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Marijuana May Help Multiple Sclerosis Patients


Researchers note that doses of cannabis (marijuana) have been shown to reduce the muscle spasms experienced by many people who have multiple sclerosis. The finding comes from a review of six trials that tested the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) extracts on people who have multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system. This autoimmune disease affects women two to three times more than it does men. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, approximately 400,000 people in the United States have the disease, and 200 people are diagnosed every week. Multiple sclerosis is believed to affect more than 2.5 million people around the world.

Symptoms of multiple sclerosis may be mild or severe and include numbness in the limbs, spasticity, pain, fatigue, balance and coordination problems, bladder and bowel dysfunction, dizziness, and vision problems. The authors of the new review study indicate that marijuana extracts THC and CBD may help with the spasticity.

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A review of the six trials, five of which were double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies, found evidence that a combination of the extracts could provide therapeutic benefit. Among the 481 patients in the studies, many reported significant reduction in their spasms. However, because the studies did not offer significant changes in objective measures of spasticity, the authors note that multiple sclerosis patients may not be getting an official go-ahead for treatment with marijuana for some time.

The use of medical marijuana continues to be a struggle in the United States. Although it has been shown to be very effective in treating various diseases and illnesses, including chronic pain, nausea, glaucoma, seizure disorders, PTSD, cancer, diabetes, and others, many people risk arrest when they use marijuana for medicinal purposes. In October 2009, President Obama stated that his administration will not seek to arrest medical marijuana users and suppliers if they conform to state laws.

Although research indicates that cannabinoids offer benefits for multiple sclerosis patients because they can reduce inflammation and they have quelled spasms in animal studies, some officials, including regulators and researchers, have been concerned about the intoxicating side effects of THC. The authors of the recent paper, however, note that the combination of THC and CBD can limit psychotropic effects. They also note that the multiple sclerosis patients in the studies they evaluated generally well tolerated the side effects of the combined marijuana extracts.

Lakhan SE, Rowland M. BMC Neurology 2009 Dec; 9:59.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society