How Can Weed Help with Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis results in loss of motor control, incontinence and pain. Cannabis has been linked to anti-inflammatory properties in ways that conventional medicines fail, can weed be the treatment we're looking for?

We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have decriminalised cannabis may find this article of interest.

Muscle spasms, sleep disturbances, and loss of motor control are just a few of the symptoms that a person with multiple sclerosis (MS) can experience. It's a progressive, debilitating condition that severely affects one's day-to-day functioning, mental health, and overall wellbeing. Cannabis, on the other hand, may have the properties to provide some assistance.

Cannabis is becoming well-known for its aid in easing symptoms associated with Crohn's disease, cancer-related pain, depression, and insomnia. While the cause of MS remains unknown, it has no cure and varies in symptom severity. This makes the treatment process lengthy and frustrating.

While the medicinal cannabis industry continues to grow, so is its acceptance in aiding ailments. In cases where conventional medicine has failed, perhaps cannabis can offer an alternative solution. 

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

MS is a progressive condition that develops scarring-like inflammation in the brain and spinal cord, causing damage to our central nervous system. Depending on the location of the scarring, different symptoms can present themselves. There are four different types of MS depending on the rate and severity of progression. The most common type occurs in 75-85% of patients, in which symptoms will appear, remit, and relapse; gradually getting worse over time.

While every case of MS is unique, common symptoms include muscle spasms in the arms and legs, causing loss of motor control; neurological issues like vertigo or neuralgia; neuropsychological issues like depression and memory loss; fatigue and heat sensitivity; and continence difficulties.

Two million people around the world are diagnosed with MS, and around 25,600 Australians live with it every year. While both men and women can develop MS, it is three times more common in women.

Treatment options for MS come in a variety of medications to help with muscle spasticity, neurological and psychological issues and reduce progressive development. 

However, medication treatment can be an extensive and expensive process depending on the range and severity of symptoms. 

Cannabis has proven to help with insomnia, chronic pain, and depression. Meanwhile, epilepsy seizures can be reduced with CBD-based medication. It's no surprise that medical practitioners are looking into the benefits of cannabis to ease the symptoms of MS for patients.

How Weed helps with Multiple Sclerosis

We've heard it all before: The Endocannabinoid System (ECS). When we consume weed – via oils, edibles, or smoking –its cannabinoid compounds react with the ECS.

 The most well-known cannabis compound, THC, can increase appetite, aid insomnia, and affect our mood. CBD, on the other hand, as developed a wellness reputation and has recently been linked to anti-inflammatory properties. They can also react with our body's neurotransmitters, interfere with their signals, and help block pain via the CB1 and CB2 receptors.  

When the compounds block pain signals, it not only reduces muscle spasms but the pain that goes with it. Around ninety percent of MS patients experience muscle spasming, which is why interest in cannabis as a treatment option has piqued. 

Similarly, studies around the use of cannabis-based medication have also proven that they're beneficial for conditions like epilepsy and Crohn's disease based on the same anti-inflammatory properties. 

Epidiolex, for example, is a 100% CBD-based medication that has been found to drastically relieve seizures in epilepsy patients. It is the first and only FDA-approved CBD-based medication on the market in the U.S. 

There have been further studies into medicinal cannabis that have linked it to relieving cachexia, gastrointestinal issues, sleep disturbances and incontinence. All of which have found that cannabis, on average, can ease symptoms.

Trials are also in the process of investigating other areas of inflammation in the brain. This makes it an effective treatment option for other mental conditions such as Alzheimer's.

While the U.S. approved the commercial sale of hemp-derived CBD products via the Farm Bill in 2018, CBD products are now available nationwide across the U.S. Medicinal marijuana containing THC, however, has only been legalised in 33 states due to its psychoactive properties.

 The Australian market, on the other hand, still has strict laws against commercially-produced cannabis-based products. All states and territories in Australia have legalised medicinal cannabis for eligible conditions. However, there are variations in the process to procure medicinal cannabis depending on what state you live in. In any case, you can seek out medical advice if you're considering medicinal cannabis as an option for you.

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Does it Work?

The effects of cannabis-derived medications on MS patients is mixed, however, overall have produced positive results. One review indicates that CBD not only reduces the frequency of muscle spasms but also the patient's perception of spasms. It also helps with the pain associated with spasms and sleep disturbances.

Another review found that cannabis-based medication such as Dronabinol (made from THC extracts) can alleviate pain, but only moderately so. Other medications like Nabiximol and Sativex, which use both THC and CBD, are more effective in relieving muscle pain and spasticity.

Other studies have suggested that these benefits are only short-lived. These results, depending on the study are also mixed.

Due to its relationship with our day-to-day functioning, cannabis effective resource to combat MS symptoms. Both clinically and anecdotally, cannabis has been proven to alleviate not only spasms and sleep disturbances but also one's mood, inflammation as well as gastrointestinal issues. One study revealed that thirty percent of patients reported a decrease in constipation, while forty-four percent said that their incontinence had decreased as well.

Anecdotally, patients have stated that medicinal cannabis has alleviated symptoms by incorporating it into their existing treatment plan. One MS patient, who was diagnosed at twenty-three, reported that he used cannabis as a way to ween off most of his pharmaceutical drugs. He also admitted to using a combination of administration methods, including CBD-infused butter, edibles, and vaping different strains to help with sleep.  

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Is Medicinal Cannabis right for you?

Despite the evidence painting a positive picture regarding medicinal cannabis use, it's important to consider that cannabis affects people differently. Different effects can be the result of environmental and psychological factors, family history, and genetic predispositions.

Studies have also found that cannabis can interfere with different types of medications. If you are thinking of including medicinal cannabis in your treatment plan, please consult your health-care professional.

While cannabis is not considered the best treatment for everyone, it's also important to acknowledge that the research behind it and the effects of the ECS are still being developed.

The medicinal cannabis industry is a growing industry; however, the hype is growing faster than regulation allows. This means, in terms of clinical evidence, change is happening – but slowly.

MS is currently considered to be an eligible condition for medicinal cannabis use in Australia, Canada and the U.S. So, in the meantime, if you considering giving weed a whirl, check with your health-care professional.

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Taylor Ridewood
Taylor Ridewood

Taylor is a Sydney-based writer with a background in psychology and professional writing. She has a keen interest in the benefits of medicinal cannabis and enjoys researching the multi-faceted effects of cannabis on the body and mind.

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