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Pot shows promise for reducing multiple sclerosis patients' symptoms


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

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

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