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Can Medical Marijuana Treat Multiple Sclerosis?

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

You've had multiple sclerosis for a while now and tried a bunch of things to ease your pain or control those muscle spasms. But you're just not getting the relief you need. Is it time, you wonder, to pay attention to all the talk about medical marijuana? Could it be an option for you?

It's possible.

It's giving some relief to people like Zach, who asked to keep his full name confidential. He lives in Phoenix, AZ, where medical marijuana has been legal since 2010.

Zach deals with tingling in his hands and feet, balance problems, and pain in the top of his head and spine. He also has "phantom sensations," like tasting root beer when his mouth is empty, smelling ammonia suddenly, or hearing a train that isn't there.

"When people started talking to me about medical marijuana after my diagnosis, it was daunting," he says. "I'm the biggest square you'll ever meet. I've never even been drunk before. So I was on the fence about using it."

But Zach's MS is advanced, and he has symptoms every day. "It affects my mobility, and I'm losing vision in my right eye," he says. "So at this point I'm glad to try anything that will help."

Symptoms That Marijuana Treats

Your doctor isn't likely to suggest you use it until you try other medicines first. He may recommend it as an additional treatment if you live in a state where it's legal.

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

Stiffness or uncontrolled muscle movements. Medical marijuana may help calm your spasms and let you move your arms and legs more freely.

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

Nerve pain. It could make you hurt less, which can help you sleep better, too.

Zach says marijuana "takes the edge off" his pain, but it's not meant to be a quick fix, like aspirin.

"Relief doesn't happen the next day," he says. "It takes several weeks for your body to figure out what it's going to do with this new chemical."

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