In November 2018, the Government legalised cannabis for medicinal use, but also put a strict criteria in place for who could access it. Only specialist doctors are allowed to prescribe medicinal cannabis, and so far only a handful of people have benefited from the change in law.
One in five people with MS we surveyed in 2014 told us they’d used cannabis to help with their symptoms. They said it can help with muscle spasms or stiffness (spasticity) and pain.
There’s a medically approved cannabis-based treatment called Sativex, but it doesn’t work for everyone. In England and Wales you can get it on the NHS for ‘moderate’ to ‘severe’ spasticity (muscle spasms and stiffness). But you can have it only if other treatments haven’t worked. As of late 2019 it’s not yet available in Scotland or Northern Ireland but we hope it soon will be.
Cannabis is made up of compounds called cannabinoids. The main ones studied for their therapeutic effect are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which gets you ‘high’, and cannabidiol (CBD), which doesn’t.
Some people with MS use cannabis in a variety of ways to help ease their symptoms.
When you’re living with multiple sclerosis (MS), it’s wise to have a range of tools in your arsenal to manage symptoms. CBD, a.k.a. cannabidiol, is chemical compound from the cannabis plant that is becoming more widely available as a method for dealing with chronic pain. You may have heard about it, and if you have, you’re probably wondering if it’s worth a shot to help manage your MS symptoms. So, is it? This is what experts currently say about CBD and its effectiveness for MS.
You’ve got the facts, and you’re interested in trying CBD for your MS symptoms. What now? Check with your doctor, says Dr. Thrower. “Patients should discuss all complementary therapies with their health care team,” he explains. That way, everyone is in the know. But keep in mind: “Health care providers have varying comfort levels and knowledge about the use of cannabis products in MS,” Dr. Thrower says. “Reputable stores selling CBD products may be able to help with product selection and dosing.”
If you’re looking to treat MS symptoms, certain types of CBD may be more helpful for certain symptoms, says Dr. Thrower. “I have found oral hemp-based CBD oils to be helpful for sleep and anxiety in MS. Topical CBD may help with joint pain and muscle tightness,” he says. “If we want to manage more severe spasticity or burning pain in MS, I find that we need to use oil containing higher amounts of THC.” (Remember—THC products aren’t legal in every state.)
Pain affects about two-thirds of people with MS. The most common type is known as central neuropathic pain, a.k.a. nerve pain. This type of pain is often felt as sharp stinging or burning sensation, and research suggests that some cannabinoid receptors in the CNS play a role in the processing of these sensations. For that reason, if you’re looking to relieve MS pain, “the interaction between CBD and those receptors may lead to a reduction in discomfort,” Costello says.
Researchers have been studying the effects of cannabinoids like CBD on MS for years. The bottom line? CBD likely does help reduce pain and spasticity, as well as symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, and urinary issues, but more studies are needed. One major catch: Most research has been done using nabiximols (Sativex), an oral spray that contains a 1:1 CBD-to-THC ratio and is not currently available in the U.S. because it is not approved by the Federal Drug Administration, says Costello.