An estimated 350,000 people in the United States are living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an inflammatory nerve disease affecting the central nervous system. The immune system of an MS patient attacks and deteriorates the protective sheath covering the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. When the nerves are no longer protected, the cells become inflamed and damaged. Nerve signals and communications are slowed, as a result, and this can even eliminate the nerves’ ability to communicate completely.
MS is the most common debilitating neurological disease of young people, typically appearing between the ages of 20 and 40. Depending upon the severity of damage and which nerves are affected, symptoms of multiple sclerosis may vary. Common symptoms of MS include:
- severe pain and tingling in different parts of the body
- bladder incontinence
- can lead to depression
A couple of unique data trends exist for MS. Women are statistically more likely to develop MS than men. And veterans appear to be significantly more likely to develop MS than the general population. Researchers note that the increase incidence of MS among military personnel have manifested over the past two to three generations, speculating that “there may be unique environmental exposures within the military” that increase the risk of MS.
The human body contains systems that are filled with neuromodulators (receptors) and these sophisticated receptors help regulate a variety of physiological processes including movement, mood, memory, appetite and pain. In much the same manner that the human body’s endocrine system receptors respond to opiates – the root compounds of many pain relieving medications like morphine, codeine and hydrocodone (Vicodin) – the body’s endocannabinoid system receptors respond to the compounds present in cannabis called cannabinoids.
Research shows cannabis to be an effective therapy for MS patients because it not only treats many of the symptoms, but studies show that multiple cannabinoids slow the neurodegenerative processes that lead to disability. There is a reason that MS is on the list of qualifying, debilitating medical conditions in most of the US that have a medical marijuana program. Several of the cannabinoids found in cannabis have been shown to directly help with muscle spasms, tremors, fatigue and depression.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive cannabinoid known to produce the euphoric feeling of being “high.” It also demonstrates impressive medical efficacy in the treatment of MS. THC is a strong pain reliever and anti-inflammatory. It also relieves nausea, stimulates the appetite, and can help battle depression. Most impressively, it is one of cannabinoids which act as a neuroprotectant.
Cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown to reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and provide clear-headed and stress-relieving calming effects. Most importantly, CBD reduces the severity and frequency of MS spasms, as does tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV). Cannabinol (CBN) is a strong sedative cannabinoid that acts as a sleep aid without the negative side effects associated with pharmaceutical counterparts.
While anecdotal research has always provided support for the use of cannabis to alleviate the symptoms of MS, recent controlled studies and advances in the understanding of the biology of cannabis and the bodies cannabinoid receptors have found that cannabis can help manage MS symptoms like pain, spasms, spasticity and incontinence.
Numerous case studies, surveys and double-blind studies have reported improvement in patients treated with cannabinoids for the stated symptoms. A report issued by the House of Lords in 1998 reported, “We have seen enough evidence to convince us that a doctor might legitimately want to prescribe cannabis to relieave…the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and that the criminal law ought not to stand in the way.” The British Medical Association has approved and requested that the synthetic cannabinoids known as Nabilone and Dronabinol be licensed for use in the treatment of MS.
The greatest support for the medicinal benefits of cannabis for MS can be seen by the fact that GW Pharmaceuticals has received authority to sell a cannabinoid medicine for the treatment of spasticity due to MS in 27 countries around the world including the UK, Spain, Italy, Canada and Germany (currently available in 15 countries and approved in an additional 12). GW Pharmaceuticals has completed all required clinical studies/trials in these countries, verifying the efficacy of cannabinoids to treat MS symptoms, in order to obtain such approvals. The company is currently participating in studies/trials to have Sativex approved for the treatment of pain associated with cancer.