Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable disease, with a diagnosis that is lifelong but not terminal. This autoimmune condition affects nearly one million people in the United States, according to the National MS Society. It’s the most common condition affecting the central nervous system (CNS), which is composed of the brain, spinal cord, and all of its nerves — for people with MS, these parts of the body no longer transmit signals to each other properly. MS gets its name because sclerosis means the hardening of tissue, and the condition is located in multiple locations in the CNS at the same time.
Diagnosis is usually made between the age of 20-50, but it can come earlier or later in life. Women are 2-3 times more likely to be diagnosed, according to the National MS Society. Symptoms, which can affect the entire body, vary from person to person and can change from day to day. MS patients can experience vision changes, bowel and bladder problems, fatigue, emotional changes, muscle weakness or stiffness and spasms, difficulty walking, and numbness and pain.
Common treatments for MS focus on managing symptoms, expediting healing time, and slowing the progression of the disease. The Mayo Clinic states that this can be achieved by symptom and pain management given through various pharmaceutical drugs both by mouth and intravenously, such as prescription muscle relaxants and medications to reduce fatigue or increase walking speeds. Physical therapy and massage therapy are both often used to provide symptom relief, with physicians often recommending rest and approved exercises as well.
Another option is cannabis massage. Although the modality is relatively new, it’s showing promising effects for patients with MS and is starting to become available throughout the United States. Cannabis massage involves the topical application of an infused salve or oil to the surface of the body with the primary intention of establishing cutaneous homeostasis, or cellular balance, which can help relieve MS symptoms. Training classes for massage therapists are now available so they can learn how to best provide the modality to their patients.
One of the most intriguing possibilities about cannabis massage is that self-application is possible — in other words, a person with MS who is familiar with basic techniques can apply infused topicals to their bodies whenever they need relief. However, in my experience, receiving a treatment by a trained therapist can be a real game changer for someone living with MS. These are now available in Massachusetts, California, Washington D.C/Maryland, and Colorado and many other locations throughout the U.S. — and in some cases, licensed therapists even make house calls to provide treatments. This is an ideal option for MS patients who are unable to leave their homes.
Recent research published in the journal Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports has shown that cannabinoids may be an effective treatment for relieving pain and spasticity in those with MS. And, according to the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, alternative treatments such as massage and yoga are gaining in popularity among MS patients, specifically because they can alleviate symptoms and frequency of attacks and allow the patient to manage the disease in a more empowered and natural way. Utilizing these methods of treatment are also less damaging to the body than their pharmaceutical counterparts.
Cannabis massage may be one of the best alternative treatments available for MS patients thanks to its impact on the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Early research shows that utilizing a cannabis topical with various massage techniques may activate the ECS via receptors on the surface of the skin. These receptors act like a lock and key with one primary goal, returning the body to homeostasis or cellular balance.
The National MS Society states that massage can help relieve spasticity, pain, poor circulation, and pressure sores in MS patients. Massage increases flexibility and range of motion, which can help with the spastic nature of MS since patients often report muscle stiffness or numbness similar to neuropathy. Studies suggest relieving neurological pain is another benefit of cannabis and cannabis massage. Cannabis massage in particular may also assist with relaxation and stress reduction, which is also incredibly important in MS patients.
In addition, various massage techniques can be used in conjunction with cannabis topicals. If the patient is experiencing a flareup of symptoms, light massage or Swedish massage may be the best choice. Lomi lomi and its long flowing strokes is another attractive option for people with MS. However, deep tissue therapy may not be right for most patients due to the numbness and decreased sensitivity common to MS.
The primary benefits of cannabis massage include the relief of pain and the reduction of spasms. MS patients in particular can benefit from these because pain and spasms are some of the most common symptoms associated with MS. Relief can often be felt within a few minutes of receiving a cannabis massage, though other patients may not feel the full effect until the treatment is completed. The effects of cannabis massage can vary from patient to patient, but patients commonly report their treatments last 12-72 hours post-massage.
The addition of using cannabis adds a level of healing that is difficult to achieve with standard massage therapy alone. The activation of the ECS at a cellular level appears to expedite healing time, as well as increased blood flow in the patient.
However, it’s not a panacea, and the bottom line is that more research is needed on MS and cannabis. The more scientific evidence that can be produced, the better physicians and nurses can be trained to treat their patients using alternative therapies. Until then, cannabis massage practiced by a quality therapist can be a great alternative to pharmaceutical methods — one that is far less costly (and more beneficial for the body) in so many ways.