Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New Study about MS and Marijuana Stirs the “Pot”

The Unspeakable Bits; From A Life With MS

A small – but loud – study released last week about the use of smoked cannabis (marijuana) for symptoms of multiple sclerosis has sent smoke signals around the MS community. As clinical cannabis (often called “medical marijuana,” or MMJ for short) is not legal in most states – only 16 states have MMJ laws according to the site ProCon.org – and against federal law all together, the topic certainly seems like an “unspeakable bit”….

Note: It is important to point out that even in states where MMJ laws are on the books and purport to protect patients with a number of conditions from harassment and prosecution, a 2005 US Supreme Court ruling negates all of these state laws. No matter where you live, the use of marijuana is a federal offense. Also, the act of smoking marijuana (the method studied in this report) has health risks in and of itself.

The National MS Society’s Facebook page was flooded with comments and shares when they posted a link to their story about the study, prompting me to change course for my intended blog for this month.

That the study was conducted with science behind it, in the form of objective measures of pain and spasticity, rather than subjective reports from the research subjects, and was specific to people living with MS, is what made so many of us sit up and take note. Using the clinically accepted Ashford Scale to grade observed spasticity, a visual analogue scale for pain symptoms, and clinical control subjects who thought they were smoking MMJ but were not, researchers came to the conclusion that MMJ may be able to help with these two common MS symptoms.

As the study only followed 30 subjects, much more work needs to be done on the topic. The Society, in conjunction with the University of California – Davis, is currently recruiting for a new study that will compare both inhaled (smoked) and tablet forms of MMJ with a placebo.

I said that the study was “loud.” My phone rang a few hours before the study was released, with a local TV station requesting an interview for the evening news, and TV and radio stations around the country offered pieces on the study all day long.

When I blogged about the study on Everyday Health’s Life With MS Blog and mentioned it other places in the MS community, I was assured that it is a topic of much interest for people with MS. Many lamented that they live in states where it is not legal, so they do not try MMJ; others spoke of the benefits they have received and some told of the fears they have as they know they are breaking the law in seeking relief.

One aspect of MMJ that must be considered is consistency. Like apples, for example, marijuana is a plant and can vary in its chemical components. Just as some apples are better for baking than for eating raw, some tart and others sweet, or one variety crisp while another is mealy, each variety or “strain” of MMJ offers differing levels of a number of compounds researchers believe may help with some of the symptoms of MS. Where one obtains MMJ, the reliability of the source, the consistency of the strength, the legal issues in play in your area,all affect what actually happens between thinking about and really using MMJ.

Another contentious issue in the use of MMJ is that this study showed an increase in fatigue and cognitive impairment when using the drug. I don’t know about you, but “getting stoned” isn’t what I’m looking for in a symptom-management therapy, and I’ve enough fatigue with which to contend as it is.

As you can see in the interview I linked to above, I use MMJ for a very specific symptom and in very limited quantities and circumstances. My doctor (also interviewed in the piece) has given his go-ahead for me to use MMJ and asks about its effects with each clinical visit. Even though I use sanctioned patient cooperatives to obtain MMJ, I have found a variance in what I have purchased; differing “strengths,” variable effect and peripheral side-effects can and do change often.

There is much more research and plenty more conversations to be had on the topic and it is not an easy or one-sided conversation in store for us. It is, however, a conversation that I find important and I am thankful that the Society has given us this platform to have said exchange of ideas … no matter on which side of the debate we currently stand.

Wishing you and your family the best of health.



You can follow Trevis via his Life With MS Facebook Page on Twitter and on the EverydayHealth.com “Life With MS” Blog. And also, check out his bi-monthly blog for the UK.


  1. Thank you for your blog entries on this topic - I live in a state where it's not likely to ever be legal unless it's on a federal level.

    I'd also like to see studies with the use of vaporizers that reduce the carcinogenic factor of inhaling smoke.

    I've read that there's two major strains (I guess you'd call it that) - Sativa and Indica (sp?). The first promotes more physical energy in general (sometimes causing over-exertion or enhancement of unpleasant nerve sensations) and the second is more of a lethargic effect (some say the lethargy is whole body, others say it's more specific to various mechanisms within the body). I assume the differences within each are because of different varieties within the strain, cultivated for whatever reason or by chance.

    Some of my info/reading is from research in Cancer patients, and I've wondered for a while how much of the previous research can be applied to those studying MMJ for MS. It'd be nice not to have so many pills to take for spasticity, migraines and pain among other things.

    As for sanctioned co-ops, I bet there's also a difference in the level of knowledge each person at the sales counter has, even within the same location, so you may be told one thing about a strain and hear differently the next time 'round.

    We definitely need more research on the subject!

  2. Canada has a medication that comes from a cloned MMJ plant made into a liquid. You simply take it as a sublingual, so it acts quickly without needing to inhale it. The cloned nature of the plant involved guarantees consistency from batch to batch.

  3. Why was I censored this time, too much truth?

  4. I have to say anything has to be better then taking so many drugs
    ie: PERCOET 10's, XANAX 2's, MECLIZINE 25's, BACLOFEM 20's and NEURONTIN 900's many times a day just for the stuff that pains of MS.
    And they do nothing for MS the only thing I'm on for MS is Copaxone 20.
    If that was the only thing I needed for I would say there's no need for medical marijuana. for MS symptoms.
    I'm sure that there's a lot more people living with MS that are even taking more drugs just to help with the

  5. I am a strong advocate of MMJ, and happen to live in CA, where it is STATE-legalized. Let the Directors of this-n-that national center of BS, GET MS, and see how quickly heads will turn at the changing of policy. I hate spasticity, I really do. One moment I'm upright, the next, down I go. Pain. OR a short vaporizer pull and presto! Like magic, no spasticity. Bladder leakage? Found my answer. And it isn't waddling around, padded like a 2 year old. WHY this same old mess of a question? Physicians know it works, they know the mechanics, they know, also of the hype. But being frightened that you will lose your livelihood should you RECOMMEND, NOT prescribe, this plant material tends to make one leery. And in the meantime, we and other patients like us, suffer. Must make some of those Federal idiots feel quite good about themselves after a day of pot-bashing. It's not a war on drugs (which, by the way, is not working) it is a war on people. The people who vote so legislators can keep their perqs and salaries and bonuses, too. And it's a war on stupidity. For stupid these "lawmakers" must be if they are unwilling to let us, the people, try what we think may help us. No one is forcing them to do it. But why, oh why, should they have the power to prevent we who must live with these diseases and ailments every day, have to suffer for their egos? Where is the "fair" in that rationale??? Absent. As usual.

  6. I live in Colorado, where MMJ is legal. I've been diagnosed for 15 years. I have used MMJ now for a few years, currently take Gilenya plus other symptom related meds. I am so fortunate that my insurance agrees to cover Gilenya. MMJ has helped me the most with sleep, anxiety, and bladder issues. The MMJ business is still learning. I have recently found products (I only use edibles - don't like smoking)that are much more consistent in dosages. I think dosage, strain and timing is key. If you use too much indica strain, you will feel more lethargic. So in my case, I try to time it so that hits me right around bedtime. I have rarely in my life slept so well. I am experimenting a bit with taking a much lesser dose during the day, using the sativa strain, to see if that helps mitigate my daytime anxiety + bladder issues. I work p/t, have two kids so I don't want to walk around 'stoned', so the dosage is critical. I suspect that one day, the feds will take it away from me. But for now, my quality of life has been greatly improved by it. My cognitive skills were already toast thanks to MS; I haven't really noticed a change for better or worse. I haven't talked about it with any neurologists. They laughed when I told them I felt better and had less flare-ups when I stopped eating gluten. I get my Gilenya and MRI's from them, but everything else I have pursued on my own. For someone w/MS, I am doing pretty well. I haven't had to use a cane since I went on Gilenya. Still have all sorts of damage but the relapses have almost stopped.