Multiple Sclerosis & Medical Marijuana: Research & Health Benefits
Multiple Sclerosis is a neurodegenerative autoimmune disease that affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. This means the immune system begins to confuse neurons with harmful invaders. So, the body’s immune cells begin to attack the neurons. The internal, self-inflicted damage creates a buildup of scar tissue in the brain. When the neurons can no longer fire correctly because of the scar tissue and send basic signals to the rest of the body, and inflammation in the brain occurs.
It’s the inflammation that affects MS patients so severely. When the immune cells begin to react to the neurons and go into attack-mode, they release inflammatory proteins that are known as cytokines. The cytokines cause aggressive and uncontrollable inflammation in the brain. The result is the loss of neurons and increasingly debilitating symptoms.
Multiple Sclerosis affects millions of people worldwide, but unfortunately there is no cure yet. Treating MS typically involves the administering of powerful drugs that attempt slow down the progression of the disease, help manage symptoms, and speed up recovery from attacks. There are some qualifying conditions that justify the use of medicinal marijuana (or cannabis), and one that has received a lot of attention for its effectiveness is Multiple Sclerosis.
This is where medicinal cannabis, or medical marijuana, helps improve brain function and ease some of the debilitating symptoms of MS.
MS has been approved as a qualifying condition that can respond to a number of treatments with medicinal cannabis in many countries, including some states in the U.S. such as Illinois.
Medicinal marijuana treatments can range from prescribed dosages to some forms of cannabis oil. There are components in cannabis that minimize inflammation called cannabinoids, which are quite potent. Psychoactive THC and non-psychoactive CBD have the ability to shut off the immune system to keep any attack of the central nervous system from occurring. After the immune system calms, there should not be any more attacks of the central nervous system.
Thanks to cannabinoids and the work they do inside the brain, neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells) occurs to help prevent further autoimmune diseases from taking over. It’s astounding at how much protective capabilities can be found in this herb. You might be surprised to know that cannabis also contains compounds that are antioxidants, to help protect cells, bodily tissues, and your DNA from deterioration.
Pain Relief Power
When nerve tissues swell, they can get irritated. And because of the constant irritation, the tissues can deteriorate. This breakdown causes pain, combined with the nerve cells that send pain signals through the body as they are eliminated.
One of the chief benefits of cannabis is its ability to ease chronic pain. As a powerful analgesic, THC and CBD cannabinoids intercept pain receptors in your body. And because of medicinal marijuana’s inflammation-fighting power, the pain that goes along with the inflammation is considerably diminished.
In a clinical test at the University of California, San Diego, researchers tested the pain-relief effects that patients would experience as they smoked a prescribed amount of marijuana. They found that patients that smoked medium to high levels of medicinal cannabis after a period of 45 minutes experienced a significant decrease in their pain.
Digestive Improvements for MS Patients
Along with issues like constipation, bowel function, and food digestion, problems that affect gastrointestinal functions are a familiar condition with Multiple Sclerosis patients. With the help of medicinal cannabis, patients can experience some relief, which can include curbing nausea and vomiting, relaxing muscles, relieving diarrhea, and reducing inflammation.
Bowel inflammation is a common complication with MS. Cannabinoids in the marijuana herb help reduce excessive inflammation in the bowels and gastrointestinal tract. On the flip side, the THC cannabinoid in marijuana also helps stimulate the appetite through the release of hunger hormones, and increase metabolism. THC and CBD are the compounds that help keep your body regulated and functioning more smoothly.
Mobility Enhancement for Patients with MS
About 20% of MS patients have problems related to muscle stiffness and spasms that are out of control. As part of a research experiment, mice were infected with an MS-mimicking condition, causing their legs to lock up and stiffen. When they were injected with CBD, their legs regained movement, and there was less inflammation and damage to nerve cells. Cannabis has inert neurologically favorable attributes that help to take the edge off the symptoms of MS.
In a study by the University of Plymouth in 2012, research discovered that medicinal cannabis was doubly effective in treating symptoms related to muscle stiffness and spasms when compared to harmless pills. Though THC and CBD cannabinoids are very helpful in minimizing MS symptoms, there are limits as to how much they can do.
Also, in a study from Tel Aviv University in 2013, it was found that inflammation can be prevented with the help of the THC and CBD cannabinoids, leading to the conclusion that medicinal cannabis may have a greater effect on reducing symptoms associated with Multiple Sclerosis.
Mood, Depression, and MS
Historically, marijuana has acted as a stimulant to improving one’s mood. Patients with MS often suffer from stress-related depression, a chronic condition in adults with MS.
A study was performed on rats at the University of Buffalo, and the results showed that the rats produced less endocannabinoids due to chronic stress. As our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids, which are compounds like THC and CBD but in cases of MS, there may be less of it produced. The rats with low levels of natural cannabinoids were injected with the THC and CBD compounds, and the surge from the marijuana cannabinoids in their brains reduced their symptoms of depression.
Medicinal cannabis can help ease some cases of depression by saturating your brain with blues-busting endocannabioids to remove symptoms.
Sleep Benefits of Cannabis for MS Patients
For MS patients, getting a good and restful night’s sleep can be a nightly challenge because of the effects on the body that MS produces—like feeling out of control. With medicinal cannabis, patients have an effective solution to help them achieve a good night’s rest.
Certain indica strains of cannabis are often recommended to take as a nighttime bud, and have been prescribed by doctors to alleviate pain, anxiety, insomnia and stress. Patients who have pain can benefit from medicinal cannabis to help them sleep better, and even sleep deeper. When you’re in deep sleep, you give your body the time it needs to repair bones and muscles, as well as the immune system.
Cannabis Helps Vision for MS Patients
Inflammation of the optic nerve affects the ability to see clearly for MS patients. As a result, it’s not uncommon for MS to make your vision blurry. Temporary blindness and uncontrollable eye spasms can also occur. With the swelling of the optic nerve, you might not see well or clearly enough until the swelling goes down.
Cannabis can help diminish the compromised vision you might experience due to MS by reducing the inflammation of the optic nerve. Curbing the degeneration of the eye due to disease is one reason why cannabis has been shown to be an effective treatment for a number of eye problems.
Diseases in addition to MS that benefit from cannabis use include glaucoma and retinal degeneration, which may be neurologic diseases in origin. Marijuana has attributes that are neuro-protective, and can limit the degree of damage these diseases can cause.
The Cannabis Connection
While the research for the effects and treatment of qualifying conditions with medicinal cannabis is a burgeoning and on-going process, what we do know now is that it can play an active role in mediating some of the debilitating aspects and symptoms of MS. Prescriptive medications containing the herb are becoming more acceptable as a legitimate course of treatment of qualifying conditions beyond MS among some doctors and researchers.
Medicinal cannabis in its various forms can have a profound impact on a patient’s quality of life, and advancing research is working to better identify the pros and cons, benefits and risks of using marijuana and its forms as treatments for medical conditions. There is much more to come.
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