An estimated 350,000 people in the United States are living with multiple sclerosis (MS), a painful, debilitating, and sometimes fatal disorder of the central nervous system. MS is the most common debilitating neurological disease of young people, often appearing between the ages of 20 and 40, and affecting more women than men. Symptoms vary considerably from person to person; however, one frequently noted is spasticity, which causes pain, spasms, loss of function, and difficulties in nursing care.

MS exacerbations appear to be caused by abnormal immune activity that causes inflammation and the destruction of myelin (the protective covering of nerve fibers) in the brain or spinal cord. MS most frequently presents at onset as a relapsing and remitting disorder, where symptoms come and go. Current treatment of MS is primarily symptomatic, focusing on such problems as spasticity, pain, fatigue, bladder problems and depression.

Anecdotal reports and a small controlled study have reported that cannabis improved spasticity and, to some extent, improved tremor in MS patients. Many studies of the pharmacology of cannabis have identified effects on motor systems of the central nervous system that have the potential of affecting tremor and spasticity.  A recent carefully controlled study of the efficacy of THC in experimental allergic encephalomyelitis, the animal model of MS, demonstrated significant amelioration of these two MS symptoms. Moreover, cannabis has demonstrated effects on immune function that also have the potential of reducing the autoimmune attack that is thought to be the underlying pathogenic process in MS.

Many MS patients report that cannabis has a startling and profound effect on muscle spasms, tremors, balance, bladder control, speech and eyesight. Many wheelchair-bound patients report that they can walk unaided when they have smoked cannabis.

*Research data available upon written request.

Copmarison to Pharmaceuticals

A recent review of all available medications for MS concluded that “forthcoming information relating to the use of cannabinoids in MS may result in there being better evidence of the effectiveness of new treatments than of any of the currently used drugs.”

Over 40 medicines are listed by the Multiple Sclerosis Society as commonly used by MS patients. Symptoms and medications prescribed include “acute exacerbations” (Decadron, Solu-Medrol); depression (Effexor, Paxil, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Zoloft); erectile dysfunction (Papaverine, Levitra, MUSE, Prostin VR, Viagra); fatigue (Amantadine, Cylert, Provigil, Prozac); itching (Atarax); nausea (Antivert); pain (Aventyl , Dilantin, Elvail, Neurontin, Gabapentin, Pamelor, Tegretol); urinary tract infections (Bacrtim, Cipro, Hiprex, Macrodantin, Nitrofurantoin, Pyridium); and urinary frequency or bladder dysfunction (DDAVP, Ditropan, Oxytrol, Pro-Banthine, Tofranil). Interferon-based medicines are also prescribed as “disease-modifying agents.”

Drugs commonly prescribed for muscle spasticity and tremor include Klonopin, Dantrium, Baclofen (Medtronic), Zanaflex and Valium. Klonopin (Clonazepam) and Valium (diazepam) are both benzodiazepines, central nervous system (CNS) depressants maufactured by Roche. Overdoses of these medications, especially when taken with alcohol, may lead to unconsciousness and death. They frequently cause people to become drowsy, dizzy, lightheaded, clumsy, or unsteady. Other common side effects include slurred speech; abdominal cramps or pain; blurred vision or other changes in vision; changes in sexual drive or performance; gastrointestinal changes, including constipation or diarrhea; dryness of mouth; fast or pounding heartbeat; muscle spasm; trouble with urination; trembling. Studies in animals have shown that clonazepam and diazepam can cause birth defects or other problems, including death of the animal fetus. Overuse of clonazepam during pregnancy may cause the baby to become dependent on it and it may pass into breast milk and cause drowsiness, slow heartbeat, shortness of breath, or troubled breathing in nursing babies.

Dantrium is a muscle relaxant manufactured by Proctor & Gamble. It has been shown to cause cancer and non-cancerous tumors in animals, can cause liver damage, and should not be taken with alcohol. Common side effects include diarrhea, dizziness, drowsiness, weakness, nausea, unusual tiredness, abdominal cramps, blurred or double vision, chills and fever; constipation, frequent urination, headache, loss of appetite, speech difficulties, sleep difficulties and nervousness.

Baclofen (Medtronic) may be administered orally or with a surgically implanted pump in the spine. Its side effects include high fever, altered mental status, spasticity that is worse than was experienced prior to starting ITB Therapy, and muscle rigidity. Symptoms of overdose include shortness of breath or troubled breathing, vomiting, seizures, loss of consciousness and coma. Abruptly stopping implanted baclofen has been fatal.

Cannabis: By comparison, the side effects associated with cannabis are typically mild and are classified as “low risk.” Euphoric mood changes are among the most frequent side effects.  Cannabinoids can exacerbate schizophrenic psychosis in predisposed persons.  Cannabinoids impede cognitive and psychomotor performance, resulting in temporary impairment. Chronic use can lead to the development of tolerance. Tachycardia and hypotension are frequently documented as adverse events in the cardiovascular system. A few cases of myocardial ischemia have been reported in young and previously healthy patients. Inhaling the smoke of cannabis cigarettes induces side effects on the respiratory system.  Cannabinoids are contraindicated for patients with a history of cardiac ischemias.  In summary, a low risk profile is evident from the literature available. Serious complications are very rare and are not usually reported during the use of cannabinoids for medical indications.

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