29th October 2021
By Roland Sebestyén

A new study found that while cannabis is very popular among those with multiple sclerosis (MS), the majority of the patients who use the substance to mitigate their symptoms don’t ask for medical guidance.

According to Medpage Today, almost one in three patients surveyed in the North American Research Committee on Multiple Sclerosis (NARCOMS) registries had tried cannabis for their MS symptoms.

Robert Fox, MD, of the Mellen Center for MS at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, told MedPage Today: “Many of our patients with MS use cannabis for treating symptoms of their MS. Despite this use, the source of information about cannabis is not well understood.

“What was surprising about our survey is that even though cannabis is commonly discussed with providers, the most common source of medical guidance and information was not the healthcare provider.

“Indeed, ‘nobody/self’ was the most common source of medical guidance, followed by someone connected to the cannabis dispensary.

“This highlights significant opportunities for clinicians to take a bigger role in guiding people who use cannabis regarding its use in MS.”

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis is a neuroinflammatory disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. It is a lifelong condition and often leads to severe disability. MS is characterised by symptoms including spasticity, weakness, sensory disturbances, painful spasms, ataxia, tremor, optic neuritis and complex ophthalmoplegia, fatigue and dysphagia.

The disease is most often diagnosed in people in their 20s and 30s and typically starts in one of two ways: with individual relapses (attacks or exacerbations) or with gradual progression. It is still not completely understood what causes Multiple Sclerosis, but doctors believe that both genetic and environmental factors are involved.

Findings

In Mr Fox’s survey, of those who responded, 31% reported using cannabis and, overall, 20% were classified as current users – people who had used cannabis for MS symptoms within 30 days of taking the survey.

The most common symptoms they used cannabis for were spasticity, pain and sleep (problems).

The good news is that 95% of the users reported positive experiences and outcomes, claiming the substance helped them to tackle the symptoms.

However, while most of them discuss cannabis use with their physicians, most of them didn’t look at them as their primary sources of medical guidance. On the contrary, they reported that it was either themselves, the patients, or nobody. They just tried cannabis, without any sort of research.

Jacqueline Nicholas, MD, MPH, of OhioHealth Multiple Sclerosis Clinic in Columbus, told MedPage Today: “Patients with MS are commonly affected by spasticity and current treatments do not adequately control spasticity.

“As a result, some patients turn to unregulated CBD [cannabidiol] or medical marijuana, which may be of benefit, but have not been fully studied and dosing is not standardised.

“Nabiximols was shown to be beneficial in patients with MS and would serve as a CBD-THC pharmaceutical option that has been well studied in MS with a side effect and safety profile understood from clinical trials.”

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