It’s not uncommon for multiple sclerosis patients to seek alternative therapy and treatment to complement their traditional medical regimen. Often suffering significant pain and other symptoms during a relapse, those with MS don’t have a lot of options, with traditional medicines barely scratching the surface at times when it comes to managing symptoms. And many of the medical treatments offered come with their own side effects that are hard to manage.
What is cannabis?
Cannabis is a flowering plant from which the flowers, leaves, and roots can provide medicinal products. A mature cannabis plant has leaves covered in little glands filled with the oils referred to as cannabis oil, which can have an effect on both physical and psychoactive properties of a patient and their ailment.
Cannabis oil contains what are known as cannabinoids, the two of which have been studied being THC and CBD. While both can offer properties that could assist in treating symptoms related to multiple sclerosis, the two do have some differences.
- THC is more psychoactive than CBD, potentially altering mood, consciousness, behavior, and perception. In cannabis, the concentration of THC can range from one to twenty-four percent, depending on the strain of plant and how it is raised.
- CBD is not psychoactive but more physically effective in many ways. The concentration in cannabis is usually low, around one percent, but this is not the only source of CBD. It is often derived from hemp as well.
What trials have been done?
While the acceptance of cannabis, especially THC, is still heavily questioned in parts of the medical community, and by groups of people in society, several scientific studies have already been performed on how cannabis can affect a patient with MS. After discovering how helpful it has been in treating pain and nausea in cancer patients, it seems obvious there could be significant advantages in it for patients with multiple sclerosis.
Some studies focused on the effects of botanical cannabis, whereas others focused on synthetic cannabis. It was tested against symptoms of MS including pain, spasticity, and control of the bladder and bowel. As with the disease itself, results were as different and unique as each individual patient, but overall, some definite improvement was experienced in some areas.
MS symptoms cannabis can treat and how
However, here are some of the results patients have reported:
- Calming of nerves that spasm based on damage, leading to decrease in restless legs or tremor in the hands as well
- Relief of stiffness as muscles relax with the use of cannabis
- Reduction of overactive bladder due to relief from spasms that cause the feeling of needing to urinate
- Pain relief, though this can take time and works in addition to more immediate pain relief options, such as aspirin
- For those with very advanced MS on chemotherapy, reduction of nausea and vomiting
- More sleep and better overall rest due to calmness of the nerves and brain
Like any new medication, the body takes time to adjust, and it could take days to a couple of weeks before the patient acclimates to the differences and experiences the full extent of relief.
When prescribed in areas where the substances is legal, cannabis is recommended as a pill or spray instead of something to smoke. Smoking not only gives the patient less control over quantity ingested, since the potency varies, but is also bad for lungs that are likely already at risk through the disease.
Risks involved with cannabis
While there are hefty warnings involved with the use of cannabis, even in the medical field, many of these risks are very minimal and, especially in comparison to the symptoms being treated in multiple sclerosis, somewhat negligible and far less impactful in every day life. Some risks include:
- Increased heart rate – patients should know their level of heart health prior to starting on a treatment course with cannabis
- Slowed reaction time, impaired coordination, or dizziness – often, patients experience these symptoms already and have them to a lesser degree when using cannabis
- Dry mouth
- Anxiety or mood swing – this could be remedied by changing the dose or with acclimation to the drug
As with things like alcohol, the actual risk of addiction is very low and tends to mirror the likelihood of an average individual being predisposed to becoming an alcoholic or addict. The risk is higher with younger people, so the suggestion of cannabis to accompany traditional medication is only made to adults. Because there is a risk, cannabis should only be used for MS under medical supervision, which involves getting a certification for use and the “green card” that allows patients to obtain medical marijuana.
While not everyone is on board with the use of cannabis to treat anything, including multiple sclerosis, its medical use has been legalized in 30 of the 50 states as well as Washington, DC, making it much easier for patients to obtain the substance. With federal bills on the table, this could become a national acceptance soon as well.
Lots of benefits have been noted across a number of ailments, including MS, with the major notable evidence corroborated in the reduction of pain (on average, patients report thirty percent less pain with cannabis than without) and spasticity (noted by almost all patients in trials). While treatment of the disease to help slow the advancement and reduce permanent damage to the central nervous system has come a long way in recent years, treating symptoms has still been problematic.