Cannabis has been wildly successful in treating symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. Here’s how it eases symptoms of this incurable neurodegenerative disorder.
What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?
Tracey is a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patient. After living with the condition for decades, she made the unconventional choice to ease her MS with marijuana. As she speaks to her YouTube audience, her calm voice is laced with the wisdom gained only after coming to terms with years of discomfort.
When I use medical marijuana, I get to have a normal body. I get to have a normal body for a little while. That’s a freedom you need. It’s essential and very hard to just let go, because you can’t let go. There’s something in your brain that makes you feel tight and rotten as you can possibly feel. BOOM. And that’s what happens every day.
Tracy’s feelings about her body may hit close to home for many MS patients. Those living with this condition face an insurmountable amount of pain on a daily basis. A constant attack on the central nervous system means that they slowly lose their ability to move their muscles and limbs. Vision and other bodily functions are also affected.
Multiple Sclerosis is a neurodegenerative autoimmune disease that affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. For some reason, the immune system begins to think of neurons as harmful invaders. So, the body’s own immune cells begin to attack neurons. All of the self-inflicted damage causes a buildup of scar tissue. This means that neurons can no longer fire correctly to send basic signals to the rest of the body.
The condition affects millions of people worldwide, but there is no cure. Treatments with MS typically involve powerful drugs that aim to slow the progression of the disease, manage symptoms, and speed up recovery from attacks. This is where cannabis comes in. The herb can improve brain function and ease symptoms of MS.
7 ways cannabis eases MS symptoms
The overwhelming success of cannabis in MS treatment is one of the reasons why the medicinal herb has gained legitimacy around the globe. Multiple Sclerosis is one of the primary conditions treated with some variation of medical cannabis in many different countries–be it in the form of prescription drug or a little cannabis oil.
1. It Protects Your Brain
Multiple Sclerosis patients face one major villain: inflammation. When immune cells activate, they release pro-inflammatory proteins called cytokines. These cytokines cause rampant inflammation in the brain. This ultimately results in the destruction of neurons, and progressively worsening symptoms.
The active components in cannabis, called cannabinoids, are potent anti-inflammatories. Compounds like psychoactive THC and non-psychoactive CBD deactivate the immune system, halting the violent assault on the central nervous system. When the immune system is calmed down, it no longer attacks your central nervous system.
This same quality is what makes the herb so powerful in combatting other types of autoimmune diseases, like lupus.
Cannabinoids are a few of a handful of key substances that promote neurogenesis in adults. Neurogenesis is the creation of new brain cells. Some of the others on the list include:
- Dark chocolate
- Red wine (only in moderation)
Compounds in cannabis are also potent antioxidants, which give them neuroprotective properties. The herb combats oxidative stress, protecting your cells, tissues, and DNA from damage. The antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neurogenetic qualities in this herb make it one powerful brain-boosting medicine. It’s quite miraculous, really.
2. It Eases Pain
You may have already heard: cannabis is amazing for chronic pain. A potent analgesic, cannabinoids like THC and CBD engage pain receptors in the body. The herb’s power to knock-out inflammation also plays a role, as inflammation and pain go hand-in-hand.
As tissues in your body begin to swell up and become irritated, they deteriorate. The breakdown of these tissues is painful. Plus, nerve cells can send pain signals out to the rest of the body as they are destroyed.
The plant’s pain-numbing effects were put to the test by a group at University of California San Diego. In a clinical trial, researchers tested the effects of smoking marijuana on physical pain. 5 minutes after smoking? No difference. 45 minutes after smoking? Participants that smoked medium to high levels of cannabis showed a significant reduction in pain levels.
3. It Stops Muscle Stiffness and Spasms
Listen to this: At Israel’s Tel Aviv University, CBD helped paralyzed mice regain the ability to walk. Sound too miraculous to be true? Don’t worry. It’s solely a coincidence that this scientific miracle happened in one of the holiest countries in the world.
Researchers infected mice with an MS-like condition. They then injected them with CBD. Amazingly, the mice, whose legs had been locked stiff with crippling muscle tightness, began to move again. The mice treated with CBD also had significantly less damage to their nerve cells and less overall inflammation.
This is more confirmation that the neuroprotective qualities of cannabis are extremely effective in mitigating MS symptoms.
The Israeli findings are corroborated by additional research. 2012 study conducted by the University of Plymouth found that cannabis was twice as effective at relieving MS muscle stiffness and spasms when compared to a placebo. After 12 weeks, participants that used cannabis showed a significant reduction in spasticity over their counterparts.
Around 20% of MS patients have issues with spasticity. That is, uncontrollable muscle stiffness and twitching. This loss of muscular control occurs when nerve cells responsible for movement are damaged. This damage is caused by inflammation. Particularly, inflammation in the brain and spine.
A 2013 study out of Tel Aviv University found that THC and CBD prevent inflammation of these areas. These findings led researchers to conclude that marijuana may do a little more than ease Multiple Sclerosis symptoms.
4. It Helps Digestion
Gastrointestinal issues are all too common in MS patients. Constipation, problems with bowel control, and difficulty digesting can make day-to-day life miserable. Marijuana can help. 70% of immune cells are in your gut. Unsurprisingly, cannabinoids engage with these immune cells and quiet inflammation in the bowels.
THC is also a well-known appetite stimulant. The cannabinoid triggers the release of hunger hormones and jump-starts the metabolism. So, not only do cannabinoids reduce gastrointestinal inflammation, but they also get your digestive juices flowing for an all-around improved eating experience.
For a simple analogy, you can think of cannabinoids as traffic policemen. These simple compounds direct the flow of communication hormones in and out of cells like a traffic cop at a jammed intersection. When they plug into the right place, THC and CBD act as tools to help your body stay regular and go with the flow.
Binding to specific cell receptors, cannabinoids have the ability to:
- Quell nausea and vomiting
- Relax muscles
- Relieve diarrhea
- Reduce inflammation
5. It Helps You Sleep
When your body is out of your control, sleeping through the night can be a daunting challenge. If you need to catch up on some quality sleep, a heavy indica will put your body and mind to rest. Cannabis helps you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
A 2013 study of male cannabis smokers found that they had an easier time falling asleep. They also fell asleep faster and were more likely to have a sleep hangover the next day. A “sleep hangover” may not be great on a busy workday. But, patients that need a little extra rest may find this enjoyable.
Patients in pain also sleep better with cannabis. At least, according to a study conducted by British GW pharmaceuticals. GW Pharma tested the effects of CBD and THC on 2000 patients experiencing pain. The study found that participants got markedly better sleep and experienced less pain.
Cannabis also helps you sleep more deeply. Consuming THC before bed causes you to spend a little more time in deep sleep. During deep sleep, your body takes the time it needs to repair itself. This is when your body rebuilds bones and muscles. The immune system is also repaired during this sleep phase.
6. It Takes Away The Blues
It’s a well-known fact that weed has a way of lifting your spirits. It’s not surprising, then, to find that marijuana also eases rates of stress-related depression. Researchers at the University of Buffalo found that rats under chronic stress produce fewer endocannabinoids.
Endocannabinoids are compounds like THC and CBD that our bodies produce naturally. After finding rats with low levels of natural cannabinoids, researchers injected them with cannabis compounds.
Guess what happened? The surge of cannabinoids from marijuana increased the cannabinoids in their brain. This alleviated depression symptoms in the rats. Chronic stress is one of the primary causes of depression in adults. Unfortunately for MS patients, there’s rarely a shortage of it. Cannabis helps by easing away the blues, flooding your brain with the endocannabinoids it needs to eliminate symptoms.
7. It Protects Your Eyes
If you have MS, then you know it’s not uncommon for the disease to blur your vision. Some patients even go blind temporarily or have uncontrolled eye movements. Once again, inflammation is the culprit. In some cases, MS causes inflammation of the optic nerve. This causes you to lose some or all of your ability to see until the swelling subsides.
Cannabis may help reduce the disorienting effects of MS on your vision. In this case, cannabis reduces the inflammation of the optic nerve. Over time, this inflammation is degenerative. The herb has already been pinpointed as a potential treatment for many degenerative eye problems.
Common ailments like glaucoma and retinal degeneration are thought to be neurological in nature. Marijuana’s neuroprotective qualities are thought to mitigate the damage of these diseases.
The cannabis plant is miraculous, but perhaps what’s even more miraculous is what this plant teaches us about ourselves. THC is a puzzle piece that stimulates systems in our bodies into action and helps them stay regular.
The systems affected by THC help regulate your appetite, your memory, your ability to sleep, and even the all-important immune system. All of these small systems are a part of a much larger endocannabinoid system. These vital functions are controlled and affected by the same chemicals and hormones: endocannabinoids.
As mentioned earlier, endocannabinoids occur naturally in bodies, while phytocannabinoids occur in plants.
Regardless of the illness or ailment, most cannabinoids function in the same basic way. By connecting with cells in your brain and your body, they change the ways that your cells communicate with one another. That is, they change the way cells give each other specific instructions.
The same thing happens when our own natural cannabinoids, like anandamide, connect to the same receptors on our cells–though with different outcomes.
In Multiple Sclerosis, cannabinoids work as such a broad sweeping treatments because they tap into this natural system. In those with MS, research suggests that this system has gone bunk. A 2007 study found that endocannabinoid activity was significantly altered in animal models of MS.
Additional research shows that endocannabinoids control spasticity in the disorder. By tapping into the endocannabinoid system, compounds like THC and CBD slow down the autoimmune reaction, stop inflammation, improve muscular control, and eliminate bodily side effects of MS.
In fact, studying how THC affects MS patients has taught us a lot about how the condition works. Because of cannabis, we now know that the endocannabinoid system plays a crucial role in mediating symptoms of the disorder.
These findings have spurred pharmaceutical companies like GW Pharma to use THC in prescription MS drugs. Sativex has been on the market in the United Kingdom for twelve years, and it’s used to treat MS-related muscle spasms and pain.
While the drug has spurred many headlines around the world, Sativex is more or less a fancy, pharmaceutical grade marijuana extract that has equal parts of activated THC and CBD; a 1:1 ratio.
Sativex is currently available outside the U.S. for the treatment of MS symptoms, and inside the U.S. the drug is in Phase III testing for cancer pain. So far, the company hasn’t submitted an application to use Sativex as a treatment for MS muscle spasms. For those who can’t access Sativex, you might want to consider some of these strains:
- One to One (this strain is the most like Sativex)
- Critical Mass
- Sour Tsunami
- Permafrost (High THC)
We’ve come a long way in cannabis science. Researchers around the world are making major headway on understanding cannabis as a treatment for MS. A cannabis-based MS drug is already on pharmacy shelves. Half of all U.S. states legally allow medical cannabis treatment for muscle spasticity. Overall, things are looking up.