Multiple Sclerosis and Cannabis: What the Science Says About Cannabis, Spasticity and Pain

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For people living with multiple sclerosis, medical cannabis offers hope, with patients reporting relief from symptoms that include spasticity and pain.

But does the science back up these anecdotes?

A groundbreaking meta-analysis of 10,000 cannabis research abstracts conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, a gold-standard institution, concluded: “For adults with multiple sclerosis-related muscle spasms, there was substantial evidence” that use of cannabinoids—the fundamental chemical components of the cannabis plant—improved symptoms that include spasticity and pain.

Treated as a landmark in advancing scientific knowledge of cannabis, the Academies’ bestselling report The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids was hailed by Forbes as a “wide-ranging review represent[ing] insights from 16 leading neurologists, epidemiologists, oncologists and child psychiatrists in a range of institutions, all of whom recognized the need for greater understanding of a drug humans have likely been using for millennia.” 

The way these medical experts organized their review is important. When conducting this systematic analysis of cannabis research published since 1999, the Academies report categorized the weight of its conclusions based on a five-tiered “Levels of Evidence” scale: Level One, “Inconclusive,” delivered a verdict that there’s not enough available data; Levels 2 and 3 categorized study results as “Limited” or “Moderate,” respectively, meaning the evidence has potential. For findings on cannabis and MS symptoms to be rated at Level 4 as “Substantial” means “a firm conclusion can be made” supporting therapeutic effects but minor limitations exist. Level 5, “Conclusive,” means the findings had been proven beyond any doubt.

While the Academies report reviewed only human studies and not animal models, there wasn’t a specific conclusion drawn about the effectiveness of medicines that only utilize cannabidiol (CBD), as opposed to those that have a combination THC, CBD and other cannabinoids. This suggests that MS patients would be wise to pursue full-spectrum plant medicines, with the American Academy of Neurology giving the green light in 2014 for clinicians to “offer oral cannabis extract for spasticity symptoms and pain.” Earlier observations from a 2008 study noted: “In particular, cannabidiol and the cannabinoic acids seem to be promising therapeutic tools, even though their sites of action are still not well understood.”

More research into CBD and MS is ongoing. In Israel, there have been Phase One trials of a CBD-only drug dubbed “PTL101,” with results that “demonstrated the treatment’s safety and high performance,” according to Multiple Sclerosis News Today.

One of the strongest recommendations in the sweeping National Academies report involved removing bureaucratic roadblocks that make researching cannabis in the United States needlessly difficult, with the aim of improving access so more scientists can work to discover exactly how cannabis can treat a wide variety of ailments, and that’s something we at Compassionate Cultivation wholeheartedly agree with.

Research into groundbreaking cannabis therapies shouldn’t have to happen overseas, but instead be encouraged closer to home.

Photo credit: Chris Reichman, Sum & Substance Photography
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