Marijuana and Multiple Sclerosis- I don’t know why, but along with mental health, writing about marijuana, with regards to its’ potential benefits to those with multiple sclerosis, feels uncomfortable. Its possible, and more than likely, it is due to the stigmas attached to both topics in North America (and possibly elsewhere). However, given that there has been research done on the possible benefits of marijuana use for people suffering from multiple sclerosis, it is not a topic that should be avoided or shied away from.
In preparing this post, I read three separate research papers and one article:
Efficacy, safety, and tolerability of an orally administered cannabis extract in treatment of spasticity in patients with multiple sclerosis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study- by C. Vaney et al
While I’m not going to recite all of the information given in each of these documents here (I would encourage you to read them for yourself), I found it very interesting that each author didn’t discount the possible positive effect of cannabis on multiple sclerosis patients. In the conclusions of each piece, a pattern emerged:
From Consroe et al:
cannabis may significantly relieve certain signs and symptoms of MS, particularly spasticity and pain, in at least some patients….We conclude from these data that there are sufficient grounds for mounting a properly controlled clinical trial that will test the most prevalent claims made about the beneficial effects of cannabis both objectively and conclusively.
From Zajicek et al:
Our findings provide some evidence that cannabinoids could be could be clinically useful in treatment of symptoms related to multiple sclerosis, but more work is necessary, using outcome measures that more adequately assess the effect of symptoms in chronic disease.
From Vaney et al:
…Cannabis sativa plant extract might be beneficial to lower spasm frequency and to increase mobility with tolerable side effects. Future research is needed to investigate the efficacy and safety of cannabis derivatives in patients with MS using, if at all possible, improved ways of measuring spasticity in larger patient groups over a longer period of time.
From Douglas Goodin:
Whether the subjective reports of benefit found by these authors are accurate or spurious will await further, and more focused, investigation, but the therapeutic potential of marijuana should not be simply be dismissed.
The papers and article cited were written between 1997 and 2004. I find it very interesting that they all essentially conclude the same thing- marijuana demonstrated some benefit, but more research is required. However, it is also true, and mentioned by some of the authors, that the benefit being reported is the subjective view of the patient and not easily quantifiable. Just because these papers seem somewhat favorable towards marijuana and its’ potential benefit to those with MS, you shouldn’t run out and buy some pot. The results, as noted by each author, are far from conclusive. Each author also notes that more research needs to be done into the efficacy and safety of cannabis use for MS patients.
The issue for me is not regarding marijuana, but the stigma and stereotypes surrounding cannabis make it very difficult to have a constructive dialogue around its’ use. I find writing this post difficult as I am concerned how it may be
perceived by not only the reader, but by any friends or family who read it. I know this concern is based on the stigmas surrounding marijuana and not because I have an issue with what I am writing. The imaginary walls people can build around their minds are complicated.
In the interest of openness and honesty, I have to admit I have tried marijuana (unlike former president Clinton, I did inhale) to ease my symptoms when they were severe. What I discovered mirrored what was reported in the papers and articles above- it helped with movement and easing the symptoms. However, like the reports mentioned, my experience is completely subjective. I’m not a regular user of marijuana and I would estimate I have used it 3 or 4 times for symptom relief since I was diagnosed in 2007. The truth is I have found the same level of symptom relief through exercise and going for a run is my preferred method. If I had a choice between going for a run or cannabis, I’d pick going for a run every time. Unfortunately, not everyone with MS has that option.
So far, I’m one of the fortunate among multiple sclerosis patients. The disease hasn’t had a huge impact on my life in terms of physical disability. I can still run, play hockey, lift weights and for the most part, pretty much carry on a normal life. Unfortunately, my reality is not shared by many in the MS community. Issues with pain, coordination, balance, fatigue, focus (and the list goes on) are very real. If marijuana or any substance can help people live better lives, it should be studied and if found safe, put into the tool boxes of our healthcare professionals. Here in Canada, people with MS can apply for medical marijuana if they meet certain criteria.
In closing, I should be clear that I am not advocating the use of marijuana for people with MS. Nor am I attempting to give an opinion on whether or not marijuana should be legal. It is not my place to suggest its’ use nor is it the purpose of this blog to advocate for or against its’ legalization. What I’m attempting to do is to share my experience and some research which has been done on the subject. I choose to treat my symptoms through diet and exercise but if they were to become severe again, I would consider using marijuana again (after consulting with my wife). I would also caution anyone from casting judgement on those with more severe MS than mine who use marijuana for relief. I can guarantee that if you switched places with them your opinions would shift very quickly. Rather than passing judgement and perpetuating stereotypes, we should look to having constructive discussions about the best ways to help those among us who are the least well.
Until next time,