Firstly, we would like to thank everyone who contributed to last week’s poll gauging the community’s interest in access to medicinal cannabis for the management of multiple sclerosis.  Considering the significant response received, we have put together the following overview outlining what is currently known about this topic.

What are we actually talking about?

There is still a large community misconception about medicinal cannabis (also called called medicinal marijuana).  Marijuana is the dried leaves, flowers, stems and seeds from the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa), and has been commonly used as a recreational drug.  It contains a compound, known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the main psychoactive ingredient in the drug.  The other major active compound, cannabidiol (CBD), is known to have opposing actions to THC, and has been shown to have both anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties.

There has been a push, especially in Australia, to use medicinal cannabis as the key term for discussing this treatment option.  It is believed that, by not referring to it as ‘marijuana’, the conversation can be distanced from the recreational form of the drug.  Medicinal cannabis products are often comprised of compounds that have been isolated from the plant.  Many of these products do not contain THC and so do not lead to the ‘high’ that is associated with recreational use of the drug.  It is critically important that awareness is raised about this and that these distinctions are made when investigating potential medicinal cannabis treatments.

What is known about the use of medicinal cannabis in multiple sclerosis?

A number of small studies have already been performed that have tested the effects of medicinal cannabis use on symptoms in people living with multiple sclerosis.  These have been listed by symptom below, but please comment on this article, or on Facebook, if you would like more details on any particular study.

Pain:  there is evidence to suggest that people living with multiple sclerosis who have used medicinal cannabis products report a decrease in pain levels.

Spasticity:  this has been the most studied area for the use of medicinal cannabis in people living with multiple sclerosis.  Quite large studies have shown that people with MS can receive significant improvements in spasticity and muscle stiffness through the use of cannabis extracts.  Sativex, an oral spray that is derived from cannabis, is now approved in a number of countries around the world for the treatment of MS-related spasticity.

Cognition:  studies have shown that the use of marijuana (in its recreational form) can have a negative impact on cognitive function in people living with multiple sclerosis.  A small study has investigated the use of a synthetic medicinal cannabis product and found that, at the therapeutic dose, no impairment of cognition was found.

Currently, there seems to be a difference between the effect of medicinal cannabis on these symptoms as they are reported by people living with multiple sclerosis, compared to the tests performed by physicians.  Further studies are needed to determine conclusively what benefits are received through the use of these products.

Is medicinal cannabis legal?

The answer to this question depends on where you live in the world.  There are growing numbers of locations that are legalising the use of medicinal cannabis.  Some of these locations are only allowing the use for specific conditions, which does not always include multiple sclerosis (at the moment).  If you are interested in using medicinal cannabis to manage your multiple sclerosis, check your local legal requirements.  If you have trouble finding out this information, please let us know and we will attempt to find this out for you.

One Response

  1. Cathy D'Alterio

    Brett, as I understand, Medicinal Cannabis, whilst legal in Victoria has so far only been used for children with uncontrolled epilepsy. How can we either link in with a trial, or exert pressure on the public health system to begin use/trials of this for people with MS.
    I have previously been told by my neurologist at the Austin Hospital that I would be on a list for trialing it, however more recently have heard that the Austin will not be involved in this.
    I would dearly love to see if the benefits of pain relief could assist me, but am at a loss as to how to seek either an individual neurologist or a public hospital who will prescribe it, or how to push this issue further. Thanks in advance


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