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.