Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients experience a number of unpredictable symptoms relating to their balance, vision and muscle movement. It is estimated that there are 100,000 people with MS in the UK, and is typically diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 40, but can affect people at any age.
MS affects individuals differently, and some people with the condition find that it worsens over time, but for others the symptoms have patterns of flare-ups (relapses) and remissions. There is no cure for MS, but its symptoms can be treated. People are usually prescribed steroid medication, but it has side effects (such as osteoporosis, weight gain and diabetes) that mean it can only be used up to three times a year safely, and for short periods of time.
In 2014, the Multiple Sclerosis Society UK conducted a survey and found that one in five people with MS have used cannabis to help with their symptoms. Specifically, they cited cannabis as helping with muscle spasms/stiffness (spasticity) and pain. The available NHS treatments for muscle spasms and pain don’t work for everyone, so there is a strong need for an effective and safe alternative.
The MS Society has an ongoing campaign for cannabis to be accessible for medical use, and the rescheduling of cannabis-derived products for medicinal use in November 2018 was a huge step forward, but there is still a long way to go before everyone can benefit from this. Cannabis is difficult to get a prescription for currently. The MS Society found that a startling 72% of people with MS believe that cannabis should be legal for medicinal purposes.
Research has found that cannabis is a safe and effective treatment for pain and muscle spasticity in MS patients. In 2017, Sky News reported on medical marijuana as a treatment for cannabis, and a number of patients have described the positive effect that cannabis has on their symptoms.
A recent presentation by Dr Aaron Boster MD, published on YouTube back in April this year, breaks down in detail the ways in which medical cannabis has been found to improve a wide range of MS symptoms. He admits that the quality of the evidence is still limited, but that the science so far strongly suggests that CBD can help to improve different symptoms of MS.
Another survey, conducted by the University of Rochester MS Centre based in New York, investigated people’s experiences with using medical marijuana to manage the symptoms of MS. Around 77% of patients reported that medical marijuana was useful in treating their symptoms, especially pain and muscle spasticity. They did not report any side effects. 70% of patients said they felt that medical marijuana improved their quality of life, and some patients even reduced the amounts of other medications they were taking for symptoms.
The evidence for cannabis as a treatment for MS is difficult to ignore, which is why the majority of organisations and experts agree that it has its place in helping people with their symptoms. While it is closer to being more available to people with the condition in the UK since cannabis was rescheduled last year, there are still some specialists hesitant to prescribe it.