Over 2 million people in the world are affected by multiple sclerosis, a disease that attacks the central nervous system. When it comes to treating MS, many individuals weigh the risk of side effects with the usefulness of their medication or complementary therapies. Many MS patients have turned towards using medical cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD), or a combination of both to assist with muscle spasticity. Presently, the FDA has yet to approve of CBD as a treatment for MS, but there is plenty of research underway. Here is what to know about CBD and MS right now.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
According to John Hopkins Medicine, multiple sclerosis (MS) is a “chronic disease affecting the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). MS occurs when the immune system attacks the nerve fibers and myelin sheathing in the brain and spinal cord. This attack causes inflammation, which destroys nerve cell processes and myelin—altering electrical messages in the brain” .
MS has varying degrees of severity among individuals. Some people experience mild effects, while others may lose the ability to walk or even speak. There are also a couple different types of multiple sclerosis:
- Relapse-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis
- Benign Multiple Sclerosis
- Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis
- Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis
Symptoms of MS
Some forms of MS are worse than others, but all tend to have symptoms affecting the individual’s quality of life, including:
- Unsteady gait
- Vision problems — blurring or loss
- Muscle spasms
- Sleep problems
How Does CBD Help With MS
Research is still out on exactly how CBD interacts with the body. However, it is not all a mystery. Scientists have discovered that CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which plays an important role in homeostasis, or the equilibrium of all bodily systems and functions. According to one study from 2019, CBD was found to “inhibit endocannabinoid signaling in a dose-dependent manner, likely by binding to C1BR’s allosteric site and altering the potency of other primary ligands (e.g. endocannabinoids, THC)” .
What does this mean in basic terms? CBD has the potential to change how neuroreceptors respond to stimuli. In the case of MS, CBD may have the ability to ease inflammation and soothe immune responses.
This could potentially help with all the aforementioned MS symptoms, including the depression and anxiety that is often coupled with the condition.
Again, much of this is supposition right now. Science has come up with mixed results about the effectiveness of treating multiple sclerosis with CBD—and also medical cannabis.
What Does Science Currently Say About CBD and MS?
Although research has yet to make a decisive claim about how effective CBD is when using it for multiple sclerosis symptoms, the number of studies showing some kind of positive effect are numerous.
Take, for instance, a study from 2005 that was a follow up to a Cannabinoids in Multiple Sclerosis (CAMS) study . A total of 630 patients with stable MS were contacted through 33 UK medical centers to receive oral THC, cannabis extract (THC and CBD), or a placebo during the first part of the CAMS study. Following that, patients were invited to a 12 week follow up, which included a double blind continuation of their prescribed medication.
When the researchers contacted the participants 12 months later, they found that both THC and cannabis extract showed long term effects on some aspects of MS. The change was small, but the patients consistently stated that their THC or cannabis extract medication was helpful to treating their symptoms.
Later, in 2020, a questionnaire with 1,027 respondents was conducted . The answers collected provided insight into how MS patients are using THC, CBD, and combinations of the cannabinoids to get some relief from their symptoms. It was found that sleep and pain were the two main reasons for cannabinoid use. Additionally, most respondents favored CBD-predominant formulas.
A 2021 Review of MS Studies
These results are consistent with a systematic review from 2021, “Immunomodulatory Potential of Cannabidiol in Multiple Sclerosis” . The researchers who ran the systematic review found evidence supporting the immunomodulatory properties of CBD. One acknowledgement made with the study is that CBD is an established anti-inflammatory, but these immunomodulatory findings—meanings that CBD can aid in immune function—are promising. Most of the tests reviewed involved mice with certain mutations reflecting the different forms of MS, and most concluded that CBD may have therapeutic elements.
Despite the limitations within current CBD and MS studies, the researchers of the 2021 systematic review ended with this: “Nevertheless, even based on the limited evidence so far available, CBD appears as a highly promising drug with significant immunomodulating and disease-modifying potential for MS, adding benefits residing in its well established safety and tolerability profile.”
That is one important statement.
Should You Try CBD for MS?
As mentioned by the research given above, CBD is safe and tolerable for most people who have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. CBD, unlike THC, does not have any psychoactive compounds, and so you will not feel high when taking it. There are also multiple forms of CBD available—tinctures, topicals, edibles, and more. You can find a method that works for you.
Being that cannabidiol (CBD) does have science-backed anti-inflammatory properties, it may be able to relieve common MS symptoms. However, you will not know if CBD works for you or someone you know with MS unless you try it.
Keep in mind that, while CBD is generally well-tolerated by most people, there are some individuals who should not take it. Prior to starting a CBD regimen, speak to a medical professional.
CBD for MS: Final Thoughts
Although the FDA has yet to approve CBD for MS, research has provided some optimistic results. Cannabidiol may not work for everyone, but it does show some promise, especially when it comes to reducing inflammation and swelling. That alone may be able to provide you with some relief.
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- McNamara, L. (2015, October 6). What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)? | The Johns Hopkins Multiple Sclerosis Center. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/centers_clinics/multiple_sclerosis/conditions/
- Chye, Y., Christensen, E., Solowij, N., & Yücel, M. (2019b). The Endocannabinoid System and Cannabidiol’s Promise for the Treatment of Substance Use Disorder. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00063
- Zajicek, J. P. (2005, December 1). Cannabinoids in multiple sclerosis (CAMS) study: safety and efficacy data for 12 months follow up. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. https://jnnp.bmj.com/content/76/12/1664
- Braley, T. J., Whibley, D., Alschuler, K. N., Ehde, D. M., Chervin, R. D., Clauw, D. J., Williams, D., & Kratz, A. L. (2020b). Cannabinoid use among Americans with MS: Current trends and gaps in knowledge. Multiple Sclerosis Journal – Experimental, Translational and Clinical, 6(3), 205521732095981. https://doi.org/10.1177/2055217320959816
- Furgiuele, A., Cosentino, M., Ferrari, M., & Marino, F. (2021). Immunomodulatory Potential of Cannabidiol in Multiple Sclerosis: a Systematic Review. Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, 16(2), 251–269. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11481-021-09982-7