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Scientists Review State of Cannabis Research in MS

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a terrible immune disease that destroys the protective coating on nerves. The resulting symptoms cause muscle spasms and pain. If you or someone you know is struggling with MS, you may seek to use medical cannabis or cannabidiol (CBD) as a means of reducing those spasms and pain, as well as getting more restful sleep throughout the night. Research on the effect of cannabis and CBD for multiple sclerosis is still limited, but scientists have recently reviewed what is currently known.

Let’s discuss what they said.

A Quick Review of Cannabis in Medicine

For many years, cannabis—and to a lesser extent, CBD—has been utilized by humankind as medicine. The Cannabis sativa plant is filled with organic compounds known as cannabinoids. Two of the most biologically active ingredients are also the most well-known: tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol, or CBD. The former is primarily responsible for inducing the euphoric high that most people use cannabis for recreationally. The latter, CBD, does not induce a high; but it does have reported anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety abilities.

Recently, with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized CBD, interest in both CBD and THC as a complementary therapy for easing MS symptoms has been renewed throughout the scientific community. However, even before that, there have been studies reviewing the usefulness of both medical cannabis and hemp-derived CBD in patients with multiple sclerosis.

The Scientific Review on MS and Cannabis

In March 2022, a group of researchers based in the United States published a review titled, “Neurological Benefits, Clinical Challenges, and Neuropathologic Promise of Medical Marijuana: A Systematic Review of Cannabinoid Effects in Multiple Sclerosis and Experimental Models of Demyelination,” in Biomedicines [1]. The review takes a look at a bounty of research over a span of 15 years and includes 28 studies from around the world. Unfortunately, half of the studies were not done on humans, but on mice, and while the preclinical findings are promising, it goes without saying that evidence within humans would be far better news.

Within the review, the researchers state that results from mouse models show  “that cannabinoid treatments are effective in diminishing clinical disease severity, alleviating hindlimb stiffness, facilitating recovery, improving motor function, strengthening anti-inflammatory responses,…and promoting remyelination in the [nervous system.] The results are also noted to be consistent throughout the animal studies. With humans, the results were far more scattered.

Reviewing Studies with Human Participants

14 of the 28 studies mentioned in the review used human participants. A number of the studies focused on the evaluation of Sativex (nabiximols), which is an oral spray that has been approved in the UK, EU, and Canada for improving MS-related symptoms, namely spasticity. Currently, Epidiolex, a CBD-based drug for epilepsy, is the only cannabis-related medication in the US that is FDA-approved [2]. Sativex is currently unavailable in the US.

Five studies (totaling 573 people) sought to learn about pain reduction with cannabis in those with multiple sclerosis. Interestingly, patients reported that their pain was significantly reduced—by a 3.42 point drop. Again, this was based on a self-reported scale. Most of these pain studies lasted 4 weeks, but one study was conducted over a span of 6 months or more. In that study, “the benefit in pain reduction remained stable at 6 months.” 

Out of those 14 studies, nine of them assessed the effectiveness of cannabis on muscle spasms, encompassing 1,582 participants with MS. With a cannabis-based treatment, patients reported reduced spasticity. This was evidenced in the review as a 2.8-point decrease (on a self-reported scale of 1-10).

Three studies, totaling 816 people with MS, reviewed sleep improvements. The results concluded that yes, cannabis-based treatments may improve the quality of one’s sleep. 

The remaining studies assessed the effectiveness of cannabis for urinary incontinence in a group of 235 people. Although the effects were not remarkably significant when using Sativex, it was found that there were “modest reductions in bladder overactivity.”

The Conclusion of the Researchers

While much of these results reviewed by the scientists does point to some optimistic outcomes in treating MS with cannabis, there is still much to consider. First, the researchers noted each study had patients who were both responsive to Sativex and other cannabis treatments. Others were far less responsive, meaning they derived no benefit and often dropped out of the study. As such, there was far less statistical balance in the reviewed studies than what is implied by the test size. 

Furthermore, some of the studies lacked control groups. Without control groups, it is difficult to say where the baseline is with the self-reported results. Therefore, some of the participants may have overestimated the effectiveness of their trial medication.

Ultimately, the researchers said that the effects of cannabis on MS is seen to be limited or moderate, based on the research. Further testing is needed, particularly randomized, double-blind studies with placebo-controlled groups to warrant the long-term effects of both THC and CBD on multiple sclerosis.

Other reviews, including “Perspectives on Cannabis-Based Therapy of Multiple Sclerosis: A Mini-Review,” which was published in 2020, have stated similar [3]. 

Should You Give CBD a Try?

All in all, while science is still researching just how effective THC and CBD are for MS, much of the studies have suggested some positive benefits from cannabis-based therapies. When you have MS or other immune diseases, even a speck of relief can mean the world. As such, you may consider giving CBD a try. CBD may provide the same effects as those reported in the reviewed studies, despite being only half of the 1:1 THC and CBD ratio that was used in many tests. 

If you are ready to give CBD a try, consider getting your tinctures and edibles from Sugar Bottom Hemp. Our organic and minimally processed CBD has been certified by third-party labs for its purity. See what our full line of CBD products can do for you and your pets. Have questions? Get in touch with us.

Bibliography

  1. Longoria, V., Parcel, H., Toma, B., Minhas, A., & Zeine, R. (2022). Neurological Benefits, Clinical Challenges, and Neuropathologic Promise of Medical Marijuana: A Systematic Review of Cannabinoid Effects in Multiple Sclerosis and Experimental Models of Demyelination. Biomedicines, 10(3), 539. https://doi.org/10.3390/biomedicines10030539
  2. Abu-Sawwa, R., & Stehling, C. (2020). Epidiolex (Cannabidiol) Primer: Frequently Asked Questions for Patients and Caregivers. The Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 25(1), 75–77. https://doi.org/10.5863/1551-6776-25.1.75
  3. Mecha, M., Carrillo-Salinas, F. J., Feliú, A., Mestre, L., & Guaza, C. (2020). Perspectives on Cannabis-Based Therapy of Multiple Sclerosis: A Mini-Review. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, 14. https://doi.org/10.3389/fncel.2020.00034