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Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis MS is a disease affecting the central nervous system. MS exacerbations appear to be caused by abnormal immune activity that causes inflammation and the destruction of myelin (the protective covering of nerve fibers) in the brain, brain stem or spinal cord. Common symptoms of MS include muscle spasms, depression, and incontinence (involuntary loss of urine) or urinary retention.

In a 1998 review article published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, Drs. Linda Growing et al. observed that the distribution of cannabinoid receptors in the brain suggests that they may play a role in movement control.(1) The authors hypothesized that cannabinoids might modify the autoimmune cause of the disease.(1) If so, it is possible that cannabis may both relieve symptoms of MS and retard its progression.

Abundant references in the medical literature indicate that cannabis and cannabinoids may relieve symptoms of MS. Accordingly, the 1998 House of Lords Science and Technology Committee endorsed cannabis' ability to mitigate symptoms of MS. After reviewing the available data, committee chairman Lord Perry of Walton stated, "We have seen enough evidence to convince us that a doctor might legitimately want to prescribe cannabis to relieve … the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, and that the criminal law ought not to stand in the way." (2)

Researchers from the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) and the 1997 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Workshop on the Medical Utility of Marijuana also endorsed the potential usefulness of cannabinoids in MS, concluding that "survey results suggest that it would be useful to investigate the therapeutic value of cannabinoids in relieving symptoms associated with MS" using objective measures of spasticity. (3) NIH researchers added that cannabis' potential to treat spasticity and neuropathic pain (pain resulting from nerve damage) (4) could play an adjunctive role in future treatments for the disease. (5)

Several clinical trials on cannabis and cannabinoids indicate that they help mitigate MS symptoms. A study conducted in 1981 by Dr. Dennis Petro demonstrated beneficial effects of cannabinoids on symptoms of MS. (6)Dr. Petro subsequently described two patients suffering from MS-related muscle spasms who experienced symptomatic relief after smoking cannabis. (7)

A controlled study conducted in 1983 on the effects of THC on eight MS patients observed subjective benefits in five patients and objective evidence of improved motor coordination in two participants. (8)

A 1988 double-blind placebo-controlled crossover clinical trial by Drs. J. Ungerlieder et al. of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in 13 subjects with clinical MS and spasticity also yielded favorable results. "At doses greater than 7.5 mg there was significant improvement in patient ratings of spasticity compared to placebo," researchers reported. "These positive findings in a treatment failure population suggest a role for THC in the treatment of spasticity in multiple sclerosis." (9)

A 1989 study on a 30-year old MS patients found that his condition "acutely improved" after smoking a cannabis cigarette. These investigators concluded that "cannabinoids may have powerful beneficial effects on both spasticity and ataxia [loss of coordination and balance] that warrant further investigation." (10) A 1995 single case study also reported that administration of the synthetic THC drug Naboline alleviated spasticity. (11)

More recently, a 1997 survey of U.K. and U.S. MS patients found that between 30 and 97 percent experienced relief in symptoms with cannabis, depending on the specific symptoms. (12) In descending order of improvement, these symptoms were: spascticity, chronic pain of extremities, acute paroxysmal phenomenon, tremor, emotional dysfunction, anorexia/weight loss, fatigue states, double vision, sexual dysfunction, bowel and bladder dysfunctions, vision dimness, dysfunctions of walking and balance, and memory loss." (12)

A March 2000 study by Layward at al. found that cannabinoids quantitatively ameliorated both tremor and spasticity in mice suffering from experimental allergic encephalomyelitits (CRAEA), an animal model for MS. (13) Authors announced that their study for the first time scientifically demonstrated the link between cannabis and the suppression of MS symptoms. (14) Earlier this year, the Journal of Neuroimmunology published results of a pre-clinical study demonstrating that synthetic cannabinoid derivatives suppressed MS symptoms in an animal model. (15)


[In addition, a case study published in the June 2000 issue of Neurology reported positive effects of inhaled cannabis on a patient suffering from MS. (16).

Anecdotal evidence implies that cannabis may also help MS patients who experience bladder dysfunction, a condition that can affect up to 90 percent of those afflicted with the disease. (17) Historical references indicate the use of cannabis to treat urinary incontinence, as do several modern case histories reported by Dr. Lester Grinspoon in the book “Marihuana The Forbidden Medicine” (with James Bakalar). (18) The 1997 survey by Drs. P. Consroe et al. also finds some MS patients reporting that cannabis mitigates bladder dysfunctions.

Collectively, these studies indicates that cannabis may substantially control the symptoms of MS, including muscle spasms, ataxia, and bladder dysfunction, and may also play a role in halting the progression of the disease.

References used above

  1. L. Growing et al., "Therapeutic use of cannabis: clarifying the debate," Drug and Alcohol Review 17 (1998): 445-452.
  2. House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, Press Release, November 11, 1998.
  3. J. Joy et al., "Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base" Washington D.C.: National Academy Press (1999), Chapter 4, Section 4.26 (uncorrected proofs copy).
  4. See "pain," citations 15-18.
  5. National Institutes of Health, "Workshop on the Medical Utility of Marijuana: Report to the Director," Washington, D.C. (1997).
  6. D. Petro et al., "Treatment of Human Spasticity with Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol," Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 21 (1981): 413-416.
  7. D. Petro, "Marihuana as a therapeutic agent for muscle spasm and spasticity," Psychosomatics 21 (1980): 81-85.
  8. D. Clifford, "Tetrahydrocannabinol for Tremors in Multiple Sclerosis," Annals of Neurology 13 (1983): 669-671.
  9. J. Ungerleider et al., "Delat-9-THC in the treatment of Spasticity Associated with Multiple Sclerosis," Advances in Alcohol and Substnace Abuse 7 (1988): 39-50.
  10. H. Meinck et al., "Effects of cannabinoids on spasticity and ataxia in multiple sclerosis," Journal of Neurology 226 (1989): 120-122.
  11. C. Martyn et al., "Naboline in the treatment of multiple sclerosis," The Lancet 345 (1995): 579 as cited by J. Joy et al., Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, Chapter 4, Section 4.23 (uncorrected proofs copy).
  12. P. Consroe et al., "The Perceived Effects of Smoked Cannabis on Patients with Multiple Sclerosis," European Neurology 38 (1997): 44-48.
  13. D. Baker et al. “Cannabinoids control spasticity and tremor in a multiple sclerosis model,” Nature 404 (2000): 84-87.

  14. Reuters News Service. “UK Scientists back medicinal benefits of cannabis,” March 1, 2000.

  15. A. Achiron et al. “Dexanabinol (HU-211) effect on experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis: implications for the treatment of acute relapses of multiple sclerosis.” Journal of Neuroimmunology 102 (2000): 26-31.

  16. L. Dell’Osso et al. “Suppression of pendular nystagmus by smoking cannabis in a patient with multiple sclerosis.” Neurology 54 (2000): 2190-2193.
  17. L. Grinspoon et al, "Marihuana the Forbidden medicine" (second edition), New Haven, CT: Yale University Press (1997), 91.
  18. Ibid., 80-94.