I'll admit, I found it a little weird to see this all over the news of the multiple sclerosis world. I kind of thought we already pretty much knew that marijuana helped with certain MS symptoms.
I guess the big news here is that this was a well-run, rigorous (albeit small) study. In this study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers used a crossover design - 30 people smoked either a marijuana cigarette (joint) or a placebo (that looked, tasted and smelled just like the real deal, but lacked active ingredients) once a day for 3 days in a row. Then they switched to the other (marijuana or placebo) for 3 days. It should be noted that these 30 participants were people who had MS-related spasticity and had failed to respond to other treatments.
Here is what researchers found:
- Participants saw a 30 percent improvement in measures of spasticity after smoking the marijuana, but not after the placebo.
- Smoking marijuana significantly reduced pain scores (by 5.28 points on a visual analog scale) over placebo.
- Smoking the marijuana caused fatigue and dizziness and slowed down cognitive function soon after smoking.
In reading some of the articles written about the study, I noticed that people seemed very concerned about the side effects of marijuana. I understand that. People with MS have plenty of fatigue and cognitive stuff going on and no one seems to know if the effects of marijuana are long-term. It would be great to see a formulation that contained THC, but had none of the side effects, especially if this would make it easier and more palatable for docs to prescribe.
However, plenty of the drugs that we take for symptoms have crappy side effects, as do some of the disease-modifying therapies. If people with MS don't mind some (more) fatigue and cognitive dysfunction to relieve spasticity, which can be debilitating and painful, they should have a choice to use marijuana. If feeling a little high helps relieve some of their other symptoms, not to mention make the whole MS journey a little easier for a short time, that is a benefit, as well.
I do understand that the establishment has not formally documented the long-term effects of smoking pot on cognition. Studies have looked at "chronic cannabis users" and found that there may be some effect on brain function. While this is clearly an undesirable side effect, people who are suffering from spasticity should be able to make a choice whether they want to take this risk or not. After all, one need only check out the side effect profile for some of the commonly-prescribed anti-spasticity meds to see that these can be "dirty"drugs as well, in terms of side effects. (As a reminder, the participants in this trial had spasticity which failed to respond to these drugs.)