Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is comprised of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. One of the most common symptoms of MS is spasticity, which refers to feelings of stiffness and a wide range of involuntary muscle spasms. Conventional treatments include physical therapy and medications, but some patients with MS seek alternative options, such as cannabis, to manage their symptoms.
Understanding MS-Related Spasticity
Spasticity in MS can vary from mild stiffness to severe, painful and uncontrollable muscle spasms. It can interfere with normal movement, gait, and speech. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, spasticity affects more than 80% of people with MS during the course of their disease.
Cannabis: A Potential Treatment for MS Spasticity
Cannabis contains many compounds, including THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), which have been studied for their effects on the nervous system. The interest in cannabis as a treatment for MS symptoms has been growing, especially in the context of muscle control.
Several studies have investigated the role of cannabis in managing MS-related spasticity. A notable study published in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders found that cannabinoids could significantly reduce spasticity and pain in MS patients (Markovà et al., 2019). Another research piece in the BMJ suggested that cannabis-based medicinal extracts can significantly reduce spasticity and sleep disturbances in MS patients (Zajicek et al., 2012).
Mechanisms of Action
The exact mechanism by which cannabis affects spasticity in MS is not fully understood. However, it is believed that cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system — a complex network of receptors found throughout the body and brain that influences various physiological processes. By acting on this system, cannabinoids can potentially help regulate muscle control and reduce spasticity.
In addition to clinical research, patient-reported outcomes have been important in understanding the potential benefits of cannabis for MS. A survey of MS patients published in the journal Neurology reported that those who used cannabis were more likely to experience relief from symptoms such as spasticity and pain (Chong et al., 2006).
The Importance of Dosing and Administration
The effectiveness and safety of cannabis in treating MS spasticity depend on the method of administration and dosage. Inhaled cannabis is known to act quickly, which might be beneficial for sudden spasticity episodes. However, it also presents challenges in controlling the dosage. Oral preparations may offer more controlled dosing but take longer to take effect.
Safety and Side Effects
While cannabis may offer symptom relief for some people with MS, it is not without potential side effects. These can include cognitive and motor impairment, and potential interactions with other medications. Additionally, the psychoactive properties of THC might not be tolerable or advisable for all patients.
Cannabis has emerged as a promising, if not yet fully understood, option for managing spasticity in MS. While current research and patient reports suggest benefits for some individuals, further long-term studies are needed to fully understand the risks and optimum use of cannabis in this context. As with any treatment for MS, it is crucial for individuals to discuss the use of cannabis with their healthcare providers to ensure an integrated approach to managing their symptoms.
- Markovà, J., Essner, U., Akmaz, B., et al. (2019). Sativex® as add-on therapy vs. further optimized first-line ANTispastics (SAVANT) in resistant multiple sclerosis spasticity: A double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial. Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.
- Zajicek, J., Hobart, J., Slade, A., et al. (2012). Multiple sclerosis and extract of cannabis: results of the MUSEC trial. BMJ.
- Chong, M.S., Wolff, K., Wise, K., et al. (2006). Cannabis use in patients with multiple sclerosis. Neurology.
This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. It is essential for patients to consult with their healthcare provider to understand the potential benefits and risks of using cannabis for MS-related spasticity and other symptoms.