative disease progression that ultimately leads to the accumulation of disability.”

The National MS Society also acknowledges some of cannabis’ benefits for treating MS. They reference several scientific studies that put forth evidence supporting cannabis’ ability to help with sleep, muscle spasms and pain. However, more studies are needed to elucidate the effects of smoked cannabis. The most common side effects were dizziness and memory disturbance — which are common for strains with a high THC content.

Dr Thorsten Rudroff, at the University of Colorado, is confident cannabis will eventually be introduced to the mainstream as a viable treatment for MS. Rudroff’s team has conducted multiple observational studies to hopefully understand how this plant may help patients with MS. After analyzing the data from observing 139 MS patients using cannabis, the majority showed fewer signs of neurological disability and were also able to lessen their dependency on other drugs.

In an interview with Huffington Post, Rudroff expands on his theories: “CBD binds to the receptors in the human body and alters the way the receptors act to our body’s natural signals. In MS, we have too much activity of the immune system. CBD may inhibit this increased activity, which may result in the medical benefits.”

Hopefully as cannabis becomes legalized and normalized, more people with MS will have access to cannabis. Of course, cannabis research is limited due to its position as a Schedule 1 drug– when it is rescheduled, it will open up countless opportunities to treat their symptoms. — Words by Taylor Haynes