Cannabis for Multiple Sclerosis - What's the Research Say?
In 2021, there is still so much we don’t know about Multiple Sclerosis, like what causes it and what can help cure it. If you happen to be one of the estimated 2.8 million people affected by multiple sclerosis worldwide, you may be wondering what your treatment options are. While there is currently no cure for MS, western medicine treatment options do exist, but none have been shown to stop or cure symptoms.
As we venture further into the world of alternative medicine, many people continue to explore cannabis as an option to treat symptoms associated with various diseases like those associated with multiple sclerosis. The good news is research exists that shows cannabis can help with many symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis.
In this short blog, we will define Multiple Sclerosis; look at current diagnosis and treatment options; and finally look at studies that show cannabis to be a safe, viable, and beneficial option for use in treating symptoms associated with MS like inflammation, muscle spasticity, and pain.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
According to Johns Hopkins, Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. Although it is unknown what causes MS, scientists believe that it is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks nerve fibers and the protective sheathing (myelin) that surrounds the nerves in the brain and along the spinal cord. This damage to the nerve fibers and protective sheathing causes inflammation which ultimately alters messages in the brain and can lead to issues with mobility, muscle spasticity, pain, inflammation, etc.
Due to the unpredictable nature of MS, symptoms and severity can range; some may experience mild and unnoticeable symptoms, while others may have more severe symptoms like issues with normal everyday activities like walking or talking.
Data collected between September 2019 and March 2020 in the 3rd edition of the Atlas of MS, estimated that there are a total of 2.8 million people currently living with MS worldwide. Although it is noted that there are gaps in the data collection, this report shows that MS prevalence has increased globally since 2013, with a mean age of initial diagnosis of 32 years. It also showed that females are twice as likely to be diagnosed than men. As the number of Multiple Sclerosis patients increase over time, many of those suffering with MS may wonder what treatment options are available.
MS Diagnosis And Treatment Options
Currently, there is no definitive test that will determine if a patient has MS. Instead, a series of tests are run to rule out other diagnosis possibilities, including:
- An MRI of the brain or spinal cord
- An evaluation of spinal tap fluid
- Measuring electrical impulses along nerve pathways in brain and spinal cord and along the optic nerve
Since there is currently no cure for MS, people suffering with this disease are left with treatment options that are geared toward helping to recover from or prevent future attacks.
The Mayo Clinic lists current FDA-approved treatment options as:
- Plasma exchange
- Injections (Interferon beta, Glateramer acetate)
- Oral medications
So, if you have tried these options without success or are just more interested in natural healing alternatives, what are the alternatives? Many anecdotal stories exist showing that cannabis helps people with symptoms associated with MS, but what does the research say?
Research Studies Show Cannabis Can Alleviate Symptoms Associated with Multiple Sclerosis
Due to the current scheduling of cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance by the FDA, clinical trials using cannabis to treat different conditions and their symptoms remain a bit sparse and lacking. Even though we have few clinical trials to date showing the efficacy of cannabis as medicine, research does exist and it is promising to say the least. Let’s take a look at what the research shows about cannabis as a safe and viable treatment option for those suffering with MS.
Cannabis, MS, And Cytokine Profiles
One recent research article published in February 2021 measured the effects of cannabis on clinical and cytokine profiles, of which it is believed drives the autoimmune disease, in patients with Multiple Sclerosis.
This study documented 150 multiple sclerosis cases along with 150 healthy controls during the trial and reported that “most clinical symptoms were significantly improved in the MS/cannabis group compared to the MS group.”
The study concluded that “Cannabis may have a positive impact...in cases with multiple sclerosis,” but also stated that more research was necessary to determine definitive results .
CBD, MS, And Mobility
Another research paper published in March 2018, “Cannabidiol to Improve Mobility in People with Multiple Sclerosis,” found that there is “good reason to believe that CBD enriched cannabis is useful to improve the mobility of PwMS (people with multiple sclerosis)” , although it, too, aptly concluded that more research is needed. The paper goes on to highlight the challenges patients suffering from MS experience when searching for treatment options. The most common in MS include pain, muscle spasticity, fatigue, inflammation, and depression and can cause those suffering to be less physically active, have less functional mobility, and ultimately have a detrimental impact on a patients’ quality of life. Taking all of this into consideration along with the fact that there are no cures or any medications/treatments that halt MS, many patients seek out alternatives, such as cannabis.
This research paper goes on to provide evidence of CBD as an “anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, antiemetic, antipsychotic, and neuroprotective” substance and highlights its safety because the user’s heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature are not altered. Additionally, it cited that:
- “doses of up to 1,500 mg of CBD per day are well-tolerated by patients”
- “there is evidence that CBD may reduce the negative psychotropic effects, memory impairment, and appetite stimulation, anxiety and psychotic-like states of THC while enhancing its positive therapeutic actions”
- “there is indirect evidence that reductions in spasticity, pain, and fatigue may result in improvements in the mobility of PwMS.”
The researchers concluded that, “Cannabidiol Reduces Spasticity, Pain, Inflammation, Fatigue, and Depression in PwMS” and goes on to say that “it is our opinion that CBD supplementation may be advisable for PwMS to reduce fatigue, pain, spasticity, and ultimately improve mobility.” An overview of the potential impacts of CBD on mobility of PWMS is shown in the figure below.
Cannabis, MS, And The Endocannabinoid System
A more recent study published in February 2020, Perspectives on Cannabis-Based Therapy of Multiple Sclerosis: A Mini-Review , concluded that “the Endocannabinoid System plays an important role in CNS (central nervous system) homeostasis and neuroprotection, participating in immune control and maintaining the fine-tuned homeostatic balance of the central immune system.” Simply put, this study shows that the Endocannabinoid System, ECS for short, helps to bring the central nervous system back into balance and provides nerve protection. Since the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, the most common being THC and CBD, interact with our own bodies’ ECS, it would make sense to conclude that cannabis can help with symptoms associated with MS. Although the study found this to be true, it was also noted that it is “extremely difficult to decipher specific roles (of the cannabinoid receptors)...therefore, future research is necessary.”
Cannabis, MS, And Spasticity
Taking a look at yet another study conducted back in 2012, "Smoked cannabis for spasticity in multiple sclerosis: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial" ,
we see evidence of the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for treatment with MS symptoms. This study recorded symptoms of 37 participants over a 3 day period and found that “smoked cannabis was superior to placebo in symptom and pain reduction in participants with treatment-resistant spasticity.” The same study also concluded that “future studies should examine whether different doses can result in similar beneficial effects with less cognitive impact.”
And finally, a research article that was published in September 2012, "Symptomatic therapy in multiple sclerosis: the role of cannabinoids in treating spasticity" , noted that in addition to anecdotal evidence, data gathered from “randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have confirmed the clinical efficacy of cannabinoids for the treatment of spasticity in patients with MS.”
This study tracked the use of Nabiximols (a synthetic derivative of Cannabis Sativa chemovars administered via an oromucosal spray) containing a 1:1 mix of THC and CBD and found that they were “a well tolerated therapeutic option for treating spasticity in patients with MS who respond poorly to conventional antispastic drugs.” The study concluded that the “beneficial effects of nabiximols...outweigh the adverse pharmaceutical effects.”
MS And Cannabis - Where Do We Go From Here?
While we are still unsure of the cause and cure of multiple sclerosis, we do have evidence that not only shows cannabis to be a relatively safe option, but that shows it can help improve symptoms like mobility and pain in patients suffering from MS.
As is usually the case with most cannabis research, the journals cited here agree that while more studies are necessary to determine the true potential and therapeutic benefit of using cannabis to treat MS, they also show promising results for patients who are looking to explore alternative medicine options.
If you or someone you know is suffering from MS, cannabis may be something to consider if (or when) western medicine falls short.
 Wessam Mustafa, Nadia Elgendy, Samer Salama, Mohamed Jawad, Khaled Eltoukhy, "The Effect of Cannabis on the Clinical and Cytokine Profiles in Patients with Multiple Sclerosis," Multiple Sclerosis International, vol. 2021, Article ID 6611897, 10 pages, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/6611897
 Rudroff, Thorsten, and Jacob Sosnoff. “Cannabidiol to Improve Mobility in People with Multiple Sclerosis.” Frontiers in neurology vol. 9 183. 22 Mar. 2018, doi:10.3389/fneur.2018.00183
 Mecha Miriam, Carrillo-Salinas Francisco J., Feliú Ana, Mestre Leyre, Guaza Carmen, “Perspectives on Cannabis-Based Therapy of Multiple Sclerosis: A Mini-Review,” Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, Vol. 14, 2020. 34 pages, https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fncel.2020.00034 DOI=10.3389/fncel.2020.00034, ISSN=1662-5102
 - Jody Corey-Bloom, Tanya Wolfson, Anthony Gamst, Shelia Jin, Thomas D. Marcotte, Heather Bentley, Ben Gouaux, “Smoked cannabis for spasticity in multiple sclerosis: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial,” CMAJ Jul 2012, 184 (10) 1143-1150; DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.110837
 - Verena Isabell Leussink, Leila Husseini, Clemens Warnke, Erasmia Broussalis, Hans-Peter Hartung, Bernd C. Kieseier, “Symptomatic therapy in multiple sclerosis: the role of cannabinoids in treating spasticity,” First Published September 7, 2012, Review Article Find in PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1177/1756285612453972