Cannabis Use for MS Symptoms: What Are Its Effects?

The use of cannabis could be a good option to treat several of the symptoms caused by multiple sclerosis. However, ideally, a physician should be the one to determine if it's appropriate.
Cannabis Use for MS Symptoms: What Are Its Effects?

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Many patients around the world have reported that cannabis use helps them control the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). The evidence is somewhat ambiguous. There’s no definitive conclusion at the moment, but all indications are that the path is hopeful.

Recall that multiple sclerosis is a severe and incurable degenerative disease. It leads to hyperactivity in the immune system that causes serious damage to neurons.

In recent years, the use of medical cannabis has increased for a number of conditions, including multiple sclerosis. Everything indicates that this substance is capable of reducing muscular and neuropathic problems, and even improving the quality of sleep. However, the evidence isn’t yet conclusive.

Cannabis use and MS

MS is an autoimmune disease that can damage the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. It causes a variety of symptoms and these vary from person to person. However, it’s common to have some very unpleasant manifestations, such as muscle pain, spasms and numbness.

For some time now, the use of cannabis has been implemented to control MS symptoms. Specifically, a derivative of this plant known as cannabidiol or CBD is indicated. This doesn’t contain tetrahydrocannabinol (TCH), so it doesn’t alter consciousness.

There are 3 types of cannabidiol on the market:

  • CBD isolate: This is pure cannabidiol and doesn’t contain any other substance present in Cannabis spp.
  • Broad-spectrum CBD: This doesn’t contain THC, but does contain other compounds from Cannabis spp.
  • Full-spectrum CBD: Contains minimal amounts of THC. All indications are that it’s the most effective type for MS symptoms.

Benefits of cannabis use for MS symptoms

Although more research is needed on the use of cannabis for MS symptoms, institutions such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society of the United States support its use. Likewise, a 2018 study found that most patients tolerate the substance well.

They also showed that adverse effects were rare, though cautioning that, in specific cases, these could be of consideration.

A person in a wheelchair.
MS evolves and starts to remove basic functions from the patient. Problems with mobility and, eventually, breathing, are a general rule.

Contributes to the recovery of muscle control

Research from 2014 concluded that cannabis use reduces problems with stiffness and muscle spasms in MS patients. They found that oral cannabis extract (OCE) has this positive effect, while other formats don’t.

Meanwhile, a review compiling 11 investigations on cannabis use gave different results. Five of these studies indicated that there was insufficient evidence on the benefits of the substance.

Can relieve pain

The available data indicate that the use of cannabis is an effective measure to reduce pain. This effect has been proven in both patients who smoked the substance, as well as those who ingested it orally. A 2018 research review has corroborated this.

Anti-inflammatory

Several pieces of research on animals have been conducted on the effects of cannabis. This has established that the use of the substance reduces inflammation levels and its consequences. However, human studies are required to corroborate these findings.

Helps reduce bladder problems

Many people with multiple sclerosis have problems with bladder dysfunction. According to research conducted in 2014, cannabis use helps to reduce and manage the symptoms caused by this difficulty.

Other benefits

Several reports indicate that cannabis use is also helpful in reducing other symptoms common in multiple sclerosis, such as fatigue and itching. It appears that patients who use this substance also have fewer depressive signs and sleep better.

Possible risks and contraindications

One of the risks of using cannabis to treat MS symptoms is that it may not produce any effect. Likewise, we know that this substance doesn’t help to control one of the most frequent manifestations of this disease, which are tremors.

Apparently, most people don’t suffer side effects from the use of this substance, but in some of them the following side effects could occur:

Pregnant or breastfeeding women in a state of pregnancy shouldn’t resort to cannabis use. Neither should people with heart conditions, Parkinson’s disease or those who have suffered from psychosis or who have ingested certain medications, such as clobazam or valproic acid.

Cannabis oil.
CBD extracts and oils have acquired legal status in several countries, but not for any pathology.

Final uses and recommendations

Cannabis comes in different formats and its medicinal derivatives have different compositions. Ideally, a doctor should be the one to advise which product to use for each person. If not, it could be inefficient or even be a risk.

It’s recommended that the preparation doesn’t contain more than 0.3% TCH and that it complies with ISO 17025. Cannabis that comes from a recognized laboratory is also more reliable.

The use of cannabis for MS is usually recommended in the form of oils or creams. Oils are incorporated into food or applied directly to the tongue. There are also capsules or nasal sprays, but there isn’t much evidence regarding their efficacy.

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  • Marijuana FAQs. (s. f.). National Multiple Sclerosis Society. https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Treating-MS/Complementary-Alternative-Medicines/Marijuana/Marijuana-FAQs.
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