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Medical Marijuana for Multiple Sclerosis: The Facts

By on January 18, 2013

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  • Many multiple sclerosis (MS) patients use marijuana to treat their symptoms
  • Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder that damages the nervous system
  • Studies show that cannabis-based medications can help improve symptoms of MS
  • Studies also show that cannabinoids may slow the progression of the disease
  • It is legal in some countries to prescribe marijuana for MS, but still illegal in many more
  • TruthOnPot.com – Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a painful disease of the nervous system that exhibits a wide range of symptoms, most of which are resistant to traditional pharmaceuticals. Luckily, many sufferers around the world have discovered the benefits of medical marijuana and are using it legally or illegally to treat their symptoms. It is believed that 1-4% of MS patients in the UK are treating themselves with marijuana and as much as 14-16% of MS patients in Canada.

    What is MS?

    Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder affecting the brain and spinal cord. It is the most common cause of neurological disability in young people and tends to strike around the age of 30.

    The disease is caused by the body’s own immune system attacking and damaging the myelin sheath – an important part of nerve cells that help in conducting nerve signals. As a result, the ability of nerve cells to communicate with each other is compromised.

    Almost any neurological symptom can occur due to MS. As the disease progresses, physical and cognitive disability eventually result. Symptoms of MS include:

    • Fatigue
    • Cognitive impairment
    • Muscle stiffness
    • Spasticity
    • Tremor
    • Poor mobility and balance
    • Pain
    • Vision problems
    • Urinary incontinence
    • Sexual dysfunction

    How Can Marijuana Help?

    Over the years, many studies have investigated the effects of medical marijuana on multiple sclerosis. Clinical studies have shown that cannabis is effective in providing relief from many of the symptoms associated with MS. A small number of studies have provided evidence suggesting that cannabinoids may even inhibit the progression of the disease.

    Symptom Management

    One of the largest studies to investigate the effects of cannabinoids on multiple sclerosis was a randomized clinical trial (RCT) involving 667 patients from 33 medical centers in the UK. The subjects were assigned to one of three groups: synthetic THC (Marinol®), whole cannabis extract (Cannador®), or placebo.

    During the 15 week trial period and 12 month follow-up, patients given cannabinoid-based medicine reported improvements in symptoms of spasticity, spasms, pain levels and quality of sleep. Results from the follow-up study also showed reductions in certain measures of disability associated with MS.

    Pain is one of the more debilitating symptoms of MS and remains challenging to treat with traditional medications. It’s no surprise that patients given cannabinoid-based medications report significant pain relief as studies have proven marijuana to be an effective analgesic. Medical marijuana is especially helpful for MS patients who suffer from a specific type of pain called neuropathic pain. Studies have found that cannabis is just as effective (if not more) at treating neuropathic pain than currently prescribed pharmaceuticals.

    Bladder problems such as urinary incontinence are another common symptom that may be effectively treated with cannabis. Although research on this topic is sparse, studies including the RCT mentioned above and a smaller open-label pilot study have both found cannabinoids to significantly reduce the bladder problems associated with MS.

    Marijuana’s potential for treating the symptoms of multiple sclerosis is gradually beginning to be recognized around the world. Currently, cannabis and/or cannabinoid-based medications can be legally prescribed to MS patients in Canada, Denmark, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom.

    Is Marijuana The Cure?

    No one has yet to claim that marijuana is the cure for multiple sclerosis. However, there are a small number of studies involving animal models that seem to show that cannabinoids can protect neurons from degeneration, which would ultimately slow the progression of the disease.

    In a study published in 2003, researchers from the University College of London’s Institute of Neurology concluded “…in addition to symptom management, cannabis may also slow the neurodegenerative processes that ultimately lead to chronic disability in multiple sclerosis and probably other diseases.”

    Another study published in 2012 by Spanish researchers came to a similar conclusion.

    Despite such positive findings, these studies only represent the early stages of clinical research. Much more needs to be investigated before the scientific community will be ready to draw any conclusions about cannabis and MS.