March is Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Awareness Month. 1 million Americans cope every day with this unpredictable disease. The stigma that accompanied an MS diagnosis is a thing of the past. In this article, I will discuss the definition, symptoms, origins, first early warning sign, diagnosis and the benefits of medical cannabis usage.
MS is a progressive auto-immune disease where the body’s immune system responds abnormally, attacking the central nervous system (CNS). The brain, spinal cord and the optic nerves make up the CNS. MS antibodies attack the myelin sheath, the nerve coating, which is crucial in the transmission of signals from the brain to the rest of the body. Without the myelin sheath, these signals are slowed or cease altogether, depending on the progression of the disease.
No two people experience the same symptoms. The severity of the disease varies greatly; from mild disability to paralysis and death. The location and number of lesions impacts the affected regions.
There is no cure and its origins are still not fully understood. It is thought to be caused by a genetic predisposition, geographic environmental factors and an infectious disease component. Other factors include immunology, low Vitamin D, smoking, and obesity in childhood and adolescence.
First Early Warning Sign:
The first sign is a neurological episode typically lasting 24 hours known as clinically isolated syndrome. (CIS) The body attacks the myelin, known as demyelination, which results in scars (sclerosis) or lesions in the brain or spinal cord, impeding the transmission of signals from the brain to the body. The episode can be monofocal with one symptom or multifocal with more than one symptom, with complete or partial recovery. Someone who experiences CIS may or may not develop MS.
Symptoms of MS:
- Vision problems, including double vision and optic neuritis
- Tingling and numbness
- Chronic Fatigue
- Balance problems
- Bladder and bowel dysfunction
- Cognitive dysfunction, including memory, attention deficit, language loss and focus
- Sexual dysfunction
- Spasticity, muscle spasms, tremors and loss of muscle control
- Mood disorders, especially depression and anxiety
Less Common Symptoms:
- Hearing loss
- Uncontrollable shaking
- Respiratory problems
- Slurred speech
- Swallowing problems
- Cerebrospinal Fluid Analysis
- Blood test to rule out other similar diseases
- Urine test is being developed
Benefits of Medical Cannabis Usage
- Spasticity, muscle spasms, loss of muscle tone and tremors: The majority of MS patients experience spasticity where particular muscles are continuously contracted. They also experience muscle stiffness, spasms, and tremors, either episodically or constantly. Involuntary muscle spasms can lead to the loss of muscle control and painful cramping in the arms and legs. Medical cannabis improves muscle tone which diminishes the spasticity and tremors by relaxing the muscles. Improved muscle tone even aids in a better functioning of the bladder.
- The Inflammatory Response: With MS, the body’s overactive immune system increases inflammation in the brain. This leads to neural degeneration, worsening MS symptoms and potentially more CNS damage. This overdrive causes the release of the inflammatory protein, cytokine. The well known anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis reduce inflammation, regulate the immune system and lessen many of the MS symptoms.
- Pain and Sleep Disturbances: In 2005, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group cannabis trial was conducted at the Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery, at the University of Liverpool, UK. The results showed that 1:1 THC:CBD was twice as effective as a placebo in controlling pain and three times more effective for sleep. Cannabinoids act to reduce pain by facilitating glycine receptor function. These receptors are instrumental in controlling inflammatory and neuropathic pain by modulating the signals that pain receptors send to the spinal cord and brain.
- Abdominal Dysfunction: Researchers are convinced that medical cannabis helps to control gut responses that cause gastrointestinal problems. Dr. Roger Pertwee, a Scottish researcher who focuses on the pharmacology of cannabinoids at the University of Aberdeen, conducted a survey of medical cannabis users. Here are his findings:
60% of participants experienced a decrease in defecation urgency
44% experienced a reduction in incontinence
30% experienced less constipation
- Mood Disorders: The majority of MS patients experience depression, anxiety and mood disorders. Emerging research suggests that brain inflammation is the culprit for mood changes in MS patients. It was previously thought that their diagnosis and prognosis caused their depression and anxiety. As already mentioned, cannabinoids’ powerful anti-inflammatory properties accounts for the reduction of depression and anxiety symptoms in MS patients. Included in Dr. Pertwee’s survey was a section on mood. More than 90% of participants reported that medical cannabis improved their mood.
- Improved Brain Function: Medical cannabis has been proven to protect neurons and stimulate neurogenesis, the generation of new brain cells. The latest cannabis research shows that cannabinoids not only protect the brain from nerve damage but can sometimes reverse the damage already done. Here is the link to a previous article I wrote about Neurogenesis.
I have a very personal connection to MS. My father had the disease. It took 5 years for his doctors to diagnose him at age 56, in 1978. He did not fit the typical demographic; women age 20-40. It only affected the lower part of his body. He had the progressive type where he slowly got worse. He lived with it until his death in 2006, age 84. For many years, my parents kept my father’s disease a secret but he became so disabled that it was obvious he was ill, so they disclosed it.
healthline.com, 16 Early Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis, Editorial Team, July 25, 2018
Webmd.com, Early Signs & Common Symptoms of MS
Leafly.com, Cannabis and MS Treatment, Jeremy KossenMedium.com,
Medium.com, 5 Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms That Cannabis Treats Effectively, Lieze Boshoff