Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. It damages the myelin covering that insulates nerves, interfering with signals to and from the brain. This causes symptoms such as numbness, memory problems, pain, and blindness, to name a few.
Medical marijuana has been used for a variety of conditions to relieve pain, spasticity (abnormal muscle contraction), nausea, and other issues, and some people with MS find symptom relief from using it.
Read on to learn more about how medical marijuana can be used for MS, as well as potential side effects, risks, and benefits.
Speak with your health care provider before using medical marijuana.
Why Cannabis Could Help With MS
Cannabis, or marijuana, contains over 80 chemical compounds called cannabinoids. The best known are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is what gives the “high” of marijuana. It attaches to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, producing feelings of happiness, relaxation, altered sensory perception, and increased appetite.
The American Academy of Neurology published evidence-based guidelines regarding cannabinoids for MS-related symptoms in 2014. They found that people with MS found relief for spasticity, pain and urinary frequency. That being said, studies are still ongoing to evaluate this, with varying results.
Benefits of Marijuana for MS
A 2021 study found that people reporting the most benefits from marijuana, or improvements in two or more symptoms, were those with a milder form of MS and less disability. Those who needed help getting around found less benefit from cannabis than those who didn’t.
Benefits of using marijuana for MS may include improvements in:
Participants in one study (just under half) reported cutting down or stopping certain medications when using marijuana. These medications included opioid and non-opioid pain relievers, benzodiazepinesand muscle relaxants.
Cannabis side effects
Although many people use cannabis for both recreational and medicinal purposes, it is not without risk. Potential side effects of cannabis include:
- Cognitive impairment
- Anxiety and/or paranoia
- dry eyes
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Increased appetite
- Impaired balance/coordination
- increased heart rate
- Possible lung health risks (if smoked)
Do not drive while using cannabis
It is illegal and dangerous to drive under the influence of cannabis, even medical marijuana.
How to use cannabis for MS
Medical marijuana is different from recreational marijuana. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a drug product derived from cannabis, Epidiolex (cannabidiol), and three synthetic drugs related to cannabis, which are:
- Marinol (dronabinol): Used to treat nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy
- Syndros (dronabinol liquid): Used to treat nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, as well as anorexia in adults with AIDS who have lost weight
- Cesamet (nabilone): Used to treat nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy in those who have not been helped by other therapies
These are prescription-only medicines and are not available over the counter (without a prescription).
The dosage of medical cannabis can vary depending on the person and their symptoms, as well as their overall health. For chronic pain, a typical starting dose of a CBD-predominant medication is 5 milligrams (mg) of CBD twice a day, and the provider may increase the CBD-predominant medication dose by 10 mg every two at three days, up to 40 mg per day. They can then add THC to the dosage as needed, starting at 2.5mg, and increasing by 2.5mg every two to seven days for a maximum of 40mg per day of THC.
Always discuss dosage with your health care provider
This may vary depending on your symptoms and the specific medication your health care provider has prescribed for you. Your health care provider will review your medications with you and follow clinical dosage guidelines.
Who should not use it
Medical cannabis may not be for everyone. It may increase the risk of developing psychosis in those who have experienced such symptoms before and those who have a family history of schizophrenia.
It can also worsen cognitive symptoms for some people with MS, such as working memory, executive functioning (a set of mental processes that help a person plan, focus, and execute on goals), and speed of processing. ‘information. It may also increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke.
If you are interested in medical cannabis, talk to your healthcare provider. Tell them about your medical and family history and any concerns you may have. Together you can discuss the safety of your use.
Federal Employee Considerations
Federal law still prohibits the use of cannabis, even if your state laws do not. Therefore, some federal employees are not exempt from workplace rules regarding cannabis use.
Medical marijuana may be an option for some people with MS. Depending on the state you live in and your specific medical situation, medical marijuana may be a beneficial tool to add to your treatment regimen. It has been shown to have positive effects on symptoms such as pain and spasticity, and has helped some people reduce their use of medications such as opioids and benzodiazepines.
A word from Verywell
Medical marijuana may not be the best option for some people, and you and your healthcare provider can discuss the risks and benefits. It is important to remember that medical marijuana is not the same as recreational marijuana and they should not be used interchangeably.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can you get medical marijuana if you have MS?
Not all states have legalized medical marijuana. If your state hasn’t, you can’t get it legally. States also have laws about where you can fill a prescription.
If you live in a state where cannabis is legal for certain medical conditions and your healthcare provider deems it medically necessary for your MS, they may prescribe it for you.
It is not covered by insurance, so you will have to pay for it out of pocket.
Can cannabis help with muscle spasticity?
Studies have shown that cannabis helps with self-reported muscle spasticity, but more data is needed.
Can marijuana help with bladder symptoms?
Marijuana has been found to potentially help with overactive bladder (OAB). With OAB symptoms, the bladder constricts without warning, making a person feel like they need to urinate immediately, and sometimes urine leaks out. Cannabis can interfere with these signals. However, this has not been found to be clinically significant in various studies in people with MS.
Can Marijuana Help Relieve MS Pain?
Yes he can. Numerous studies have shown that many people with MS reported reduced pain when using medical marijuana and reduced amounts of painkillers. This can vary from person to person, depending on the severity of your condition.
What is the difference between CBD and marijuana for MS?
CBD is a compound found in cannabis. It’s a unique compound, and marijuana is a cannabis plant that contains many different compounds, including CBD and THC.