Marijuana May Help Relieve Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms: Study

By Amir Khan on May 14, 2012 4:22 PM EDT

Marijuana
The distinctive five-leaf structure of a marijuana plant is seen as it grows in a medical marijuana center in Denver (Photo: Reuters)

Smoking marijuana may alleviate some symptoms of multiple sclerosis, according to a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday. Study participants with MS who smoked marijuana had less spasticity, also known as muscle tightness, and less pain compared to those who used a placebo, researchers said.

While some people already use medical marijuana to help their MS symptoms, until now the only evidence was anecdotal, researchers said.

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"We've heard from patients that marijuana helps their spasticity, but I think a lot us thought, 'Well, it's probably just making you feel good,'" Dr. Jody Corey-Bloom, lead researcher and researcher at the University of California, San Diego, told Reuters ."I think this study shows that yes, [marijuana] may help with spasticity, but at a cost."

The cost, researchers said, is blunted mental skills (exacerbating existing MS effects), dizziness and fatigue. In addition, some study participants found the "high" that comes from smoking marijuana so unpleasant they withdrew from the study.

Researchers found that the measure of spasticity in MS patients dropped approximately 30 percent in those who smoked marijuana. The placebo group showed no improvement. Researchers attributed the improvement to cannabinoids, a group of chemicals present in marijuana that are also naturally produced by the body, which helps regulate muscle spasticity.

"Spasticity is a big problem for many people with MS, and the current medications don't necessarily work for everyone," Nicholas LaRocca, vice president of health care delivery and policy research at the National MS Society, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters. "But smoking marijuana does not appear to be a long-term solution, because of the cognitive effects."

In the United States, marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug by the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration, which means it "has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision." However, medical marijuana is legal in 19 states.

Approximately 400,000 Americans have multiple sclerosis, according to the National MS Society. Symptoms include tingling, loss of balance, muscle weakness, slurred speech and cognitive difficulties.

Although the researchers saw a beneficial effect, they are not recommending the drug be used to treat MS.

"I'm not a proponent for marijuana smoking at all," Corey-Bloom told MSNBC.

LaRocca told MSNBC said that if marijuana was going to be used to treat MS, smoking it would not be the ideal way because of the drug's side effects.

"The majority of people with MS experience cognitive changes at some point in their lives," he said. "We don't want to add any additional cognitive deficits with treatment."

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