Humankind hasn’t yet discovered all the benefits of marijuana. Still, because of the results of various studies and research, doctors are opening up to the possibility of using it to treat certain conditions that still lack a clear treatment course.
Multiple sclerosis is one such condition. It is an incurable disease that affects the nervous system and usually appears in adulthood, growing worse over time.
The adverse effects of MS vary greatly, and so do the treatments. As such, doctors are now considering adding marijuana into the mix. Here is what you need to know if you are thinking about taking marijuana for multiple sclerosis.
Multiple Sclerosis: What Is It?
Also known as MS, multiple sclerosis is a disease that causes the immune system to attack the protective outer lining of nerves (myelin). When the nerves become damaged, the brain finds it increasingly difficult to communicate with the body. As a result, patients experience both physical and psychological symptoms.
Over time, the adverse effects of MS on the nervous system get more and more pronounced. The most common complaints include:
- mood swings
- impaired vision
- lack of coordination
- muscle weakness
- trouble remembering things
- epilepsy, and more.
Based on how the disease unfolds, there are four main types of MS.
The disease flares up at unexpected times, then goes into a state of remission. Most patients suffer from this form of MS.
Secondary Progressive MS
The patient experiences worse symptoms with each new relapse. There may be some remission, but not always. RRMS often gradually progresses into SPMS.
Primary Progressive MS
Patients who suffer from this form of MS deteriorate slowly but continuously. Unlike with RRMS, they do not experience any periods of improvement.
Progressive Relapsing MS
PRMS is the least common type, whereby the patient’s condition worsens rapidly. Like PPMS, patients with this type of MS do not go into remission.
How Lethal It Is and Who It Affects More
Though MS is not a lethal disease, patients with it do live 5–10 years shorter than average. In advanced stages, it can make life extremely uncomfortable for anyone affected.
The disease affects both sexes, though it is more common in women. The disease is typically first diagnosed in individuals between the ages of 20 and 50.
There is some debate in the medical community as to whether MS is an autoimmune or neurodegenerative disease. On the one hand, in patients with MS, the immune system destroys myelin, which resembles an autoimmune illness. On the other hand, there’s extensive nerve damage that occurs even before the inflammation appears. The latter is more indicative of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or Huntington’s.
This disagreement alone shows how limited doctors’ knowledge of MS still is and how far they are from finding a definitive cure.
Right now, there are many treatments in use. Doctors prescribe corticosteroids (hormones) and drugs to suppress the immune system. This treatment supposedly helps slow down the destruction of myelin, thus keeping the nerves healthy for a longer amount of time.
But how does marijuana fit into this treatment plan? Can it help patients with MS in any way?
Using Marijuana to Treat MS
Though the medical community still lacks a full understanding of the causes of MS, doctors believe marijuana can alleviate some of the symptoms. Patients with MS are eligible for medical-grade marijuana programs in the states that have legalized it.
The marijuana plant contains tens of different compounds whose properties interest researchers. In fact, studies have found that marijuana is helpful in a number of ways.
First of all, marijuana acts as a light muscle relaxant and can reduce spasms. Moreover, it is effective at treating pain, which is helpful for patients who report pain in their limbs, especially in the joint area.
Marijuana can even be used to treat inflammation. It can restore the balance of the immune system, which, in turn, slows down the nerve damage caused by MS.
Marijuana is efficient at treating the psychological symptoms of MS as well. Half of all MS patients suffer from depression and anxiety, and marijuana might help with both. In addition, the plant can cause drowsiness, thus enhancing the patients’ quality of sleep.
However, marijuana’s bad reputation of being a recreational drug is still off-putting to many patients. Some are too embarrassed to ask their doctors about it. Others are simply afraid.
Still, it is possible to get all of the health benefits of marijuana without experiencing its psychoactive effects. There are two essential substances in cannabis — THC and CBD. To be precise, there are over a hundred more, but most research is looking into these two.
THC and Multiple Sclerosis
THC is a fatty substance found in marijuana that gives it its psychoactive properties. In other words, it is what makes people high.
The US classifies THC as a controlled substance, and the FDA has not approved it for medical use. Still, you can easily find it in states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
In the United Kingdom, there is a mouth spray under the trade name Sativex that contains THC. It is marketed to patients with MS specifically and is supposed to treat pain, muscle spasms, and bladder problems.
Over the past few years, more prominent pharmaceutical companies such as Bayer and Novartis have bought the license to market the drug in other countries.
CBD and Multiple Sclerosis
CBD is arguably the most famous substance found in cannabis, with a concentration of around 40% in both hemp and marijuana plants. Unlike THC, CBD cannot make you high.
Nevertheless, CBD is attracting a lot of medical attention for its ability to relieve pain. Research also suggests it may help treat anxiety, stress, and spasms, as well as stomach and bladder problems.
CBD is one of the ingredients in Sativex, the aforementioned spray. It’s also the main active ingredient of Epidiolex, a drug for treating epilepsy.
So, Which One is Better — THC or CBD?
There is no right choice. It all depends on each person and what they feel comfortable with.
Thankfully, scientists have learned how to isolate CBD, as well as how to remove THC. You can find a drug that has all the medical benefits without any of the psychoactive effects.
As a result, patients who are afraid to use marijuana can safely opt for CBD products such as oil, creams, pills, sprays, and edibles. The ingredient list will point out if a product contains THC or not. As a rule, most CBD products are THC-free since THC is not legal in all states.
Nevertheless, if the patient also needs something that can boost their mood, it’s better to stick to regular marijuana, which does contain THC. The easiest way to consume marijuana is by smoking it. However, it can also be baked into brownies and cookies, or boiled with milk.
Can Marijuana Help MS Patients?
There are still so many unknowns with MS. Doctors have yet to discover what causes the disease and how to treat it best. In the meantime, the medical community can focus on at least making the lives of MS patients a little better, wherever possible. Luckily, marijuana can undoubtedly help with that.
Still, this is not a miracle drug. It cannot cure multiple sclerosis or prevent its onset.
It might bring a little comfort here and there, though. For one, it can slow down inflammation, which could delay nerve problems. Healthier nerves mean fewer issues with coordination and better control over one’s limbs.
Marijuana can also help manage pain and muscle spasms, as well as boost the patient’s mood. While this won’t solve the problem altogether, it will at least make life a bit more comfortable for anyone living with MS.