Updated on January 3, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Many folks know what multiple sclerosis (MS) does, but not so many know what it is. When someone has MS, their immune system attacks the fatty tissue protecting their nervous system, exposing it to damage. Eventually, the damage causes cognitive and mobility issues.
Medical marijuana can help — and we’ll provide you with specific scientific studies to tell you how.
Since MS has no cure, we use medicine to treat its symptoms. Medical marijuana can enhance or replace some of these medications.
Cannabis addresses many MS symptoms at once. It helps with inflammation, pain, muscle spasms, emotional issues and sleep problems. Reducing these problems improves the patient’s quality of life.
To expand on previous research on cannabis and MS, Zajicek’s team directly tested the effects of cannabis extract on multiple sclerosis patients. They aimed to show that the extract worked better than a placebo medication did to relieve MS symptoms.
A total of 279 patients from all over the United Kingdom took part in the double-blind, placebo-controlled trial — 144 of them took an oral cannabis extract every day for 12 weeks, and the other 135 patients took a placebo in the same way. The researchers measured changes in muscle stiffness, pain, muscle spasms, sleep quality, emotional effects and mobility.
The results suggested the cannabis extract provided significant benefits for the MS patients. Patients who used cannabis extract reported twice as much muscle stiffness relief than the patients in the placebo group. Also, the cannabis extract improved the other MS symptoms for them across the board.
Before Zajicek’s team tested cannabis extract only in a placebo-controlled study, they tested it alongside pure THC in one of the first studies examining marijuana’s effect on MS. They intended to work off anecdotal evidence pointing to marijuana’s ability to relieve MS symptoms.
A total of 630 MS patients located all over the United Kingdom took THC, cannabis extract or a placebo. Over the course of 15 weeks, they had varying dosages that depended on their tolerance to the medication and study group. The team conducted spasticity assessments during six visits to track improvement.
The cannabinoid treatments didn’t show an improvement on the researchers’ spasticity scale, but the patients reported feeling significant relief and had increased mobility. Zajicek’s team prioritized the patients’ reports and used this evidence to expand research on marijuana and MS. Their results indicated great potential for marijuana to improve the lives of MS patients.
Novotna et al. studied the use of Sativex, a drug made from cannabis, on the spasticity levels of MS patients who couldn’t find full relief from their current medication. Since spasticity causes much of the disability resulting from MS, finding another solution for it can help MS patients with daily living.
The team included two different phases in the study — a four-week single-blind phase including 572 patients and a 12-week double-blind phase with 241 patients who experienced at least 20% relief in the previous phase. They used the first phase without a placebo to separate patients getting benefits from Sativex, then used a placebo in the second phase to truly judge its efficacy.
In comparison to a placebo, the Sativex provided a lot of relief for the patients who took it in the second phase. When looking at the overall benefits, the Sativex group experienced significant improvement. Sativex also improved individual factors like sleep, spasms and life changes.
The subject of medical marijuana and multiple sclerosis is a complicated one — that’s why we put together a page for patients like you that covers multiple sclerosis and how you can use weed to address it. If you need to find a doctor to give you a recommendation for your MS, use our comprehensive database.