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Can Marijuana Help Those With MS?

Some promising research shows that multiple sclerosis patients who use cannabis may experience relief from symptoms.

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A review of research involving cannabis and multiple sclerosis has found that marijuana-based medications have the potential to decrease pain, reduce muscle spasms and improve sleep for those with MS.

Those findings match research done on cannabis and CBD in connection with other chronic illnesses and conditions. Many have concluded that cannabis is effective for pain management and helping people sleep longer. 

In their review, the researchers wrote that enough evidence is there to justify further study. They called for “multi-year, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials” to determine the long-term viability of using cannabis to treat MS. They also wrote that further research could better identify the “benefits for preventing breakthrough relapses, ability to reverse deficits or retard the accrual of disability, and the impact on measures of quality of life.”

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, almost one million adults in the United States and 2.3 million people worldwide have an MS diagnosis.

RELATED: How Medical Marijuana Can Help With Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Or Lou Gehrig's Disease

Researchers reviewed findings from 28 studies

The new review, published in the journal Biomedicines, evaluated the findings of 28 studies. A team of researchers from Kean University in New Jersey and Saint James School of Medicine in Illinois looked at 14 studies that involved mice and 14 that involved humans.

According to the researchers, the findings in the studies with mice proved consistent across all the studies. These studies suggested that cannabis-based therapies for MS patients could reduce inflammation, protect nerves from damage and reduce spasticity (muscle spasms).

In some cases, cannabis therapies also support remyelination, which is the repair of myelin sheaths in the central nervous systems damaged in those with MS. However, the researchers noted that those results are not certain for human patients because of differences between mice and human biological systems.

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Human Studies Involved Marijuana-Based Oral Spray 

The human studies involved the use of Sativex, a cannabis-based oral spray approved for use in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union to treat muscle stiffness and tightness experienced by people with MS (it’s also being tested for its effectiveness to treat dementia).

Nine of the studies involving humans focused on treating muscle spasms, with patients reporting an average decrease of 2.8 points on spasticity (on a scale from 0 to 10), with a follow-up time of up to a year. Patients also reported a reduction in pain, sleep disturbances, and bladder overactivity.

Overall, the researchers found that medical marijuana studies between 2007 and 2021 demonstrate with a “moderate certainty of evidence” that CBD and THC treatments benefit MS patients in “spasticity, pain, and bladder- and sleep-related quality of life” issues. While these benefits may wane with prolonged use, the researchers urged more in-depth studies to evaluate the use of cannabis to help treat MS patients.

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