Intermittent spasms and tremors. Loss of movement and function. Pain. These are the primary symptoms of the debilitating and sometimes fatal neurological disease of multiple sclerosis, commonly known as MS. An estimated 400,000 people in the United States live with this disease daily, more women than men, and most are diagnosed during younger adulthood – between ages twenty to forty. Its most characteristic symptom is spasticity.
MS exacerbations appear to be caused by abnormal immune activity that causes inflammation and the destruction of myelin – the protective covering of nerve fibers – in the brain or spinal cord. It is a relapsing and remitting disorder, meaning symptoms come and go. Treatment is primarily symptomatic, focusing specifically on spasticity, pain, and impaired function – such as bladder problems, and resultant symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue and depression.
Enter cannabis as a medical remedy. Anecdotal reports and a small controlled study have reported that cannabis improved spasticity and tremor in MS patients. Cannabis has also demonstrated effects on immune function that shows potential for reducing the autoimmune attack that is thought to be the underlying pathogenic process in MS. Many MS patients report that cannabis has a profound effect on muscle spasms, tremors, balance, bladder control, speech and eyesight. Many wheelchair–bound patients report that they can walk unaided after they have smoked cannabis.
As of 2011, thirty-seven countries already approved the synthetic cannabinoid Nabilone (commercial name: Sativex) for MS and other spastic disorders. But the US is not one of these thirty-seven countries.
Case studies have reported improvement in patients treated with cannabinoids for symptoms including spasticity, chronic pain, tremor, sexual dysfunction, bowel and bladder dysfunctions, vision dimness, dysfunction of walking and balance (ataxia) and memory loss. In fact, the London Institute of Neurology promisingly concluded, “In addition to symptom management, cannabis may also slow down the neurodegenerative processes that ultimately leads to chronic disability in multiple sclerosis and probably other diseases.”
Over forty medicines are listed by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society as commonly used by MS patients: Klonopin, Dantrium, Baclofen, Zanaflex, and Valium, to name a few. Suffice it to say that each has worrisome side effects, some even including cancer. To be sure, medical marijuana also has side effects, such as dry mouth and dizziness, and possible UTIs. At the same time, marijuana is far less of a health risk, far less addictive and far less subject to abuse than many drugs now used as muscle relaxants, hypnotics and analgesics. The chief concern is the effect of smoking on the lungs, and vaporizers address that problem nicely.
All in all, if you know someone suffering from MS, it’s worth looking into cannabis for possible long-awaited effective relief.