Can Medical Marijuana Treat MS?


How Can Medical Marijuana Alleviate the Symptoms of MS?


Multiple Sclerosis:  What Is It?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system.  It has an unpredictable nature - some patients suffer from distinct episodes of disease, followed by periods of good health.  Other patients suffer from a progressive form of MS, which is more relentless and never offers periods of respite. 

The root of the disease occurs when the patent produces antibodies that attack the myelin sheaths that surround the neurons.  Because the sheaths provide protection and help sped up signaling between the neurons, when they are damaged the central nervous system stops functioning well as the signaling between neurons is disrupted.  The damaged myelin forms scar tissue -  known as sclerosis - giving MS its name.  Scientists believe it is a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors.

The average age of diagnosis for people with MS is between the ages of 20 and 50.  It is three times more prevalent in women than men.


What Are the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?

Because MS attacks different areas of the brain and spinal cord, the symptoms vary between individuals and also during different episodes.  Common symptoms of multiple sclerosis include: 


- Spasticity and muscle spasm

-  Blurred vision, double vision, pain or soreness with eye movement

-  Weakness in the lower limbs

-  Fatigue

-  Numbness/Tingling in the arms, legs, feet, and/or face

  -  Bladder control - incontinence

-  Constipation and/or loss of bowel control

-  Changes in cognition, mood, memory, speech, and attention

-  Emotional lability

-  Depression


Can Marijuana Treat the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?

Many studies have been published evaluating the effects of cannabis on MS symptoms - looking at its effect on spasticity, bladder control, and pain.  However, because marijuana is federally classified as a schedule 1 substance, these studies are very limited.  However, these studies do indicate that medical marijuana does have a positive, therapeutic effect on pain and spasticity.  It has also been hypothesized that cannabis may inhibit the progression of the disease.



How Does Medical Marijuana Work to Alleviate the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?


Marijuana helps ease reduce stiffness and ease spasticity by inhibiting the firing of neurons that contract the muscles.  Cannabis also helps reduce the frequency and intensity of muscles spasms.  It does this through a complex interaction with other neural pathways and neurotransmitters via the binding to THC to endocannabinoid receptors.  These receptors are also located in the peripheral nervous system, where it can allow cannabis to help regulate bowel dysfunction. 


Medical marijuana also has an influence on the part of the nervous system that regulates pain, where it can help with analgesia.  This makes it a great alternative to opioids, where it can be used to decrease patients dependence on this very addictive drug. 


Marijuana also has a positive effect on mood and emotional lability, in addition to improving sleep.


Endocannabinoid receptors are also located on the immune cells in the blood stream, where it is thought to regulate and improve immunity and decrease inflammation.


Dr. Allison Kendrick

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