An estimated 350,000 people in the United States are living with multiple sclerosis (MS), a painful, debilitating and sometimes fatal disorder of the central nervous system. MS is the most common debilitating neurological disease of young people, appearing between the ages of 20 and 40, and affecting more women than men. Symptoms vary considerably from person to person; however, one frequently noted is spasticity, which causes pain, spasms and loss of function.
MS exacerbations appear to be caused by abnormal immune activity that causes inflammation and the destruction of myelin (protective covering of nerve fibers) in the brain or spinal cord. It is a relapsing and remitting disorder, symptoms come and go. Treatment is primarily symptomatic, focusing on such problems as spasticity, pain, fatigue, bladder problems and depression.
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 of 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 when they have smoked cannabis.
The British Medical Association already cleared the way for the synthetic cannabinoids: Nabilone and Dronabinol to be officially licensed for use in MS and other spastic disorders.
Many case studies have reported improvement in patients treated with cannabinoids for symptoms including spasticity, chronic pain, tremor, sexual dysfunction, bowel and bladder dysfunctions, and vision dimness, dysfunction of walking and balance (ataxia) and memory loss. Cannabinoids have been shown (animal testing) to measurably lessen MS symptoms and may also halt the progression of the disease.
Published results of GW Pharmaceuticals have shown that pain relief from the cannabis preparation Sativex was very good. Improvements in spasms frequency, bladder control, spasticity and sleep were also good. Their conclusion: “Sativex is an effective treatment for some of the symptoms of MS.”
A United Kingdom published study stated the benefits of cannabinoid (whole cannabis extract) for the treatment of MS are as strong as for any available pharmaceutical agent.
The London Institute of Neurology concluded, “In addition to symptom management, cannabis may also slow down the neurodegenerative processes that ultimately lead to chronic disability in multiple sclerosis and probably other diseases.”
Over forty medicines are listed by the Multiple Sclerosis Society as commonly used by MS patients. Many of them carry significant side effects: Klonopin, Dantrium, Baclofen, Zanaflex, and Valium.
Dantrium is a muscle relaxant manufactured by Proctor & Gamble. It has been shown to cause cancer and non-cancerous tumors. Common side effects include diarrhea, dizziness, weakness, drowsiness, nausea, blurred and double vision, chills and fever, headache, speech difficulties and nervousness.
Baclofen can be taken orally or with a surgical implant pump in the spine. Side effects: high fever, altered mental state, worse spasticity and muscle rigidity. Symptoms of overdose: shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, vomiting, seizures, loss of consciousness and coma, and death.
Cannabis by comparison, mild side effects classified as “low risk”. Euphoric mood changes are among the most frequent side effects.
One of marijuana’s greatest advantages as a medicine is its safety. It has little effect on major physiological functions. There is no known case of a lethal overdose. Marijuana is 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. Vaporizers address that problem nicely. Long-term studies of heavy users in Jamaica, Turkey and the United States have not found increased evidence of lung disease or other respiratory problems.
Cannabis v. Marinol
Marinol (synthetic THC) does not deliver the same therapeutic benefits as the natural herb, which contains at least another sixty cannabinoids plus THC. Research by G.W. Pharmaceuticals in Great Britain has shown that Marinol is not as effective for pain management as the whole plant; a balance of cannabinoids, specifically CBC and CBD with THC, that helps the patient most. Marinol is not even labeled for pain, only appetite stimulation and nausea control.