Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease of the central nervous system. In MS, the immune system incorrectly attacks nerve tissue in the brain and spinal cord, resulting in blurred vision, slurred speech, tremors, paralysis, and spasticity (a condition causing muscles to continuously contract).
The American Academy of Neurology now publicly acknowledges marijuana’s potential to treat MS, writing:
Strong evidence shows that oral cannabis extract lessens patients’ reported symptoms of spasticity. It also lessens the pain caused by spasticity.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society supports the Academy’s position, adding:
[T]he Society supports advancing research to better understand the benefits and potential risks of marijuana and its derivatives as a treatment for MS.
While both institutions point to the need for long-term studies, exciting research is already underway. Below, CannaMD reviews the three most promising areas of MS marijuana research.
In 2012, researchers randomly assigned patients with stable MS either an oral cannabis extract or a placebo. After 12 weeks, patients who received the cannabis extract reported a twofold improvement in muscle stiffness compared to those who received a placebo. Improvements were also noted in body pain, spasms, and sleep quality.
A five-week double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that MS patients who used whole-plant cannabis-based medication (including cannabinoids THC and CBD) experienced reduced pain intensity.
Jabe Couch, a MS patient (who was not involved in the study), details his personal experience with medical marijuana:
For years, my face was so numb, I couldn’t feel anything. One day the numbness started to subside. I was kissing my wife, and I could feel her soft face pressed against mine. Overjoyed, I started crying. It was one of the best days of my life.
The same 2005 double-blind study also found that cannabis-based medication decreased sleep disturbances, leading researchers to conclude:
Cannabis-based medicine is effective in reducing pain and sleep disturbance in patients with multiple sclerosis related central neuropathic pain and is mostly well tolerated.
Side effects are also minimal. Documenting her journey with medical marijuana, MS patient Meg Lewellyn writes:
Unlike many of the prescribed medicines I have tried in the past, I haven’t run across any side effects. I’ve experienced dizziness, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, dry eyes, dry mouth, drowsiness, restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, and even decreased sex drive as I searched for relief. But with the cannabis, the only side effects I’ve noticed are smiling and laughing more than ever (oh, and the return of my sex drive, too!).