Those whose lives haven’t been impacted by multiple sclerosis (whether directly or through a family member) may be surprised by its statistics. Among the young adult population, multiple sclerosis (MS) is the single most common debilitating neurological disease. Currently, there are roughly 2.5 million people with MS in the world, with 400,000 in the U.S. and 200 new U.S. cases diagnosed every week.
Just as the cause of multiple sclerosis has proven hard to pin down, so has a cure. Most of the treatment options available to MS patients are focused on minimizing symptoms and progression. With the current explosion of medical cannabis in the US, new treatment options offer the possibility of more fully alleviating MS symptoms.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the central nervous system. When the immune system attacks, it damages specific nerve cells like the myelin (the cells that protect nerve fibers), oligodendrocytes (the cells that produce myelin), and eventually the nerve fibers that are left unprotected.
In the case of MS, the immune system attacks these cells and nerve fibers by sending T cells to interact with proteins in the CNS. Not only do these T cells cause inflammation by damaging CNS cells and nerve fibers, but it triggers other immune cells to enact further damage in inflamed areas. The cause of this T cell interaction remains elusive, but the environment, genetics, and infection are all hypothesized factors.
MS-related symptoms vary significantly from mild to severe. Some early signs and symptoms include:
When someone is diagnosed with MS, it’s also important to determine what type of MS they are dealing with. The disease can diagnostically be divided into three separate types:
Treatment for MS is largely dependent on the type and diagnosis. Most treatments focus on one or all of these areas:
Attacks are usually treated with heavier medications to provide immediate relief from inflammation. Plasma exchange will also reduce the effects of an attack by rerouting blood cells. There are several treatments available to slow the progression of MS, but most of them carry significant health risks. For individual MS symptoms, doctors prescribe everything from physical therapy to anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, and other medications.
There’s clearly still a need for simpler, more effective MS treatment methods. Many wonder if medical cannabis is just a treatment. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the call for better ways to treat pain, tremors, fatigue, and muscle spasticity associated with MS is virtually unanimous among experts and patients alike. In 2016, MS patient Tracy reported incredibly positive results after switching over to marijuana:
Fellow MS patient Jabe Couch reported similar results after switching over to cannabis from mediations with terrible side effects. After struggling with drinking and pill dependence, Couch was able to wean himself off most pharmaceuticals with the help of medical marijuana. He was also able to reclaim some semblance of his formerly active lifestyle and eliminate many of the adverse side effects of his old medications. Stories like Couch’s clearly demonstrate the positive effects of cannabis for MS patients, despite the roadblocks to further clinical proof.
If you or someone you know has MS, and you’re considering a cannabis-based treatment, it’s good to know where to start. For many MS patients, smoked cannabis (with the right amounts of THC and CBD) has proven helpful in reducing inflammation while providing ample pain relief. cannabis strains recommended for MS include:
These strains may also be effective as an antidepressant for MS patients who require mental health treatment. For those who worry about the side effects of smoked marijuana, alternative cannabis products like mouth spray and edibles are also an option. Low-THC products like CBD oil may or may not prove helpful. When embarking on new journeys of treatment (especially when cannabis is involved) it’s always important to seek the counsel of licensed physicians and know your local cannabis laws.
Read more about how cannabis can help MS here in The Complete Guide to Multiple Sclerosis and Cannabis