Medical Marijuana Pills May Ease Some MS Symptoms
Researchers also found some evidence to support use of other alternative therapies
The researchers said there can be serious side effects with medical marijuana, such as seizures, dizziness, thinking and memory problems, and depression. Since some people with MS face a higher risk for depression and suicide, patients should discuss the safety of medical marijuana with their doctor.
Between 33 percent and 80 percent of MS patients use various alternative therapies to treat their symptoms, especially women, those with higher education levels and those reporting poorer health, according to the academy. But the safety of most of these therapies is unknown, and most are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Timothy Coetzee, chief advocacy, services and research officer for the National MS Society, was not involved in crafting the guidelines, but said the potential of marijuana and its derivatives as a treatment for MS symptoms is important. "I think it really emphasizes our approach to support the rights of people with MS to work with their doctors, recognizing that they need to do this in the context of the legal regulations of the state they're in," he said.
Marijuana-based spray isn't legally available in the United States, Yadav said, but is sometimes obtained by U.S. patients from Canada, where the spray is legally available.
Man-made marijuana pills, known as dronabinol and nabilone, are FDA-approved for nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. Yadav said MS patients can be prescribed the pills as an "off-label" use, at their doctors' discretion.
Yadav said she was surprised to find benefits from the use of an alternative treatment known as magnetic therapy, in which magnets are placed on the skin to produce a magnetic force that is thought to improve body function. Moderate evidence showed magnetic therapy reduced tiredness in MS patients, but it did not help with symptoms of depression.
Coetzee said the guidelines are important because they will help inform conversations between people with MS and their doctors about strategies they can employ to reduce symptoms, which are often a combination of conventional and alternative therapies.
"We're at a place where we need to continue to understand and better appreciate the benefits of what we know and don't know about [alternative medicine]," he said. "I view it as integrated care. It's important we continue to keep our options open so people with MS can live their best lives."