Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disabling illness that affects the brain and spinal cord. It usually gets worse over time. Nerve cells are surrounded by a layer of insulation called myelin. Myelin helps transmit nerve impulses. In multiple sclerosis, the myelin sheath becomes inflamed or damaged. This disrupts or slows nerve impulses and leaves areas of scarring along nerves. Multiple sclerosis can also damage nerve cells themselves, not just their myelin lining.
Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis is the most common type of multiple sclerosis. Relapsing means that symptoms come and go. Episodes during which symptoms suddenly get worse are called relapses, attacks or flare-ups. Relapses can last for days to weeks. They are followed by remissions, or periods of recovery. During remissions, many people with MS feel close to normal.
There are various types of the illness, depending on how gradual or steady the condition evolves: secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, primary progressive and progressive relapsing.
How Cannabis Can Help Relieve Symptoms
Research is still in its early stages, but some studies show medical marijuana can treat MS symptoms like:
- Stiffness or uncontrolled muscle movements. Medical marijuana may help calm your spasms and let you move your arms and legs more freely.
- Overactive bladder. Does MS make you feel like you need to go to the bathroom a lot? Medical cannabis treatment can ease the spasms that cause your frequent urge to urinate.
- Nerve pain. It could make you hurt less, which can help you sleep better, too.
In other studies, participants with stable MS were randomly assigned to receive oral cannabis extract or placebo. After 12 weeks of treatment, muscle stiffness improved by almost twofold in the group taking cannabis compared to placebo, and improvements were also noted in body pain, spasms and sleep quality.
Nabiximols—an oral spray derived from cannabis—significantly improved spasticity in a proportion of people with MS who had been identified as likely to respond to the therapy.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society supports advancing research to better understand the benefits and potential risks of marijuana and its derivatives as a treatment for MS.