Urinary incontinence, defined as the loss of bladder control leading to involuntary leakage, is a problem that can result from a variety of medical conditions. Though quite common and possibly effecting about 10% of Americans, incontinence can be a distressing condition. Many people often fail to report their condition to a doctor, and their quality of life suffers as a result.
Marijuana’s usefulness for helping people deal with bladder incontinence has mostly been studied in relation to multiple sclerosis (MS), as bladder dysfunction is a common issue for patients with MS. However, there is no reason to believe that similar effects might not be seen in patients who have bladder issues because of other disorders.
This is precisely what an early 2003 study demonstrated. While the majority of the study participants did have MS, there were also 4 patients with spinal cord injuries, 1 patient with brachial plexus damage, and 1 patient with a limb amputation as a result of neurofibromatosis.
The patients in this study were administered tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), which are the two main constituents of marijuana. The researchers found that these extracts were successful in improving bladder control in some patients, and they further discovered that THC and CBD offered pain relief that was superior to a placebo.
These pain-killing properties of cannabis are important because many people who suffer from incontinence experience heightened bladder pain as well. Another study, which was conducted in 2006, also looked at THC as a possible analgesic and anti-inflammatory in animal models. Researchers administered a synthetic form of THC, known as IP 751, to rats suffering from bladder inflammation, and discovered that it acted as a very effective pain suppressant.
There have also been several more studies with positive effects conducted on human participants, adding further credence to the findings of the 2003 study described above. For example, a study published in Clinical Neurology followed 15 patients and noted improvements in a variety of areas. After ingesting THC and CBD for eight weeks each, patients experienced decreased pain, higher quality sleep, less urinary urgency, and fewer periods of incontinence.
Due to these promising findings, a 2005 review published in Nature Clinical Practice Urology listed cannabinoids as one of the “second-line agents” that could be used to help MS patients with incontinence. The review noted that due to such therapeutic methods, the need for surgical intervention to deal with incontinence had been diminished.
While the previous review considered cannabinoids only as second-line treatments, a 2006 study could perhaps be used to make the argument for cannabis as a main treatment for incontinence in its own right. The study followed 630 randomized MS patients as they were administered either THC or a placebo.
It was found that THC was indeed effective in reducing episodes of incontinence. With such a large group of participants, these findings definitely deserve to be taken seriously, and should pave the way for much of the research carried out in the future.