Your brain and spinal cord are made up of about 100 billion nerve cells that work around the clock to make sure your body is functioning the way it was designed to. Nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord connect and communicate, and together make up the Central Nervous System (CNS) in the body. The CNS is your body’s main networking operations center, controlling most of your vital functions. This remarkable system controls autonomic activities like breathing, heart rate, and digestion, consciously-made choices such as walking and talking, and even your senses and emotions.
The damage then hardens into scar tissue called plaques. When these plaques build up on the myelin protection surrounding the ‘telephone wires’ that connect nerves cells, the nerves become unable to send and receive messages properly. Because these messages between the brain and body become slowed or mixed up, the body can begin to experience negative responses such as difficulty walking, blurred vision, vertigo, and fatigue.
An MS diagnosis is life-altering and comes with what may seem like a never-ending list of questions and concerns. While significant efforts are being made to better understand and find a cure for MS, nothing has been found (yet). That being said, treatments for MS typically focus on managing the symptoms, slowing the progression of the disease, and speeding up recovery from attacks. This is usually done with pharmaceuticals, which can be useful in treating the disease but they are known to have serious adverse side effects. Is it possible to manage the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and slow the progression of the disease naturally? Researchers seem to think so.
Symptoms of MS can come and go, change in severity, and vary from person to person. They manifest in different ways based on where plaques and damage are precisely located in the brain and spinal cord. Chemical compounds from cannabis (like CBD and THC) work directly with another human networking system called the Endocannabinoid System. This system is comprised of cannabinoid receptors that are expressed throughout the body and in specific regions of the brain. Typically, your body produces a cannabinoid – its version of THC – to help regulate a handful of human functions and keep the Endocannabinoid System running smoothly. But when your body doesn’t express the cannabinoids the way that it should, or your body is metabolizing the molecule too fast, it can lead to Endocannabinoid System dysfunction, which will negatively impact the functions that it helps to regulate.
This includes things that are connected to symptoms of multiple sclerosis: inflammation, pain regulation, mood stabilization, hormone secretion, and cognitive function. When we introduce phytocannabinoids – or rather, cannabinoids taken from plants (like marijuana) – it can help boost the number of healthy endocannabinoids in your system so your body can find balance again.
A little known but prevalent symptom of multiple sclerosis, bladder control problems, in this case, can either mean you need to go to the bathroom more often, you may have a hard time urinating, you may think you need to go but can’t, and everything in between. Dosing with cannabis can result in significant improvements in bladder control: a randomized study observed incontinence diaries of 630 patients who were administered either an oral cannabis tincture, pure THC, or a placebo.
Both the cannabis tincture and THC had a higher success rate in significantly decreasing bladder control problems than that of the placebo. It might be interesting to note that the group taking the cannabis tincture had the most success overall, suggesting that whole plant extracts are more beneficial than isolated compounds. More clinical trials are needed, but painful bladder disorders are being alleviated with the administration of cannabis, either smoked or taken orally, indicating that this is indeed a beneficial treatment for this symptom of MS.
Individuals with MS often have problems with memory retention, learning new things, processing speed, attention span, and executive function. Contrary to popular belief, cannabis doesn’t make you lazy and dumb. Quite the opposite: properties in cannabis have been found to promote neurogenesis, a process in which the brain births brand new brain cells. Also, cannabis has powerful neuroprotective qualities, so much that the U.S. government felt the need to put a patent on it. The primary purpose of a neuroprotectant is to help inhibit the progression of disease in the brain by stopping or slowing down the destruction and death of nerve cells. Many professionals incorporate them into treatments for central nervous system disorders including stroke, brain or spinal cord injuries, and – yes – neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis.
A diagnosis of MS can bring on a lot of overwhelming feelings and heavy emotions and may require some time to process. Shock, anger, disbelief, fear, and anxiety are all normal reactions, but if at any time you think these feelings are going beyond the point of natural response, it is highly recommended that you make an appointment with your doctor to discuss these changes. Mood swings are a common symptom of MS, and it’s also known that MS patients have a 50% chance of developing depression at some point after diagnosis. Making mental health an absolute priority is essential.
The inability to cope with a new diagnosis is often a trigger for mood swings or depressive behaviors. Because cannabis works directly with the endocannabinoid system (which helps regulate hormones secretion and mood), it has in many cases replaced the need for pharmaceutical mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications.
A little known but common side effect of MS is a significant decrease in libido. Sexual problems can arise for various reasons: depression, loss of self-esteem, anxiety, fatigue, and stress to name just a few. While this is indeed not a life-threatening side effect, ignoring sexual problems can often lead to more significant, more dangerous problems. How can cannabis help?
Additionally, cannabis often brings feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and well-being, making it an impressive aphrodisiac that can even be used to treat sexual dysfunction.
Studies have confirmed that marijuana can outperform over-the-counter and pharmaceutical painkillers with just a fraction of the adverse side effects. A 10 to 20mg dose of THC has been found to have the painkilling power equivalent to that of 60 to 120mg of codeine. This painkilling power works just as well for neuropathic pain, a common symptom of MS. Neuropathic pain (nerve pain) is caused by damage to the nerves in the brain or spinal cord. It can feel like numbness and tingling in one or more limbs, a shooting, stabbing pain that occurs in the face, or a shock-like sensation that runs down the back of the spine.
Cannabis is not only an effective treatment for neuropathic pain, it also treats muscle spasms and generalized pain caused by the condition. Its compounds have a unique way of calming inflammation, decreasing muscle spasms, and providing powerful pain relief for those who may otherwise be unresponsive to conventional treatments.
Can cannabis cure multiple sclerosis? The answer is most definitely no. There is no known natural or synthetic cure for this condition. However, the plant has been found to slow the progression of MS and studies continually show that it is incredibly useful in treating the symptoms associated with this debilitating disease.
It is not recommended to attempt to treat multiple sclerosis on your own: if you think that cannabis may be what you are looking for, consult your trusted medical provider and take the appropriate steps to get on a responsible treatment plan. Remember that although cannabis is never lethal, it is full of potent chemical compounds that can be misused, so treat it like you would any other powerful herb or drug. Always dose responsibly and always listen to your body: it knows best.