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Can Medical Marijuana Treat Multiple Sclerosis?

By Rachel Reiff Ellis
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD

If you live in a state where it's legal and your doctor OKs it, medical marijuana might be an option to help treat some of your MS symptoms.

Your doctor isn't likely to suggest you use it until you try other medicines first. He might recommend it if the treatments you take now aren't working.

How Does Medical Marijuana Help?

Research is still early, but some studies show it can treat problems like:

Spasticity. This feeling of stiffness or uncontrolled movement in your muscles is a common MS symptom. Medical marijuana can help calm your spasms and let you move your arms and legs more freely.

Pain. Muscle spasms and stiffness can hurt. The drug may give relief and cut down on nerve pain.

Sleep problems. Pain can make it hard for you to fall asleep. Medical marijuana might help you get the shut-eye you need.

Overactive bladder. Does MS make you feel like you need to go the bathroom a lot? This treatment can ease the spasms that cause your frequent urge to pee.

How Do I Take It?

Even though it has the same chemicals as the street drug, you don't take it by smoking it. It comes as a pill or a spray.

"In theory, smoked marijuana should be as effective a treatment as other forms," says Kevin P. Hill, MD, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. But doctors don't recommend smoking because it's so bad for your lungs. And when you use the drug in pill or spray form, it helps your doctor control how much of the active chemical you get.

Will I Have Side Effects?

There are short- and long-term risks from marijuana, Hill says. They're the same whether you use it for fun or as medicine.

You may get some side effects while you use the drug, like:

If you use medical marijuana every day, Hill says, you may get problems like:

  • Trouble doing complex thinking
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings

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