How marijuana fights multiple sclerosis symptoms

In Feature Stories, Multiple Sclerosis by David Silverberg

A U.S. study found smoked cannabis could be an effective treatment for spasticity, a disabling symptom of multiple sclerosis.

This symptom of the neurological disease occurs when muscles in the legs or arms contract painfully, similar to pain caused by a “charley horse.”

“We found that smoked cannabis was superior to placebo in reducing symptoms and pain in patients with treatment-resistant spasticity, or excessive muscle contractions,” said study author Jody Corey-Bloom, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurosciences and director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at UC San Diego.

Corey-Bloom and her colleagues randomly assigned participants to either the intervention group (which smoked cannabis once daily for three days) or the control group (which smoked identical placebo cigarettes, also once a day for three days). After an 11-day interval, the participants crossed over to the other group, as a press release states.

The study concluded measures of spasticity dropped an average of three points –about 30 percent — on a 24-point scale when patients smoked marijuana, but didn’t change after they smoked the placebo.

The study authors caution smoking cannabis affects attention and concentration, saying larger, long-terms studies are needed to confirm their findings to “determine whether lower doses can result in beneficial effects with less cognitive impact.”

About 400,000 people in the United States have MS, a chronic disease in which the protective coating around nerve fibers starts breaking down, as Reuters reports.

A 2012 UK study estimated between 1 percent and 4 percent of the total UK MS population is using cannabis for symptom relief.

 Photo courtesy Flickr user Coleen Whitfield