There are many diseases where the body is at war with itself. In the case of multiple sclerosis, the immune system attacks the nervous system, specifically the brain and spinal column with devastating effects. Taking the brunt of this frontal assault is the protective myelin sheath that acts like insulation surrounding neurons so that electrical signals from the brain are interrupted. Not only is the myelin sheath damaged, but often so are the myelin-producing cells (called oligodendrocytes). As the body steps to prevent further damage, scars or lesions–call it plaque if you want— are formed. Despite periods of remission when some repairs are made to the myelin sheath, the progressive nature of the disease is thought to occur because the body can’t repair itself fast enough to compensate for the flare ups. Old lesions–where damage earlier has been repaired–are followed by new flare ups.
Experts explain that every MS sufferer’s experiences are different. The largest group—about 85 percent— experience periods of flare ups followed by full or partial recovery, during which they may believe “they’re back to normal.” They’re not; this is called the RRMS group (Relapsing-Remitting).
Another smaller group of patients don’t necessarily experience inflammatory episodes, but rather their neurologic functions slowly worsen over time (PPMS–Primary Progressive). The last group is constituted by people whose RRMS symptoms steadily worsen with or without a relapse. Current medications can help reduce this risk.
Before being diagnosed, sufferers often complain about vision problems, fatigue, cognitive decline or “cog fog”—things generally associated with aging—even spasticity, involuntary spasms and stiffening, often in the legs as well as numbing and tingling. So, long before they know they’re suffering from multiple sclerosis, these people will likely turn to all kinds of treatment for the effects without actually knowing they have MS.
Various prescription drugs are available to treatment the many different symptoms of the disease; treatments may also include deep brain stimulation that uses electrical impulses to stop symptoms before they arise. Even botox has been used to treat spasms. Diet and lifestyle changes are also recommended, again to help treat symptoms. Rest, immune-system boosters like vitamin C and CoQ10 and vitamin K and sleep aids like melatonin are recommended.
But, the reality is, there is currently no known cure for multiple sclerosis–what sufferers are looking for is relief from the symptoms of the disease. They’re constantly casting about for hope.
Now and then hope can be found in the most unlikely of places. One such place is Cannabis sativa, from the marijuana plant, specifically a non-psychoactive substance called cannabidiol or CBD oil. Since the 1940s, studies on the efficacy of CBD compounds have shown it can reduce anxiety and chronic pain, provide relief from sleep disorders, boost immunity, reduce inflammation, calm the central nervous system for conditions such as epilepsy, is shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea agents, has been shown to slow the growth of cancerous tumors, and is neuroprotective.
Because of CBD oil’s neuroprotective structure-functions, it has come to the attention of pharmacological researchers.
One study, conducted in 2006 note that the findings in their clinical trials “are in line with anecdotal data” from MS patients who had been self-medicating with cannabis. The researcher reported that over 90 percent of patients reported improvement after taking the herb. For example, 81 to 90 percent reported improvement for anxiety, spasticity when waking in the morning or when walking and tingling in face/arts/legs/trunk; another 71 to 75 percent reported improvement for numbness of chest/stomach, face pain, weight loss and leg weakness; 61 to 66 percent said the medication helped with tiredness, urinary urgency, double vision and sexual dysfunction; and 51 to 59 percent claimed they experienced improvement in their ability to walk, urinary hesitancy, dimness, incontinence and slurred speech.
The study also reported “no major concerns” with the safety of cannabinoids or cannabis extracts for the management of serious disorders such as MS. In fact, while there are some side effects with using CBD, “such medication rarely produces unacceptable our troublesome adverse effects.”
Another study looked at the effect of CBD on connection with cognition problems with sufferers of MS. “Results of clinical trials have been mixed, but together with insights from basic research and animal models of multiple sclerosis, they provide reasonable evidence for the potential therapeutic use of cannabinoids in the treatment of multiple sclerosis-related symptoms.” In other words, like so many other researchers, these authors hold out hope. But, they point out that recreational cannabis users experience impaired cognitive function.
While many MS sufferers have self-medicated with CBD for such things as spasticity, pain and muscle stiffness and reported “improvement,” many researchers admit that more and longer studies are needed to verify what people report on the street. Dosage, quality control of the product and more research into adverse effects of CBD are all needed.
Nevertheless, for many MS sufferers, CBD oil offers a glimmer of hope which itself can be good medicine.