Health Conditions Hub Multiple Sclerosis

Can Weed Help MS Symptoms?

Recent research suggests medical marijuana can alleviate overactive bladder, muscle stiffness

The GOP may have taken control of the Senate, but marijuana legalization also won big in the 2014 midterm elections.
It’s been clear for some time that how marijuana is perceived in this country is changing. Ten years ago, those favoring legalization stood at 34 percent. By 2013, that number jumped to 58 percent. Before November, about two dozen states approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes—to treat nausea or as relief for chronic or severe pain.

In the midterms, residents in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia passed referendums legalizing recreational marijuana, and a medical marijuana initiative passed in Guam, the first time that’s happened in a U.S. territory.

The changing tide may be welcome news for multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferers. Marijuana has long been seen as an effective treatment for fighting nausea associated with cancer treatments and in AIDS patients. But the latest research suggests marijuana also can help alleviate MS symptoms such as pain, overactive bladder and muscle stiffness. “While certain forms of medical marijuana can be helpful to treat some symptoms of MS, our review highlights the need for more high quality research studies on the safety and efficacy of marijuana,” said Barbara Koppel, M.D., study leader and a neurologist at New York Medical College in New York.

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The review, conducted by specialists convened by the American Academy of Neurology, assessed medical marijuana in pill or spray form only, and the researchers urged doctors to consider potential side effects before prescribing this schedule 1 drug. (About 1 percent of patients who used medical marijuana experienced depression, mood swings, hallucinations or suicidal thoughts.) And even with the state approvals, marijuana is still illegal on a federal level—though so far the government has allowed states to manage their own marijuana law enforcement.

Still, researchers believe the review’s findings will make neurologists more likely to prescribe marijuana to their MS patients who haven’t had success from other treatments.

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