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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating disease. MS patients lose control of their limbs, their bladders, and eventually their lungs over a span of years. All of this happens while their mind remains relatively conscious.
As of now, MS is incurable and for many ultimately fatal. Only recently has the disease began to be understood. Likewise, only recently have partially effective treatments become available. For years, dopamine was the only way to slow the symptoms of MS. Dopamine has a higher risk ratio than CBD and more negative possible side effects.
In the past, there have been “deep brain stimulation” experiments and disease modifying therapies. They didn’t lead to a cure, but instead influenced other methods for slowing the progress of MS. The most promising treatment is done through stem cells (cells that have not yet changed into a specific body cell), but so far this too has only been successful in lowering symptom severity.
There is hope for upcoming treatments. MS patients are waiting as potential cures are being developed. In the meantime, patients must try to make themselves more comfortable by using methods to slow the process, lessen the pain, and treat muscle deterioration as much as possible.
What is MS?
Within the last 20 years, our understanding of the immune system has developed enough for scientists to label MS an immune disorder. MS is caused by the immune system attacking myelinated sheaths coating nerve fibers. When nerves grow and connect to each other, they protect the fibers with myelin–a fatty substance that coats the fibers. When the connections are used more, the myelin sheaths get thicker, and when the connections are used less, they get thinner.
MS patients’ immune systems mistakenly see myelin as a foreign threat. The patient’s immune systems attack and kill their own cells and damage their own neuron connections. This usually happens between the ages of 20 and 40. The central nervous system can be affected either in full or just partly. The course of the disease leads to a complete loss of muscle coordination and a shortened life span. The optic nerve can also be harmed, causing blindness. Patients can get early onset dementia. <
As the brain deteriorates, lesions form. When the body tries to heal itself, it forms scars. The scar tissue and nerve damage in the brain then limits mental capacity making it more difficult for neuro communications to pass through.
Symptoms of MS
Because of the individualized nature of MS, specific symptoms can differ between patients and during the course of the disease. Generally, MS symptoms include:
If you have experienced any of these conditions for unexplained reasons, speak to your doctor immediately.
Many people who have developed multiple sclerosis are at risk of developing the following conditions:
MS is a varied disease, so all or none of the above complications might develop.
Diagnosis of MS
The symptoms of MS can be very similar to other conditions, so some people get misdiagnosed up until later stages of the disease. Symptoms can develop over days or weeks, then usually gets better or disappear completely. Relapses occur at different rates depending on the patient. For some, it can be weeks between relapses. For others, it can be months.
The National MS Society addresses the difficulty in diagnosing MS: “At this time, there are no symptoms, physical findings or laboratory tests that can, by themselves, determine if a person has MS.” To properly diagnose MS, it usually takes MRI scans, an examination of medical history, neurological examination and testing of spinal fluids.
MS is diagnosed if there is damage in two separate parts of the central nervous system (i.e. the brain and spine), that occurred at separate times, and other diagnoses can be ruled out.
Though the disease is easier to mitigate in earlier stages, due to difficulty in diagnosing, shared symptoms with other conditions, and MS’s relative rarity (many doctors will only encounter 1 or 2 cases in a lifetime). Some people only get treatment options for MS when the disease has significantly progressed.
Your risk of developing MS is affected by several factors:
Cannabis and MS
The largest network of receptors in the central nervous system is the endocannabinoid system. Within there is an array of receptors that uses cannabinoids to communicate. During the progression of MS, this system degenerates like all other systems. MS can impact the patients’ mobility, sight, mood, bodily pain, and muscle mass.
The cannabis plant is rich in cannabinoids, with over 100. Cannabidiol, or CBD oil, is of medical interest. This is a cannabinoid that acts on the endocannabinoid system (ECS), mediating the effects of other cannabinoids and producing a broad spectrum response. As medical cannabis increases in availability, cannabis oil and the overall effects of cannabis are being researched for their apparent anti-epilepsy, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and mood stabilizing effects, amongst others.
A lot of hype surrounds CBD products, partially due to recent legalization in the United States and the initial studies that have stated it is a remarkably effective and safe tool for treating many medical conditions. The biggest appeal of using CBD is not its pain managing effects, but rather that it can be tested safely with few side effects.
Only about 10% of people living with MS that take CBD notice any side effects, which are all temporary. The side effects include dizziness, fatigue, dry mouth and psychological changes. Patients very quickly develop a tolerance to these effects however. In the vast majority of cases, there are few or no withdrawal symptoms.
Studies have shown that treating spastic muscles with CBD has some effect, though it seems to be no better on objective scales than a placebo, according to one trial. CBD and THC are thought to possibly have positive effects that slow the process of MS. CBD has been approved for use in Germany for the treatment of muscle spasticity and patients report that it is effective.
Most people with MS develop lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS). This can limit the patient’s lifestyle severely by stopping them from going out, humiliating them, and making them more reliant on caregivers.
One small trial evaluated the effectiveness of THC (the psychoactive cousin of CBD) and CBD on LUTS. With use of medical marijuana, urinary urgency and incontinence lessened both in frequency and volume. The patients also reported their pain levels and spasticity had reduced, and that their sleep improved. Very few reported any side negative effects.
Some of the treatments for MS can have side effects as severe as the early stages of MS. At later stages, the treatments can make life intolerable. Having a treatment like CBD on hand to ease pain, spasticity, LUTS and generally make the patient more comfortable is a critical development. The low risk of harmful side effects is is also a positive factor.
Investigating CBD use for those with MS is fairly difficult. There have been few studies, and the ones that have been performed have been small and of questionable value. It is therefore advised that the patient discuss the use of CBD with their doctor before obtaining and consuming the drug. It might appear safe, but for the proper management of the disease, your doctor needs to know exactly what you are taking.