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Marijuana Helps Ease MS Symptoms, Study Finds

Capsules containing cannabis (marijuana) extract found to ease muscle pain and stiffness in MS patients.

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-- By Jenara Nerenberg

The Gist

Marijuana PlantCannabis (also known as marijuana) helps ease muscle pain and stiffness associated with multiple sclerosis (MS), says a new study published online in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. MS patients typically experience muscle pain, stiffness, spasms, and poor sleep quality, all of which were improved by taking regular doses of cannabis, the study finds.

Such symptoms of the disease often prohibit work productivity, daily life functioning, and restful sleep, and the improvements found with cannabis are often sought as an alternative treatment to mainstream medicine.

Expert Take

"This trial adds to the increasing weight of evidence supporting a beneficial effect of cannabinoids for symptom relief in MS," study author John Zajicek, Professor in the Clinical Neurology Research Group at the Peninsula College of Medicine, University of Plymouth, tells Healthline. And as such, says Zajicek, policy makers should take note of cannabis as an effective treatment and attempt to reduce its cost.

"The medication we used in our trial, Cannador capsules, is not yet available and the only available licensed drug in most countries is Sativex spray, which contains a similar combination of cannabinoids to Cannador."

The effectiveness of cannabis—in the form of Cannador capsules—in treating MS symptoms should thus help health policy officials make a decision about what treatments to condone and subsidize. Other alternative treatments and medications are routinely tried and proven ineffective for symptom management in some patients.

Source and Method

279 individuals were either given cannabis extract or a placebo for a 12-week period and results indicate that twice as many participants experienced pain and stiffness relief when on the medication as compared to those on the placebo. Improvements were seen as early as 4 weeks into the study period and remained throughout its entirety. The study thus concludes that cannabis is a viable treatment option for muscle pain and muscle stiffness associated with MS.

"Health commissioners need to pay attention to the symptomatic treatment of MS, and develop better ways to evaluate cost-effectiveness, as these drugs are relatively expensive," says Zajicek.

The Takeaway

For those with particularly painful cases of MS, cannabis may provide a welcome relief.  As such, doctors, researchers, pharmaceutical companies, and policy makers may consider additional trials or experimentation with how to conclusively prove the treatment's safety and effectiveness and thus how to make the treatment more cost-effective. And as cannabis is just one treatment option—and the administration method does matter—patients should consult their doctor first before trying it.

Other Research

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has made the study of cannabis a priority in its 2011-2015 agenda. The Society acknowledges the anecdotal evidence for the effectiveness of cannabis, but calls for more systematic studies on the topic. As such, the Zajicek study may help move the conversation forward. Additionally, the National MS Society points out that side effects have been noted and as such should be weighed appropriately against the effectiveness of cannabis if official treatment guidelines are to be developed.

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Tags: Drugs , Latest Studies & Research , Treatments

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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.

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