Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease without a cure. The progressive neurological disorder damages sheaths of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing symptoms that may include:
- Speech impairment
- Poor muscular coordination
- Blurred vision
- Severe tiredness
While researchers continue to look for cures for MS, we’re seeing advances in helping people cope with their symptoms. And one of the avenues researchers are exploring is with medical cannabis.
“I used to wake up in the night, screaming in pain,” says 61-year-old Joanne Fiorito, whose long affliction with MS was getting progressively worse. But after participating in a medical marijuana trial she says, “I’m not waking up at night anymore. I’d say 80% of the pain is gone.”
As reported in a Montreal Gazette article, Joanne is one of 70 Montreal-area patients participating in a clinical trial for medicinal cannabis capsules, which entered its second phase last April. The trial will try to see if marijuana can be a less-dangerous substitute for opioid painkillers.
Cannabis Study Shows Promise for MS Sufferers
A partnership between Montreal’s Santé Cannabis clinic and the Ottawa-based Tetra Pharma Bio, the study mainly concentrates on those with chronic pain and cancer pain who’ve never tried medical marijuana before.
Before the trial, Joanne had been using heavy doses of painkillers and muscle relaxants, with diminishing efficacy. But after a few days of medical marijuana, her legs were “less stiff” and “heavy.” And where she once could only walk 89 meters in physiotherapy, she could suddenly go further than 250 meters.
For the first phase of the study, patients were given low doses of two cannabinoids—tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD)—so they could get used to them. Some patients noticed that even those low, initial doses helped with pain management.
In the current phase of the trial, they either receive a placebo or capsules containing a high concentration of THC to help with pain, and CBD, which acts as an anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant.
Among the 70 patients, only one has had any tolerance problems with the medical marijuana.
Applications Made to FDA for Other MS Tests
In the United States, research into the use of cannabis to treat the symptoms of MS has been hampered by the plant’s legal status. Even so, some promising work is now being done.
Last June, MMJ Bioscience filed a request with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to open phase two clinical trials to evaluate its THC/CBD pharmaceutical compounds as possible treatments for people with MS and associated forms of pain and spasticity.
Timothy Moynahan, chairman of MMJ, wrote in a press release: “Our goal is to conduct clinical research and generate safety and efficacy data on our medication.” He added that they’re looking to provide MS patients a consistent and high-quality prescription medication.
Then in August, MMJ International (the parent company of MMJ Bioscience) filed two FDA applications asking to begin clinical studies testing its pharmaceutical grade cannabis-based therapies in easing symptoms associated with MS and Huntington’s disease.
The company hopes to hold discussions with the FDA on the development process for an investigational new drug, leading to the first clinical trial of natural botanical cannabis extracts as a treatment option for these neurodegenerative disorders
Since other studies have shown that cannabis can alleviate spasticity in patients, MMJ feels its trials have a lot of positive potential in treating MS.
MMJ Bioscience also became the first company to obtain a Canadian licence to produce medical cannabis in March, covering products for MS and Huntington’s disease. With the licence, it’s able to extract cannabinoids from plants to produce medicines for testing in clinical studies.
Some Doctors Have Doubts About Cannabis for MS
Despite medical marijuana showing promise for treating the symptoms of MS, some in the medical field are taking a more cautious stance. While acknowledging that it may be “associated with a limited and mild reduction in muscle contractions, bladder dysfunction and pain,” they warn that other clinical trials contradict claims of cannabis effectiveness for MS.
Dr. Marissa Slaven, an assistant professor of palliative care at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, points out that clinical trials show that medical marijuana is “a safe treatment.” But she adds, “Whether or not it's effective, I think we need more research.”
Cannabis Strains to Consider for Easing MS Symptoms
As the current clinical trials go forward, people with MS are also hoping that cannabis will provide relief for other MS-related symptoms that can include gastrointestinal issues, neuropathy and fatigue.
In the meantime, it may be time to try some promising cannabis strains, in consultation with a trusted health professional, to see if they help with individual MS symptoms. These could include:
- God’s Gift: This indica strain has body-numbing effects that can help with severe pain. This, combined with God’s Gift’s uplifting nature, make it a good fit for folks with serious, long-term illnesses like MS .
- ACDC: A multipurpose, high-CBD strain that‘s great for daytime use, promoting focus and calm, ACDC is a popular marijuana strain for a reason. The list of conditions that ACDC may help with includes: ADD, seizures and MS.
- Maui Wowie: Since the 1960s, Maui Wowie has been known for being an upbeat, mood-enhancing sativa strain that’s ideal for active and creative pursuits. People with MS may find it’s helpful in relieving stress, nausea and fatigue, as well as dealing with mild pain and inflammation.
- Ghost Train Haze: A powerful hybrid with high THC levels and heavy-hitting body effects, Ghost Train Haze isn’t recommended for cannabis newbies. But this marijuana strain holds promise for MS patients seeking relief from headaches, or looking to ease pain or muscle spasms.
Photo credit: Roman Carey