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Pot shows promise for reducing multiple sclerosis patients’ symptoms

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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marijuana multiple sclerosis cannabisDoses of cannabis might help multiple sclerosis (MS) patients subdue their body spasms and move about more easily, according to a new review of recent studies. However, the authors of the paper note, the patients’ apparent relief could also be a matter of perception. 

After reviewing six trials that tested the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) extracts on muscle spasms in a total of 481 MS patients, the authors found "evidence that combined THC and CBD extracts may provide therapeutic benefit."

In five of the six double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials the researchers analyzed, cannabis-taking patients reported decreases in their spasms. "The subjective experience of symptom reduction was generally found to be significant," wrote the authors, based at the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation in Los Angeles. However, the authors conceded, "participants of both active and placebo trials may not be entirely blind to their treatment status, and this may affect subjective analysis."

So despite the promising patient reports, MS patients might not get a green light for this treatment just yet. "Objective measures of spasticity failed to provide significant changes," the authors concluded in the paper, published online Wednesday in the journal BMC Neurology.

Cannabinoids have, however, been shown to offer neuro-protective benefits for MS patients by quelling inflammation through regulation of microglial cells’ cytokine levels, and animal studies have revealed antispastic effects of the chemicals.

One MS patient in New Jersey has been using the drug to treat his symptoms. "It definitely helps for the pain," John Ray Wilson told The Wall Street Journal on Monday. Wilson, however, is facing felony drug charges for growing pot plants because the state does not currently permit the use of medicinal marijuana. State lawmakers are close to changing that, which would make New Jersey residents—like those of more than a dozen other states—off limits to federal prosecution if they follow local medical marijuana laws (per a U.S. Deputy Attorney General announcement in October). Both the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians and the New Jersey State Nurses Association have announced support for the bill, which outgoing Governor Jon Corzine has promised to sign if it passes, the Journal reported.

The obvious intoxicating side effects of THC treatment have been a concern for both regulators and researchers. The authors of the recent paper, however, noted that a mixture of THC and CBD can limit psychotropic effects. In any case, they found that for the MS patients in the studies at least, "side effects from combined extracts of THC and CBD were generally well tolerated."

Image of dried cannabis courtesy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration via Wikimedia Commons





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  1. 1. Science First 8:37 pm 12/2/2009

    1. The American Medical Association, LA Times & Washington Post are calling for extensive federal research of marijuana’s medicinal purpose(s). The A.M.A. House of Delegates has called "for further adequate and well-controlled studies of marijuana and related cannabinoids in patients who have serious conditions for which preclinical, anecdotal, or controlled evidence suggests possible efficacy and the application of such results to the understanding and treatment of disease."

    "Moreover, the patchwork of state-based sytems that have been established for ‘medical marijuana’ is woefully inadequate in establishing even rudimentary safeguards that would normally be applied to the appropriate clinical use of psychoactive substances."

    2. The November 21, 2009 LA Times Editorial "The AMA’s Reversal on Marijuana" specifically notes: For all the debate over whether marijuana has medicinal value, arguments that the drug has significant palliative properties or that it has none suffer from the same flaw: There’s little scientific proof either way."

    3. At the same time, the AMA specifically refused to endorse state-based medical marijuana programs & the Washington Post editorial (Oct 25 "Questions About Pot") called for a moratorium on new state programs.

    4. Moreover, the same Washington Post article also recognizes the medical marijuana controversy may be moot in the near future as a number of extensive FDA supervised clinical trials of a drug known as Sativex (cancer & MS) have ended or are near an end.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Michael F 9:31 pm 12/2/2009

    Hasn’t the AMA endorsed several states’ proposed medical marijuana legislation, including that in my home state of New Jersey?

    Essentially, it’s just like the gay marriage thing to me – I can’t wrap my head around why so many people are so hell bent on regulating how other *free* human beings live their lives. Let people get married and let people smoke pot. I imagine overall quality of life would increase for everyone.

    Link to this
  3. 3. way2ec 11:13 pm 12/2/2009

    Oh, the benefits might only be a subjective experience, well, in that case… WHAT, would YOU deny MS sufferers this remedy!?

    Link to this
  4. 4. hotblack 12:28 am 12/3/2009

    Pfft. What was the home of the free has been overrun by lawyers and politicians. Want freedom, go to any of the less populated, more relaxed countries in the world who’ve held the title of World Power, lost it, and realized people live happier under less pressure.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Frosty46 3:33 am 12/3/2009

    The BS way pot has been treated by the Medical Mafia and Liquor Lobby is both silly and self serving. Both groups have the morals of feral dogs. Nothing, but nothing gets in the way of their "action".

    Drug pushers such as the American Pharma Complex and Alcohol Industry will never allow pot to be legal in this nation of bought politicians!

    Link to this
  6. 6. Frosty46 3:34 am 12/3/2009

    The BS way pot has been treated by the Medical Mafia and Liquor Lobby is both silly and self serving. Both groups have the morals of feral dogs. Nothing, but nothing gets in the way of their "action".

    Drug pushers such as the American Pharma Complex and Alcohol Industry will never allow pot to be legal in this nation of bought politicians!

    Link to this
  7. 7. TheKindGardenersCollective 11:00 am 12/3/2009

    Just a note – the marijuana pictured in the article bears little resemblance to the indoor-grown medical marijuana flowers produced by Medical Marijuana Collectives, who provide medical marijuana to qualified medical marijuana patients here in California.

    Legal since 1996, Medical Marijuana has proven to provide a myriad of benefits to patients. The greatest source of danger/harm is from our local law enforcement, which refuses to respect these laws.

    learn more @ http://www.safeaccesssd.org

    Link to this
  8. 8. Paul Kuhn 3:25 pm 12/3/2009

    Natural marijuana, especially when inhaled through a vaporizer, is more effective and safer than its component chemical compounds. I have to chuckle over concerns of the "intoxicating effects" of marijuana when it takes most first time smokers several times to feel anything at all. Another benefit of cannabis: it cannot cause death by overdose which is not the case with any of the legal drugs MS patients take, including aspirin.

    Link to this
  9. 9. Zam 4:46 pm 12/3/2009

    Does marijuana also alleviate spasticity in those with cerebral palsy or suffering the same effects from traumatic brain injury?

    Link to this
  10. 10. jgrosay 5:27 pm 12/3/2009

    Pot is a dangerous drug, give it the use you want giving. Another herbal product, calaguala, showed activity in an autoimmune encephalitis MS model in rodents, and some claim positive results in MS asthenia and chronic fatigue syndrome,although unproven. The product, approved in some places for psoriasis and atopic dermatitis therapy, seems to be an immune modulator. Producers lack economical strenght to fund the clinical trials and have the indication approved by health regulatory authorities. Anybody receiving the torch?

    Link to this
  11. 11. jgrosay 6:25 pm 12/3/2009

    Calaguala extract is Anapsos

    Link to this
  12. 12. jerryd 6:47 pm 12/3/2009

    Amazing, this was proved decades ago!

    And vaporized pot is far better that ‘extracts’. The only reason for extracts is so drug companies can patent them.

    And why do they want to cut the pleasant effects of Pot? Should medicine be unpleasant?

    Link to this
  13. 13. Jeff Popplewell 8:18 pm 12/3/2009

    Since everything we perceive is in the end an "interior" experience, just how does one conduct a "subjective" analysis?

    Link to this
  14. 14. pgtruspace 12:31 am 12/4/2009

    cannabis has been a natural medication to humans for at least 50,000 years and to primates for 10 times that.

    The medicine industry and their pushers in the AMA have used the GUNS of the government to prevent the use of the peoples medication.

    The federal constitution prohibits the federal government from prohibition of the use of anything by the people as that is a power resurved to the people and the states.

    Link to this
  15. 15. scottportraits 5:36 pm 12/4/2009

    I have heard from MS sufferers that this is indeed the case. I have also heard from cancer patients, arthritis patients, and AIDS patients the same thing: cannabis medicine is effective.

    Cannabis medicine should be in the pharmacopoeia – NOW !!!

    Link to this
  16. 16. scottportraits 9:39 pm 12/11/2009

    This is old news. I’ve known this for 10 years now. Having come from Oakland, California, the epicenter for medical cannabis political activism, I met several MS, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s patients who swore by it. They functioned normally and no one knew how sick they really were.

    Face it. With respect to medical cannabis this country is still in the 19th century, where the ‘reefer madness’ mentality still rules.

    Support Safe Access to Medical Cannabis.

    Link to this
  17. 17. Lisacpa 7:19 pm 12/28/2009

    Well, as a person with MS, I have to say, marijuana hardly sounds any more dangerous than the sanctioned treatments, such as my drug du jour, Tysabri. It’s pretty galling to hear people toss around such adjectives, as "subjective." Kind of like our so-called "health care reform," this will go right into the trash bin in short order. Makes me want to move to Canada.

    Link to this
  18. 18. focalist 12:07 pm 02/13/2010

    When will opinion finally be discounted, so the zealots can be dealt with? This is a decision of the FDA and major drug companies, primarily based upon the fact that marijuana cannot be patented, as it is an naturally occurring plant. Sativex is a whole-plant formulated extract- it’s made from pot plants. All it does is take the smoking out of the loop- a good step. GW Pharma was able to obtain provisional patents on their product, so Bayer purchased the entire company, and with their horsepower, have been able to push a few clinical trials. Still, core research into cannabinoid effects and chemistry is blockaded at every turn by the FDA. Only when enough MONEY was brought into play by Bayer did the FDA finally get enough kickbacks to get Sativex rolling.

    What’s important is that Sativex exists. Sativex is finally proof positive of the therapeutic effects of cannabinoid chemstry.. which over the next decade will likely change the way we think of pain perception and treatment, among many other things.

    Just note that it was not any research breakthrough that brought Sativex to market. Home-made extracts of pot have been used for cooking for a very long time. What really happened here is that the FDA was finally pushed out into the light, exposing their history of lies and collusion on this subject. It’s all about MONEY, not medicine.

    People, this is not about "drugs".. or politics.. or profit margins. These are real patients who are suffering horrific diseases, and how we relieve as much of that suffering as we can.

    Let the FDA get their kickbacks someplace else, okay?

    Link to this

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