Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, inflammatory disease which affects the nervous system and results in a variety of symptoms. Some of these symptoms include a general loss of muscle coordination, muscle weakness, difficulty moving, spasms, and visual problems. Sometimes, these symptoms occur in the form of an attack followed by a subsequent relapse. Other times they are degenerative and get worse as the disease progresses.
MS does not currently have any known cure. There are certain treatments which can help with some of the symptoms, but the negative effects of these treatments are not usually well-tolerated. This is why a 1997 survey and a 2006 survey found that many MS patients in the UK were using marijuana to improve several aspects of their condition, particularly spasticity and pain. These findings were repeated in a survey carried out in Alberta, Canada, which found that marijuana was widely used for depression as well.
While the effects of marijuana on depression in MS patients have not been studied much, researchers have carried out some clinical trials on its usefulness for spasticity and pain.
Marijuana as a Treatment for Spasticity
The first study which looked into the potential for marijuana to help patients with spasticity was published in 1987. The study followed 13 participants as they were given either THC, the main psychosomatic compound in marijuana, or a placebo. Patients showed significant improvements when administered the THC but not when administered the placebo.
These findings were again repeated for THC in a 2004 study which had a much bigger sample size of 57 patients. Researchers found that THC not only decreased spasms but helped patients walk around and sleep as well.
Marijuana as a Treatment for Pain
THC, along with CBD, marijuana’s other top medicinal compound, were used in a 2005 study which looked at the two compounds as a potential treatment for central pain in MS patients. Researchers followed 64 patients for 5 weeks and found that the marijuana extracts led to a decrease in both pain and sleep disturbances.
The same researchers extended their work in a 2007 study which followed 64 patients again, but this time for 2 whole years. The findings on pain and sleep were repeated, and researchers were also able to say with confidence that the extracts showed no tolerance and resulted in only slight “adverse effects” such as mild dizziness.
Marijuana as a Possible Cure?
Any notion of marijuana as a cure for MS is still a long ways away, but some early research does show that it may be a promising area to explore.
A 2003 study out of the Institute of Neurology suggested that marijuana may be able to slow the progression of MS. Another study, also published in 2003, found that the chemicals in marijuana could be used to modify inflammatory diseases such as MS. Finally, a much more recent study from 2013 seemed to suggest, at least in mice, that marijuana could be used to ameliorate MS and improve the conditions of MS patients.