Can Medical Marijuana Help Your MS?

If your multiple sclerosis treatment isn’t giving you the relief you want, or if you’re newly diagnosed with it, you may be curious about how medical marijuana might help you.

Surveys show that many people with MS already use marijuana, and half or more of them would consider it if it were legal or offered proven benefits. So far, the evidence for that is mixed.

How It Might Help

MS is a disease that attacks your brain, spinal cord, and nerves. The marijuana plant, or Cannabis sativa, has dozens of chemicals that can affect your mind and body.

An influential national group of scientific institutions concluded that marijuana, aka cannabis, is proven or highly likely to help ease stiffness and muscle spasms that are common with MS, at least as measured by self-reported symptoms.

Some evidence suggests that marijuana or its active compounds, called cannabinoids, may ease sleep problems in some people with MS, fibromyalgia, and certain other medical conditions.

But evidence is weak that marijuana or cannabinoids:

  • Improve muscle tightness, or spasticity, as measured by a doctor.
  • Help or don’t ease depressive symptoms among people with MS or long-term pain.

Where to Get It

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. But more than half the states have legalized cannabis for medical use, with the number doubling in 5 years. If you live in one of those states, your doctor will need to approve or certify you for medical marijuana. That allows you to buy it from a medically endorsed pharmacy or a dispensary.

In addition, in least 20 states and the District of Columbia, recreational pot is legal or treated as a minor infraction.

How to Use It

The best-known compound in cannabis is THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. It’s what gets you high when you smoke, eat, or vape it.

Another active ingredient is cannabidiol (CBD), which doesn’t make you high. Most states allow limited medical uses of CBD. It most often comes in an oil, which you can rub on painful spots, or as an extract or tincture to put under your tongue. You also can swallow CBD capsules or vape, or inhale, it. People sometimes buy CBD online from sellers without a license for medical marijuana.

Some small studies have suggested that CBD may help lower your pain and inflammation. But more research on humans is needed to know if it actually works.

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What to Watch For

Whether you smoke pot or dab on CBD oil, you may not always know exactly what you’re using. The FDA doesn’t regulate them, so the THC levels, for example, may vary a lot from one batch of pot to the next. Or you may react very differently to CBD than someone else.

It’s not safe to drive while you’re high on marijuana. Smoking or vaping it also can irritate your lungs, affect your memory, and make it harder to think clearly. It also can make you feel:

  • Anxious
  • Dizzy
  • Sleepy
  • Sick
  • Depressed
  • Paranoid

You shouldn’t use any cannabis products if you:

Ask your doctor if and which form of cannabis and its extracts might help you.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on March 20, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: “MS Prevalence -- Prevalence of MS More Than Doubles Estimate,” “Medical Marijuana (Cannabis) -- Changing Legislation,” “Definition of MS,” “MS Symptoms,” “Cannabis for Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms,” “Medical Marijuana (Cannabis) -- Studies of Note.”

National Conference of State Legislatures: “Deep Dive -- Marijuana; State Marijuana Policies Timeline.”

National Institutes of Health: Frontiers in Neurology: “Cannabis and Multiple Sclerosis -- The Way Forward.”

Mayo Clinic: “What Are the Benefits of CBD -- and Is It Safe to Use?” “Cannabis for MS -- Can It Help Treat Symptoms?”

Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network: “Does CBD Oil Really Help Treat Arthritis Pain? Medication/Drug Interactions.”

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine: “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids -- Conclusions for Therapeutic Effects.”

MS Society (UK): “How Cannabis Can Affect You.”

National Cancer Institute: “About Cancer -- Have Any Side Effects Been Reported From Cannabis and Cannabinoids?”

FDA: “FDA Approves First Drug Comprised of an Active Ingredient Derived From Marijuana to Treat Rare, Severe Forms of Epilepsy.”

Pennsylvania Department of Health: “Patient FAQs.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Cannabidiol (CBD) -- what we know and what we don’t.”

MedlinePlus: “Medical marijuana,” “Cannabidiol.”

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