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Potential Benefits of Cannabis for Patients with Multiple Sclerosis

People living with multiple sclerosis (MS) often experience long-lasting, unpredictable symptoms. And while there are medical treatments available for MS, many patients need additional support to ensure their quality of life.

One common complementary treatment for MS is medical cannabis.

While using cannabis for multiple sclerosis won’t cure the condition, it can help patients live with reduced pain and muscle spasms, manage their mood changes, and support a healthy sleep cycle. In this guide, we’re breaking down all of these applications, plus other considerations for people living with MS and their loved ones.

MS 101

Before we explore how many patients use medical marijuana for multiple sclerosis, let’s look at some of the basics of MS:

MS is a chronic disease primarily affecting the central nervous system. It’s widely considered an autoimmune disease—a type of condition where your body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells.

MS affects every patient differently. While some patients will experience severe symptoms, others may only notice minor changes in their everyday functioning.

In MS patients, myelin (the fatty tissue surrounding nerve fibers) is often damaged. Myelin loss leads to scar tissue formation called sclerosis. Damage and sclerosis can prevent some nerve signals from effectively moving to and from the brain.

While not all patients experience severe symptoms, some of the most common effects associated with MS include:

  • Vision challenges or a swelling of the optic nerve
  • Mobility challenges
  • Paresthesia, or abnormal pain, prickling sensations, or numbness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Digestive issues
  • Tremors or muscle spasms
  • Difficulty focusing

Managing MS Symptoms with Marijuana

Fortunately, MS patients can relieve some of the symptoms above with medical cannabis. Let’s dive into how people living with MS often leverage medical marijuana to improve their quality of life.

Chronic Pain

Medical marijuana is a long-standing treatment option for people living with chronic pain. While many medical conditions can be the root cause of chronic pain, some patients living with MS might experience long-term discomfort, numbness, or a prickling sensation around affected nerve areas.

Scientists still aren’t sure exactly how cannabinoids modulate pain in the body, but countless anecdotal reports indicate that marijuana is a viable option for people struggling with pain management.

But why should people living with MS consider marijuana for pain instead of conventional treatments like opioids?

  • Marijuana has a low risk of habit formation – Opioids are highly addictive. Cannabis is not. For people looking to reduce their addiction potential, medical marijuana offers an alternative to traditional pharmaceuticals.
  • Marijuana is plant-based and all-natural – For patients looking to make conscious choices about the substances they introduce to their bodies, cannabis offers a plant-based solution.
  • Marijuana is highly customizable – While there’s a wide variety of pharmaceutical products on the market, there are even more cannabis products available in today’s pharmacies and dispensaries. Between different strains, administration methods, and cannabinoid combinations, there’s truly a cannabis product for everyone.

Muscle Spasms

People living with MS can experience muscle spasms or tightness, and more than one scientific study has posited that medical marijuana could provide relief from these symptoms.

While there are some prescription medications designed to reduce muscle spasms, there are a few reasons why MS patients might choose to supplement these with medical cannabis (or opt for cannabis over pharmaceuticals entirely):

  • Decreased side effects – Muscle relaxants are some of the most commonly prescribed medications for MS patients experiencing muscle spasms, but side effects can include dizziness, headache, nausea, fainting, and blurred vision. Marijuana’s side effects are much less severe—patients sometimes experience drowsiness or increased appetite, but these aren’t a guarantee for every medical marijuana user.
  • Holistic treatment – While muscle relaxant medications generally only treat a few symptoms (muscle pain, spasms, or stiffness), medical cannabis can be used to support a wide variety of wellness outcomes. Improved appetite, healthy sleep, mood regulation, and chronic pain relief are just a few of the additional benefits for people using medical cannabis for relief from muscle spasms.

Depression and Other Mental Health Challenges

Medical marijuana can also offer relief to people with MS who experience:

  • Mood fluctuation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness

Mental health medications and counseling are widely accepted treatments for mental health challenges, but cannabis is growing in popularity for mood stability applications. Plus, it can be used on an as-needed basis—during an anxiety attack or a depressive episode, for instance. Not all pharmaceuticals are intended for as-needed use.

In addition, medical cannabis can be used as a complement to more traditional mental health treatments like counseling and pharmaceuticals. Where these methods fall short, marijuana can fill in the gaps and help patients find long-term relief.

Sleep Disturbance

Pain, muscle spasms, and mood challenges can all tremendously impact a patient’s ability to sleep soundly. For MS patients struggling to maintain a healthy sleep pattern, medical cannabis can help:

  • Support a regular sleep routine
  • Induce drowsiness and help patients fall asleep quickly
  • Help patients stay asleep throughout the night
  • Increase restfulness and sleep quality

On the other hand, sleep support pharmaceuticals are often like muscle relaxants and mental health drugs: while they can provide relief, side effects can outshine the potential benefits of the medication. Since marijuana features relatively few side effects (one of which is drowsiness), it might be a more accessible, pleasant treatment option for MS patients looking to achieve better sleep.

Why Consider Medical Cannabis as an MS Management Tool?

While we’ve touched on some potential use cases for people looking to use medical marijuana for MS, let’s return to some reasons why patients choose cannabis as a replacement for (or complement to) mainstream medical treatments.

It’s important to note that, while cannabis shouldn’t be used to replace every pharmaceutical medication, it can improve quality of life and ease some symptoms for people living with MS.

It’s Plant-Based

While some pharmaceuticals are derived from naturally occurring compounds, they’re far from all-natural. Patients may opt for plant-based tools for a variety of reasons:

  • Lifestyle – If you eat a plant-based diet or try to make intentional choices about your consumption, marijuana can offer a solution for your all-natural lifestyle.
  • Digestion – Some bodies simply respond more positively to a plant-based diet and lifestyle—and cannabis edibles can provide a plant-derived solution for people leaning toward ingestion methods.
  • Allergies and sensitivities – Medications are a daily reality for people living with MS. But, if you’ve discovered medication sensitivities or allergies on your MS journey, marijuana could help you unlock relief without exposure to these substances.

It’s Highly Customizable

One of the key perks of medical cannabis is that it’s highly customizable. People living with MS can tweak various elements of their cannabis treatment to achieve their desired results, including:

  • Strain – Each person responds to each subtype of the Cannabis sativa plant (these subtypes are called “strains”) differently. So, patients can experiment with different strains until they find their perfect match.
  • Cannabinoid profile – There are hundreds of cannabinoids present in each strain of the Cannabis sativa plant. Depending on your goals and preferences, your medical marijuana doctor and budtender can help you find a combination that meets your needs.
  • Administration method – From smokable products (like flower and vapes) to edibles, topicals, and tinctures, there’s a marijuana administration method for everyone. In other words, smoking isn’t the only way to experience the benefits of cannabis.
  • Dose – Dosages can be easily increased or decreased to deliver and customize the results you’re looking for. Plus, dosing is relatively consistent across marijuana products, so you’ll always have a clear picture of how much you need.

TeleLeaf: Connecting Patients with Relief

If you’re living with MS and looking for relief from some of the symptoms of the condition, medical cannabis could offer a major breakthrough on your journey. While it isn’t a cure for the root cause of MS, it can help improve quality of life and support overall wellness outcomes.

When you’re ready to learn more about applying for a multiple sclerosis medical card, reach out to the experts at TeleLeaf. We’ve seen the transformative results of medical cannabis firsthand, and we’re here to empower patients with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their cannabis treatment.

Getting started is easy: just contact our team to schedule your first appointment with us.

Johns Hopkins Medicine. Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
CBS News. Study: Smoking pot may ease pain, muscle spasms in people with multiple sclerosis.
MS Society. Treating Spasms and Stiffness.
Cleveland Clinic. Muscle Relaxers.

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