Featured Medical Opinion Research

MS Patients Continually Choose Cannabis for Treatment

multiple sclerosis
Written by Sarah Friedman
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When looking at the literature, there’s a big back-and-forth when it comes to the medical benefits (and detractions) of cannabis. Sometimes this is a result of a general learning curve, and the differences – and issues – with study methodology. And sometimes this is because there are different forces at work with their own agendas. Two articles have recently been brought up about MS patients who use cannabis as treatment for their symptoms. And while the author might paint cannabis in a strange light, the actual studies point toward cannabis as a major benefit for MS patients.

There’s a reason MS, cancer, AIDS, and epileptic patients continually choose cannabis as a treatment option. Whether you’re a medical patient, or recreational user, cannabis has tons of benefits, plus, these days, you’ve got major options. Like delta-8 THC, an alternate form of cannabis, which doesn’t cause as strong a psychoactive effect, and which leaves users more clear-headed and less couch locked. We’ve got great deals for THCV, THC-O, delta 10, delta-8 THC & even HHC as well as many other compounds. Check ’em out, whether you’re an MS patient looking for a treatment, or just want to kick back and relax.

What is MS?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS), also referred to as encephalomyelitis disseminata, is what is considered a demyelinating disease. It’s defined by the insulating covers of nerve cells being damaged in the brain and spinal cord. This damage inhibits the transmission of signals in the nervous system, and leads to many different kinds of symptoms as a result. Some of the more common symptoms associated with the disease have to do with vision, manifesting as double vision, or loss of vision in one eye, problems with coordination, issues with sensation, and muscle weakness.

Symptoms can be consistent with MS, but they can also come in phases, and then disappear for the most part, though as the disease progresses, patients will often experience residual neurological symptoms, even during these ‘off’ periods. There is no known cure for MS, and most treatments are a means of controlling symptoms, and helping patients be more comfortable. There are no great pharmaceutical answers, and those that have been known to help with symptoms, are generally associated with negative side effects, or simply not being tolerated well by the body. Many MS patients use cannabis – whether prescribed or not – to deal with their symptoms.

Neither the cause, nor the underlying mechanisms of the disease, are actually known. The expected underlying mechanism is thought to be related to MS either an autoimmune disorder – a disorder where the immune system attacks the body, or a failure of myelin-producing cells. In terms of what causes it, many in the medical community believe it has to do with genetics, or environmental factors, possibly in conjunction with a virus. In this way, MS is diagnosed only by symptoms.

MS patients cannabis treatment

According to the National MS Society, more than 2.3 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with MS. A study funded by the organization put the estimate for US cases at just under one million living with the diagnosis. This means one of the following: nearly half of the world’s MS population live in the US, global statistics are lacking, or that there are major issues with diagnostic statistics on this disorder. As a disorder without a true medical diagnosis (a way to define it exclusively and separately from other possible issues), the last might be the biggest reason.

MS patients and cannabis treatment

An article recently came out that highlighted two different studies that have recently been done on MS patients. The article was put out by Multiple Sclerosis News Today, and cautions MS patients who use cannabis for treatment of symptoms. The author doesn’t actually seem to take this tack in the end, but does highlight two different studies in the argument of why MS patients who use cannabis for treatment of their symptoms, should be careful.

The first study pointed to by the author is this one: Impaired awareness: Why people with multiple sclerosis continue using cannabis despite evidence to the contrary. The study used two different groups of MS patients who regularly smoked cannabis, and put them into two groups, with one group continuing as usual, and one group stopping cannabis use for 28 days. A baseline measurement was taken at the beginning, which measured processing speed, memory, and executive function, as well as the ‘modified fatigue impact scale’ (mFIS) to measure self-report of cognitive abilities. Baseline measurements were not significantly different in the beginning, but there were differences after 28 days.

After 28 days, the group that had stopped cannabis use had significant improvements in the cognitive functioning tests, though there was no difference in self-reported cognitive abilities. Those that had stopped smoking reported having a more difficult time being away from home, and all that had stopped cannabis for the study, resumed at the end.

So, let’s recap. We already know that cannabis use affects cognitive ability while being used. So it comes as no surprise that after 28 days of abstention, there would be a difference in comparison to active users. That’s literally comparing someone who is currently high, to someone who hasn’t smoked in a month. What it does help back up – probably inadvertently, is that cannabis doesn’t seem to cause long-term impairment. And that within 28 days (possibly considerably less), cognitive function is back to normal levels. And since we already expect this, it’s really not shocking.

What the study did show, were two important findings. One is that there was a statistical significance to the amount of cannabis abstainers who felt they couldn’t function as well away from home without the cannabis, indicating a medical need that cannabis had been actively helping with (or the perceived need – this is something that could use some more study). The other thing it showed, in the same vein, is that all users were more willing to deal with the minor cognitive impairment of using cannabis, if it meant helping their symptoms.

cannabis medicine

While some people like to talk about addiction to cannabis, this is debatable at best, and doesn’t even come close to comparing to the kind of addictions formed by drugs like opiates or nicotine. And certainly after 28 days, if there was an addiction issue, it would have been very much decreased. Yet all patients returned to using cannabis. I certainly can’t make the statement that they didn’t go back for other reasons, but the most likely reason (and perhaps there should have been a follow-up question about it) seems to do with MS patients wanting cannabis as a treatment for their symptoms…despite short-term cognitive impairments, which to them, weren’t even noticeable.

The article writer pointed out that depression issues were also decreased by stopping cannabis, but this seems to be a major error, and is a reference to another piece of research. The study in question doesn’t seem to have measured this, nor is it mentioned in their findings. However, it was mentioned that those who stopped, couldn’t function as well away from home, which points more in the other direction. This also could use follow-up study.

Another study on MS patients and cannabis for treatment

To be fair in my treatment of this article, I don’t believe the author was actually saying they believed cannabis shouldn’t be used for MS. In fact, while handing out a word of caution, the author went on to show this study: Cannabinoid use among Americans with MS: Current trends and gaps in knowledge. This study was to show trends of MS patients when it came to using cannabis for treatment of symptoms.

This study was done through data collection via nationwide surveys of MS patients regarding pain. The questionnaire included questions about cannabis use, like current and recent use, reasons for use, preferred type of cannabis (high CBD, high THC), and the perceived effects of the patients. There were 1,027 respondents. Symptom severity was measured through PROMIS. Type of pain was assessed through the painDETECT questionnaire and FMSurvey Criteria Questionnaires.

The study found that 42% of respondents had used cannabis recently, and that of them, 18% thought there should be healthcare guidance for this use. It was found that recent and current users generally had high pain scores, that sleep and pain were found to be the most common reasons of use for this population, and that there was a strong correlation for benefits with sleep and pain. CBD dominant formulations were preferred out of those who had preferences for one or the other. The study basically concluded that cannabis use is common among MS patients despite the lack of guidance from medical professionals.

The author of the article, despite starting out with a warning, seemed to break with their initial thought, saying that they expected the numbers for cannabis users reported in the study to be low, and that social media groups showed a much wider audience of MS cannabis users. In fact, one of the main concerns of the article writer, was not that people were using cannabis, but that they weren’t receiving any guidance, and this I completely agree on.

cannabis for MS

Back in the day, before cannabis was re-legalized for medical use anywhere, people who needed it medically would go to great lengths to obtain it, but this meant being lucky enough to grow a standard plant, or buy some flower off a dealer. These days, the medical cannabis world is massive and expanding, with tons of differentiated options based on tons of different cannabinoids and terpenes, and the ability for concentrated forms whereby the amount of CBD or THC present, far exceeds what is found in a standard plant. MS patients are choosing to use cannabis as their treatment, but they aren’t being shown how to do it best.

Why don’t MS patents receive guidance for cannabis treatments?

The problem with something like medical cannabis not being universally accepted, is that information and offered treatment options, will vary. In some places it won’t be legal to use it, some doctors might still be stuck on smear campaigns, some hospitals, clinics, or doctors might be pharmaceutically funded, and won’t push non-pharmaceutical products, and let’s be honest, it can be expensive to buy legally and insurance doesn’t cover it. Whatever the reason, much like cancer, AIDS, and epileptic patients that have broken laws for decades to get treatments, this is no different.

I don’t believe the author of the article is against using cannabis for MS, in fact, I think the author is all for it (though I cannot say for sure). But I don’t believe the publication supports it. If you take a look at Multiple Sclerosis News Today, it doesn’t even mention cannabis treatments, whether approved or experimental, under its treatment section. While the publication does mention news on cannabis treatments, it only mentions pharmaceuticals, with nearly every other article that mentions cannabis use by MS patients, being negative, especially when talking about non-pharma use.

What this article really shows, is how a publication can slant information based on who is funding it. In fact, multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com, is really BioNews Services, LLC. BioNews Services, LLC received all of its $350 million in funding from the US government. While it’s not technically bad to get funding from the government, when those funded are responsible for getting out medical information, it becomes a massive conflict of interest.

This publication is NOT funded by a 3rd party, or a group of investors, or private donations, or other independent medical sources, but from the actual federal government. This is a massive conflict of interest considering the publication is then used to fuel fear about cannabis, while only pushing pharmaceutical treatments. And doing so as if its not 100% funded by the government. Let’s be honest, the publication is fine with cannabis, so long as its pharma-sponsored, which is usually the way it works with the federal government and medications. And if you thought the federal government wasn’t involved with big pharma, take a look at how many lawmakers accept money from these companies!

Conclusion

When a whole bunch of people with the same medical problem, gravitate toward a specific treatment, it’s usually worth noting. You can even see public figures speak about their use of cannabis to treat MS. In fact, there’s literally no other treatment written about that gives MS patients more relief than cannabis, yet even an article like the one I’m referencing, which does seem to off-handedly promote cannabis, still promotes confusion and general fear about it. Yeah, there should be more information given to MS patients…obviously. But let’s be honest, when suffering from a debilitating disease, those suffering are a much better judge of what works, and with MS patients, what works best seems to be cannabis treatments.

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DisclaimerHi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.

About the author

Sarah Friedman

I am a US born writer, travelling the world and doing the digital nomad thing.

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