Although it has been a long time since the extracts of the cannabis plant have been utilized for medicinal use, our accurate understanding of cannabinoid indications has been recently recognized with the discovery of the endocannabinoid system that include specific receptors for cannabinoid compounds. Fortunately, it has been found that specific types cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system, namely CB1, can be targeted by cannabis-derived or synthetic cannabinoid compounds. Therefore, the therapeutic potential of such chemicals has been investigated for several human diseases, particularly those of the nervous system. Of them, multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease characterized by abnormal immune response of the body leading to damage of the insulating materials of the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the major cannabinoids that have been assumed to be effective to improve the symptoms of MS. We will demonstrate a long-term study which investigated the effects of cannabinoids on MS.
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The major disabling symptoms of MS and their relevance to cannabinoids
MS is more frequent in females than males, with the symptoms appearing in a cumulative manner over time. It starts with fatigue and progresses with muscle stiffness, problems in the memory, urinary disturbance, and spasticity. The latter is known as a constant state of involuntary muscular contraction that limit the patient’s movement. The effects of cannabinoids seem to be promising against spasticity. The present study employed a large number of MS patients in the UK who received a synthetic cannabinoid (dronabinol) or a cannabis extract which contains THC and CB and compared its efficacy with a placebo treatment.
The efficacy of cannabinoids in MS patients
Within 15 weeks, MS patients experienced less degrees of spasticity after treatment with either synthetic cannabinoids or those containing the active substances THC and CB. After a follow-up period of 12 months, the scores of spasticity decreased markedly after using dronabinol, while there was no change following the THC and CB-receiving patients. The same findings were also observed for the levels of disability as reported by the patients.
Adverse effects of cannabinoids
Although the number of patients who reported relapse of symptoms in the active treatment group may be larger than the patients who received placebo, the adverse symptoms were generally acceptable. The reported side effects, such as bladder problems, dry mouth, infections, depression, and memory problems, were approximately similar in their frequency between the different groups. Indeed, this shows that cannabinoids may have a potent action against the major symptoms of multiple sclerosis, including spasticity, with a highly safe profile.
Cannabinoid treatment is feasible for patients with multiple sclerosis. The most notable symptom that can be alleviated is the associated spasticity. These observations are applicable to both THC and CB. However, it is imperative to conduct future studies for long-term periods to confirm the role of such cannabinoids for disease management rather than being restricted to alleviation of symptoms.