Overview of Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system that often leads to disablement. The body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the myelin sheath that protects and insulates the nerve fibers. Myelin increases the speed at which electrical impulses move between the brain and the rest of the body and are essential for the nervous system to function properly. A loss of myelin causes signals between the brain and the body to become disrupted.

Common symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis include fatigue, walking difficulties, numbness, muscle spasms, weakness, vision problems, dizziness, bladder and bowel problems, pain, depression, and emotional and cognitive changes. In rare cases, seizures can occur.

The most common type of multiple sclerosis is relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), which is characterized by day or weeklong relapses that can feature new symptoms, followed by periods of quiet remission that can last for months or years. Patients with RRMS will commonly transition into secondary-progressive MS (SPMS), in which the disease progresses more steadily, with or without relapses. Other types include primary-progressive MS (PPMS), which is characterized by neurological function progressively worsening over time, and progressive-relapsing MS (PRMS), which features a steady progression but has occasional exacerbations along the way.

The cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown, but the disease mostly affects women and those between the age of 15 and 60.

There is no cure for multiple sclerosis. Treatment efforts, including the administering of corticosteroids to reduce nerve inflammation and plasma exchange, can help to manage symptoms and potentially limit the disease’s progression.

Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Multiple Sclerosis

Research findings suggest that cannabis could slow the neurodegenerative process of multiple sclerosis. Studies have shown that cannabinoids are involved in the regulation of the immune system by way of acting upon the cannabinoid receptors of the endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoids have shown they can modulate the inflammatory reaction and assist in neuroregeneration7,13,22. In one study, cannabinoids demonstrated neuroprotective effects during an animal model of multiple sclerosis, reducing the damage to myelin caused from inflammation23. Another study found that cannabinoids administered to animals with a model of multiple sclerosis reduced neurological disability, improved motor coordination and limited the progression of the disease8.

Cannabis can help multiple sclerosis patients manage the symptoms associated with their disease. Cannabis has shown to be effective at reducing pain, muscle stiffness and spasms in multiple sclerosis patients11,30. In one study, multiple sclerosis patients saw significant improvements in muscle spasticity and reduced sleep disturbances after four weeks of cannabis treatment19. A similar study found that multiple sclerosis patients experienced pain and sleep improvements after five weeks of treatment with cannabis containing both tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD)24.

There is some evidence that suggests that cannabis may worsen cognitive problems in multiple sclerosis patients. Multiple sclerosis patients that were regular users of street cannabis have scored significantly worse on cognitive function 

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