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As the understanding of multiple sclerosis increases, so too does the number of potential treatments. Unfortunately, there are still no cures or effective long term treatments that can reduce MS to a chronic and survivable condition. People living with MS are therefore confined to relieving their symptoms as successfully as possible every day and trying to lengthen their lives.
This is a truly desperate situation. There are an estimated 2.5 million people with multiple sclerosis around the world, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. Many of these people will have no access to modern treatments or drugs, and so their lives are cut short in an extremely unpleasant way, not only for them but for the people caring for them. Things are better in the “developed” world, but any treatment offered is ultimately palliative.
Because of the inevitably fatal nature of the disease, the debilitating symptoms and the speed with which people can die from MS, a lot of patients disregard professional medical advice and attempt to find more effective treatments than the ones offered by Western science. This seems reasonable, especially considering that the treatments offered are ultimately ineffective.
For years, many MS patients have turned to the cannabis plant and cannabis based medications for relief. It is not known whether ancient humans suffered from MS at the same rates that modern people do (a “modern”, antiseptic lifestyle seems to raise the risk of developing MS) but as cannabis has been cultivated for thousands of years for clothing, food, and medicine, it seems likely that they used it.
Cannabis is emerging as a very safe drug compared to many that are prescribed in the Western world. This is bizarrely at odds with the perception many governments would like to perpetuate; that it is a dangerous drug which ruins lives and has no medical benefits. The Federal Government in the United States maintains its illegality, while many states have legalized medical cannabis MS treatments. The whole picture is very confused, so it is advised that you proceed with caution.
The symptoms of MS that cannabis can help relieve, if the evidence can be believed, are:
There are mountains of anecdotal testimonies attesting that cannabis has been more effective than any other drug at relieving these symptoms, but it is currently not supported by the kinds of scientific studies that patients would normally expect when prescribed a drug.
As multiple sclerosis degrades the brain, one of the consequences is muscle spasticity. This is involuntary movement, and can range from shaking, tremors, and twitching to tightly clenched and painful muscle spasms. This can make normal functioning next to impossible and it is often enormously painful. This pain increases stress, disrupts sleep, and has an all-round negative impact on life.
Medical cannabis (and medical marijuana) has a well-known but little understood effect on muscle spasticity. Many patients report that after ingesting cannabis, their spasticity is reduced and the pain more tolerable. However, in one large scale study from 2017 patients reported that the pain and spasticity was reduced after taking cannabis based treatments but the evidence showed that it was no better than a placebo. Other studies reported mixed results.
Medical cannabis MS treatments are usually focussed around spasticity and pain. Pain is one of the worst symptoms of MS. It is chronic, highly intolerable and pervasive. The effective regulation of pain in MS is vitally important to ensure the person stays healthy, positive and as mobile as possible. Without an effective treatment for this pain, the patient loses all quality of life.
Currently, many of the pain relief options available are either too weak (ibuprofen, paracetamol etc) or have addictive, increasingly ineffective use (opiates and opioids). Many strong painkillers make normal functioning essentially impossible. The mind is addled, the patient can sleep for very long periods, digestion can shut down. For these reasons, many MS patients are looking for alternatives. Medical cannabis is one such alternative that is showing enormous promise in the area of relieving chronic pain. Read more about how the natural healing properties of medical cannabis can tackle chronic pain here.
One of the most embarrassing and debilitating consequences of MS is the loss of control of the bladder. There is some evidence that cannabis can help relieve these symptoms for a while. The evidence is sparse, but considering how limiting LUTS can be and how few options there currently are for treating this symptoms, medical cannabis it is well worth investigating.
Compared to many other treatments, medical cannabis MS treatments are apparently highly tolerable. There are several common forms of taking medical cannabis, which will be discussed later. Cannabis has been used for a very long time and very few people have reported negative side effects. When they do occur, they can include:
It is also a risk to expose unborn babies to cannabis. Some people who suffer from seizures may find that the chance of having a seizure increases. There is a slightly raised chance of developing schizophrenia for young men who consume lots of cannabis. Psychosis is another, extremely rare side effect. In general, however, cannabis is an enjoyable and safe drug to take.
A diagnosis or advice from a medical professional can help you determine whether to use cannabis or not. Long term risks of smoking cannabis are similar to those of smoking tobacco; it is bad for the lungs and vascular system, increasing the risk of certain cancers and emphysema. However, there are several ways in which cannabis can be consumed that do not involve smoking, and are therefore much safer.
By eating cannabis, you exclude the risk of the damage smoking causes. The effects are not as immediate but they are longer-lasting and more or less intense, depending on the dose. For MS patients, this is often the way cannabis is consumed. It can be incorporated into any food that has a fat content as the cannabinoids will dissolve into oils.
Vaporizing cannabis is an increasingly popular method of obtaining the beneficial cannabinoids in the plant. It is especially suited to MS patients as it gives immediate relief, is extremely easy to administer and has very few of the health risks of smoking. There are medically certified vaporizers for administering cannabis that can fill a bag with vaporized cannabis for storage of up to 8 hours or immediate administration. When the movement of a patient is impaired, using a bag to squeeze vapour into the person’s mouth can be the easiest method of administration.
Cannabis can be taken in its whole form or in its constituent parts. Different strains of cannabis contain different concentrations of cannabinoids. Currently there are several strains being developed that are especially high in CBD, the most effective and least psychoactive of the cannabinoids. Consuming this strain would eliminate the “high” from cannabis while giving the benefits of the CBD.
Cannabis oils can be obtained on the open market where it is legal and via prescription. This is a concentrated form of the drug and when vaporized, can give a powerful effect in a very short time. Oils can be incorporated into foods and drinks for a less obtrusive and longer lasting effect.
As previously mentioned, cannabis remains illegal in many parts of the world. Even where it is legal, there can be serious ramifications if the user does not understand the law completely. Always check the legality before obtaining any drug. In some countries, medics are obligated to report illegal drug use, which makes using cannabis in consultation with your doctor very problematic. If this is the case, discuss it at length with the physician who is administering your care before proceeding.
With any drug use regarding a medical condition, it is important your doctor knows exactly what you are taking. They will be unable to provide accurate diagnoses otherwise. Only take cannabis on the recommendation of your doctor, and if you decide to disregard professional medical advice, at least let them know.