From legality to availability, recreational use and potential use as treatment, marijuana is a hot topic. In the MS forum, members are talking about marijuana and its potential to relieve symptoms of MS like pain, tremor and spasticity. We wanted to know more, so we asked our Health Data Integrity team to take a look at this topic. So, what is marijuana and how can it impact health and MS? Take a look.
First, a quick refresher: What is Marijuana?
Marijuana is a mixture of dried flowers from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plants. The marijuana plant contains over 85 cannabinoids that are found in the leaves and buds of the female plant. Cannabinoids are classified as:
- Phytocannabinoids: found in leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds of the plant.
- Endogenous: made by the human body.
- Purified: naturally occurring and purified from plant sources.
- Synthetic: synthesized in a lab.
Cannabinoids create different effects depending on which receptors they bind to. These chemical compounds are responsible for marijuana’s effects on the body with the most common being delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Different strains with different combinations and levels of the various cannabinoids along with different methods of consumption give users varied effects.
How does marijuana impact MS?
Despite currently available FDA-approved treatments, many patients with MS still have symptoms. Recent studies suggest treatment with smoked cannabis and oral cannabis extract may improve patient perception of pain and spasticity.
The American Academy of Neurology, conducted a literature review and released a guideline on the use of marijuana in MS patients. This guideline reviews a number of studies where marijuana is used for MS and the findings of this review include:
- Oral cannabis extract and synthetic THC may be effective for reducing patient-reported symptoms of spasticity and pain, but not bladder symptoms and neuropathic pain.
- Nabiximols (Sativex®), an oromucosal spray, may be effective in reducing patient-reported spasticity, pain, and urinary frequency, but not urinary incontinence, anxiety symptoms, sleep problems, cognitive symptoms, or fatigue. However, it is important to note that this agent is not currently approved for use in the US.
- There isn’t enough evidence to fully determine the safety or effectiveness of smoked marijuana in treating any MS symptoms.
If you are interested in reading more studies involving the use of marijuana in MS patients, check out these resources:
- Long term effects of Sativex® on cognition (click here for more information)
- Smoked cannabis for spasticity (click here for more information)
- Dronabinol and pain (click here for more information)
So, what is the takeaway?
While preliminary research shows that marijuana may improve symptoms in patients with MS, more extensive clinical trials are in progress to evaluate the safety, efficacy, and dose of cannabis for patients with MS.
One of these studies is currently recruiting participants to investigate the effects of medical marijuana usage on physical functions on MS patients. To find out if you qualify and the location of the study, click here for more information.
Long-term safety of marijuana use for symptom management for patients with MS is not fully known. So, patients should be aware of the pros and cons of this treatment option and discuss the use of medical marijuana with their healthcare provider. While there are benefits that marijuana may provide for patients, there are many side effects that may limit the use of this therapy.
Most common side effects include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory disturbance
- Changes in mood
Want to know more?
- Food and Drug Administration
- National Institute on Drug Abuse
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
- National Multiple Sclerosis Society
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