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Medical Cannabis May Reduce Struggles of Multiple Sclerosis

Posted by Jason Draizin on 05/14/2012 in Medical Marijuana Conditions

For a while now, people who have been diagnosed with MS have long said that smoking marijuana helps ease and reduce their symptoms from multiple sclerosis, such as the painful muscle cramping they endure. A recent small study published on Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows that a few days of marijuana smoking can bring some form of relief to these individuals.

Researchers from the University of California at the San Diego School of Medicine conducted a double blind and controlled clinical series of trials that included thirty multiple sclerosis participants that had failed to get better with the use of standard medication. The researchers hoped to understand whether smoked cannabis reduces symptoms of spasticity.  Some people diagnosed with MS are already using medical marijuana to treat spasticity, which is the painful contracting of the muscles in the legs or arms and can relate similarly to a “charley horse”.  

While most of the past conducted trials have mainly focused on the effects of a pill-form of cannabis, such as Sativex, researchers wanted to see specifically whether a smoked form of the drug has any beneficial effects. Dr. Judy Corey-Bloom, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at UC San Diego, said, “Smoking cannabis was indeed superior to the placebo in reducing spasticity and pain, but that certainly came at a price.” Dr. Judy Corey-Bloom is also the leading author of this study.

Effects of Marijuana on Patients

The cost, her team found, is that patients experienced less pain after smoking marijuana, but they also experienced bouts of fatigue and dizziness.  Smoking cannabis also showed signs of generally slowing down people’s mental skills soon after they smoked.  However, Corey-Bloom said that it’s not clear if that would really have any long-term consequences.

Each patient on Dr. Corey-Bloom’s team had been instructed to smoke marijuana or a “placebo” joint. These placebo joints smell, look and even taste like the real thing, but lack the active ingredient in marijuana, THC. Each patient smoked marijuana once a day for three days and used the placebo joint once a day on three separate days. An independent rater assessed each patient’s muscle spasticity both before and after treatment.

The study found that measures of spasticity dropped an average of three points (about thirty-percent), on a twenty-four point scale when patients smoked marijuana, but it didn’t change after they smoked the placebo joint.

Nicholas LaRocca, vice president of healthcare and delivery and policy research at the National MS Society, said that the issue of treating spasticity is certainly an important one that should not be overlooked. Spasticity has been seen as a big problem for many people that have multiple sclerosis and current medications do not necessarily work for everyone taking it. LaRocca, who was not involved in this study, pointed out that people with MS are already at some risk of “cognitive changes”, so the potential for lasting effects of smoking long-term marijuana are a concern. Nicholas LaRocca says that cannabis is warranted in considering its possible usefulness for spasticity control in MS.

About 400,000 people in the United States have multiple sclerosis, which is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. The disease attacks the myelin sheath, which is a protective covering that surrounds nerve cells, and the nerve fibers start to break down. About 200 people each week are newly diagnosed with MS. It is a degenerative disease and its symptoms affect the muscles, bowel functions, vision, numbness, sexual functions and personality, and can vary in both range and severity.