Multiple Sclerosis Education & Awareness Month: Can Medical Cannabis Treat MS?
March is Multiple Sclerosis Education and Awareness Month. If you or a loved one are suffering from Multiple Sclerosis and the many complications that come along with it, medical marijuana might be right for you.
Floridians have legal access to Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, or Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTC), if they have a qualifying condition. To see if you might be eligible for a Florida Medical Marijuana Card, take this quick and easy survey.
What is MS?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a central nervous system disease that disrupts the flow of information between the brain and body as well as within the brain. 
Multiple sclerosis (MS) involves a process in which an abnormal response of the immune system is directed against the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS consists of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.
Within the CNS, the immune system causes inflammation that damages the fatty substance that surrounds and insulates the nerve fibers, also known as the myelin. It also damages the as the nerve fibers and the cells that make myelin.
When myelin or other nerve fibers are damaged in MS, messages within the central nervous system are changed or stopped completely. This damage might produce different neurological symptoms that will vary in type and severity. The damaged areas develop scar tissue which is how the disease got its name – multiple areas of scarring or multiple sclerosis.
Most people who are diagnosed with MS have a relapsing-remitting disease course. They experience periods of new symptoms or relapses that develop over time and usually improve partially or completely. The relapses are followed by quiet periods of remission that can last for months or even years. Small increases in body temperature can also temporarily worsen symptoms of MS, but these aren’t considered true disease relapses.
At least half of those with relapsing-remitting MS eventually develop a steady progression of symptoms, with or without periods of remission, within 10 to 20 years from disease onset. This is known as secondary-progressive MS. The rate of disease progression varies among people with secondary-progressive MS.
Some people with MS experience a gradual onset and steady progression of signs and symptoms without any relapses, known as primary-progressive MS.
What Causes MS?
The exact cause of Multiple Sclerosis is unknown. Scientists believe it is a result of a combination of factors.
An abnormal immune response is what causes inflammation and damage to the central nervous system in MS. Different cells are involved in the abnormal immune response.
Two important types of immune cells are T cells and B cells. T cells are activated in the lymph system and enter the CNS through blood vessels in MS. The T cells release chemicals that cause inflammation and damage once it enters the CNS. As a result, the myelin, nerve fibers and the cells that make myelin are damaged. T cells also help activate B cells and encourage other immune system cells to join the immune attack.
Although the exact cause of MS is unknown, there is evidence showing how environmental factors might contribute to the chance of developing multiple sclerosis. There is no single risk factor that provokes MS, but several factors are believed to contribute to the overall risk. This can include pollutants in the air, water, food, and other substances.
There are more cases of MS in areas that are farther away from the equator. Scientists who study disease patterns, called epidemiologists, are analyzing different factors in demographics, geography, genetics, and migration patterns to help understand why location makes a difference in diagnosis rates.
Some studies have shown that those born in an area with a high risk of MS who then move to a lower risk area before they are 15 assume the risk of their new area. The suggests that exposure to some environmental factor before a person reaches puberty may decrease their risk for developing MS later on.
Additional evidence suggests that vitamin D might also play an important role in Multiple Sclerosis. Low levels of vitamin D in the blood have been classified as a risk factor for developing MS. Some researchers believe that sun exposure may help explain the geographic differences of MS diagnosis.
People who live closer to the equator are exposed to more sunlight year-round. As a result, they usually have higher levels of vitamin D, which supports immune function and helps protect against immune-mediated diseases.
Many viruses and bacteria like measles, human herpesvirus-6, and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), have been investigated to determine if they are involved with MS. EBV, the virus that causes mononucleosis, has received significant attention in recent years. More and more research is indicating that previous infection with EBV contributes to the risk of developing MS.
MS is not an inherited disease, so it is not passed down from generation to generation. However, there is genetic risk that may be inherited. Within the general population, the risk of developing MS is about 1 in 750 – 1000. But in identical twins, if one twin has it the risk of the other twin developing MS is about 1 in 4. There have been about 200 genes identified that contribute a small amount to the overall risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis..
How Can MMJ Help MS?
There are many chemicals within the marijuana plant that have beneficial effects on the body. The most researched ones are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is known to help increase appetite, reduce nausea, and improve muscle control problems. CBD helps control epileptic seizures and treat mental health conditions. Both chemicals can reduce pain and inflammation in the body.
Improves Muscle Control
The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, published a survey where researchers gave MS patients either a placebo or an oral extract of marijuana for 12 weeks. It was found that people in the marijuana group experienced around twice as much relief from muscle stiffness than the placebo group.
Another large study done in 2011 involved 572 people with MS who also took either oral marijuana extract or a placebo. The study concluded that marijuana extract is an effective treatment for spasticity, which is a common symptom for patients with MS. In 2014, a systematic review found evidence to support the use of marijuana-based treatments for MS-related muscle problems.
Can relieve pain
In 2012, a medical trial looked at how smoking marijuana affects the symptoms of MS. The researchers found that smoking marijuana caused more pain reduction than a placebo. Another 2012 study, also showed that people with MS who took oral marijuana extract had a more significant reduction in pain than those who received a placebo.
Could help with bladder problems
Scientists conducted a trial to investigate the use of oral marijuana extract for bladder dysfunction.
They gave the participants either the extract or a placebo for 10 weeks.
The results were not statistically significant, but they indicated that marijuana might improve the symptoms of bladder problems in people with MS.
A 2014 systematic review also found evidence to suggest that oral marijuana extract is likely to be effective for treating these issues.
MS is a Qualified Condition in FL for MMJ Card
When the Florida legislature approved the use of medical marijuana, they outlined specific medical conditions that will qualify a person for a medical marijuana recommendation which included Multiple Sclerosis. While medical marijuana products are not a cure for MS, they can help a patient manage their symptoms more effectively.
In order to legally qualify for a medical marijuana card in Florida, a person must:
- Be a permanent or seasonal Florida resident
- Be diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition by a qualified physician
- Be entered into the Medical Marijuana Use Registry
- Obtain a Medical Marijuana Use Registry Identification Card
Other qualifying conditions besides MS n Florida include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Crohn’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to the others listed.
- A terminal condition diagnosed by a physician other than the qualified physician issuing the physician certification.
- Chronic nonmalignant pain caused by a qualifying medical condition or that originates from a qualifying medical condition and persists beyond the usual course of that qualifying medical condition.
To book an appointment with a Qualified Florida Medical Marijuana Physician, click here. DocMJ has a team of compassionate doctors to help you find relief from Multiple Sclerosis and any other eligible symptoms!