What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a progressively debilitating and complex chronic condition where immune system abnormalities attack the central nervous system, damaging nerve fibers through the destruction of the myelin sheath, which serves as a nerve protectant. MS will affect the entire nervous system including the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves, causing chronic pain and nerve dysfunction throughout the entire body.
The extent of nerve damage will determine the severity of symptoms which include inflammation, chronic pain, gastrointestinal issues, fatigue, spasticity, numbness/tingling, dizziness, vision problems, cognitive issues, mood alterations and loss of motor functions. Currently there is no known cure but cannabis has shown promise in alleviating many MS symptoms. MS affects approximately 2.5 million people worldwide.
Common Treatment Options
Treatments typically center around slowing progression of the disease and symptom management.
Corticosteroids are often used to combat nerve inflammation, but may cause increased blood pressure, mood swings and insomnia. Antidepressants may be prescribed for mood disorders and opioids are commonly used for pain, both running the risk of dependency and decreased efficacy over time, in addition to an array of adverse side effects.
Muscle relaxers or benzodiazepines are commonly used to control spasticity, often resulting in fatigue and possible addiction. Bladder and bowel dysfunction can cause urgency, constipation and incontinence. Laxatives, catheters, surgical options, and botox have been used as treatments.
How can cannabis help?
Anti-inflammatory agents in cannabis can act as an immune suppressant and may also contain neuroprotectant properties. Cannabis is widely considered a potent analgesic and powerful antioxidant, helping to prevent cellular deterioration. Cannabis is also thought to promote neurogenesis, aiding in the creation of new brain cells. This may provide the foundation for a potential impediment against disease progression.
Chronic pain is prevalent in many MS patients, particularly neuropathic pain caused by inflammation. Cannabis interacts with pain receptors to create advanced analgesic effects, thereby reducing pain. Pain caused directly from inflammation can also be targeted due to the anti-inflammatory nature of cannabinoids engaging with human physiology.
Insomnia is a very common symptom due to the pain and inflammation that keeps many MS patients awake and unable to feel comfort while laying in bed. Indica strains may be most effective due to their sedating and pain relieving properties.
Optic nerve damage from inflammation can cause ocular pain, blurred vision, temporary blindness and spasms. When the optic nerve swells, due to inflammation, vision impairment is fairly common. The advanced anti-inflammatory properties can assist in reducing the swelling, restoring vision and reducing pain.
Spasticity is one of the most common symptoms of MS and can lead to debilitation and immobility. Strains or products that are high in CBD have shown tremendous promise in controlling tremors and convulsant behaviors. CBD has proven to have potentially powerful anticonvulsant and relaxing effects. Different ratios of CBD to THC may be explored for optimal treatment plans.
Gastrointestinal issues may be relieved due to the antiemetic effects of cannabis, in addition to appetite stimulation. Constipation, incontinence and bowel control may all be aided through cannabis usage to help regulate the digestive system and reduce inflammation, the primary cause of MS related digestive issues.
Mood disorders, such as depression, are very common in MS patients. The diagnosis itself can cause severe stress and mental anguish, not to mention the actual symptoms themselves. Cannabis strains with euphoric and cerebrally relaxing effects may ease stress related induced depression.
A clinical review published in 2015 supports that cannabis can be effective for treating MS patients, particularly for spasticity, neuropathic and chronic pain.
The Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology published an Israeli study in December 2013 focused on MS utilizing a 1:1 CBD to THC ratio with promising results.
A double blind trial published in September 2005 from neurology.org supported promising results administering a sublingual spray with equal parts THC to CBD, measurably reducing neuropathic pain and assisting with sleep related disorders.
An article published in 2009 from BMC neurology supports the possible efficacy of cannabis to treat spasticity, one of the primary symptoms of MS, with results exclusive to studies containing both THC and CBD.
A study from 2004 examined the role cannabis can play in treating bladder dysfunction in advanced stages of MS. In addition to significant improvement in urinary related issues, there was also noticeable reductions in pain, spasticity and insomnia.
An Oxford University study from 2003 suggests cannabis may reduce the neurodegenerative symptoms associated with MS, that can lead to limited mobility and compromised motor functions.
A study from 2015 supports the possibility of cannabis acting as a neuroprotectant.
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