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Julie  Stachowiak, Ph.D.

Confirmed. Medical Marijuana Helps MS Spasticity.

By May 15, 2012

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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.)

May 16, 2012 at 9:16 am
(1) tonydfixer says:

The side effects should be the least of MS inflicted peoples worry. Cannabis is the lessor of the evils when compared to pharmaceuticals. Cannabis can not kill you !

May 16, 2012 at 9:22 am
(2) Jeff says:

When ever I eat some of the magic weed I can usually walk better and feel better in general, bladder symptoms improve and energy levels increase it even tames my constant vertigo far better than the prescribed Valium. So the increased dizziness and fatigue described above improve for me anyway, everybody is different. diagnosed 1998

May 16, 2012 at 10:13 am
(3) Kerri says:

There are other ways to use cannabis besides smoking it… I find that using a vaporizer or using sublingual glycerin tinctures have a lot less of the euphoria than smoking and still give significant relief. I’d strongly suggest other MM patients to keep trying until they find the method that works best for them.

May 16, 2012 at 10:32 am
(4) Roy says:

I have Parkinson’s, not MS — but I have encountered similar and at times dramatic mitigation of many symptoms such as are described above, and the side effects as well

May 16, 2012 at 11:01 am
(5) Leslie says:

As all teenagers – I had smoked a bit – but you know – I never got that ‘high’ feeling that everyone else was getting (or seemed to get). I have wondered if my MS is a factor as to why I never felt that way. Maybe it was helping me in ways I was not aware of. I would be willing to try it again (legally of course) and see if helps some of these MS issues I have endured over the years.

May 16, 2012 at 11:56 am
(6) charles marousek says:

while being fully aware of the innuendo and anecdotal accounts of marijuana
usage in regard to MUltiple sclerosis symptom management my own experience has noted a duality. 1). on occasion its usage has seemingly been beneficial and 2). on still other occasions its effect has seemed detrimental (short lived); determining when it will have which effect has been difficult if not impossible

afflicted with MS (secondary progressive) 3 years and counting

May 16, 2012 at 12:31 pm
(7) Malcolm Kyle says:

Here is a new Study proving that Marijuana is not linked with Long Term Cognitive Impairment:

* Nearly 2,000 young Australian adults (aged 20-24) were followed for eight years. It was found that marijuana had little long-term effect on learning and memory, and any cognitive damage that did occur as a result of cannabis use was reversible.
* Researchers categorized them as light, heavy, former or non-users of cannabis based on their answers to questions about marijuana habits.

* Prior studies have found that drug users do accurately report their consumption levels in surveys like this as long as anonymity is guaranteed and there are no negative consequences for telling the truth.

* Participants took tests of memory and intelligence three times over the eight year period the study. They were also asked about how their marijuana use had changed. When the results were at last tabulated, researchers found that there were large initial differences between the groups, with the current marijuana smokers performing worse on tests that required them to recall lists of words after various periods of time or remember numbers in the reverse order from the one in which they were presented.

* However, when the investigators controlled for factors like education and gender, almost all of these differences disappeared. The lower education levels of the pot smokers and their greater likelihood of being male had made it look like marijuana had significantly affected their intelligence. In fact, men simply tend to do worse than women on tests of verbal intelligence, while women generally underperform on math tests. The relative weighting of the tests made the impact of pot look worse than it was.

To be continued:

May 16, 2012 at 12:32 pm
(8) Malcolm Kyle says:


* However, when the investigators controlled for factors like education and gender, almost all of these differences disappeared. The lower education levels of the pot smokers and their greater likelihood of being male had made it look like marijuana had significantly affected their intelligence. In fact, men simply tend to do worse than women on tests of verbal intelligence, while women generally underperform on math tests. The relative weighting of the tests made the impact of pot look worse than it was.

* Researchers then explored whether quitting cannabis would affect the one difference that remained, which was poorer performance by heavy users on a test that required immediate recall of a list of nouns. They found that heavy users who had quit by the end of the study were no longer distinguishable on this measure from those who had never used.
The authors, who were led by Robert Tait at the Centre for Mental Health Research at Australian National University, conclude:
“Cessation of cannabis use appears to be associated with an improvement in capacity for recall of information that has just been learned. No other measures of cognitive performance were related to cannabis after controlling for confounds.”

The research was published in the journal Addiction.

May 16, 2012 at 1:31 pm
(9) Vicky says:

I have had MS for 21 Years. I find pot to work alot better than medication plus less side effects. But most months I can not aford it my medical insurance do”s not cover medical marijuana so I only use it when i can afford it being Disable I can not work we all need to get some law passed regarding Medical Marijuana and Health Insurance. I have all ready been to the cannabis stores but I can afford it.

May 16, 2012 at 5:12 pm
(10) DonnaM says:

I have a Medical Marijuana card, and my provider’s Mom is my “go to” person for MS questions….

Marijuana is an Herb and should be eaten, not smoked…having said that, I do smoke it, eat it, drink it and wear it. THC, the active ingredient is Alcohol and Oil Soluble…I make butter and bake with it, and eat something before bed each nite..which allows me to sleep very well, AND it stops the nocturnal bladder spasms that are constant otherwise. The most I’ve been up at night to pee is 18. If I eat something, it’s typically only twice….sometimes zero..and that is called an ALL NIGHTER!!!

As far as pain/muscle spasms go, I soak MM bud in the higher grade (red labeled) rubbing alchohol and spray that on wherever I’m sore, or if I’m having a muscle spasm….it may take more than one application, but it works for me.

Anxiety is lessened, Nausea is lessened, Headaches are better and not as painful…(spray the rubbing alcohol mix on the back of your neck).

You can soak some MM buds in a bottle of alcohol…you will taste it, so use something like Gin….

When I bake with the butter..it typically requires some type of spice or essential oil, whatever to cover the taste….and it’s amazing….

A GOD GIVEN MEDICINE…now if the Feds could ONLY accept this and legalize it……

May 16, 2012 at 6:49 pm
(11) Amy says:

Wow, DonnaM….thanks for the wealth of information. I had no idea it could be used transdermally like that.

I am one of those that smoked pot as a teenager…and I won’t lie, it was GREAT. Which makes me know now that I am POSITIVE it would work WONDERS for the majority of my MS symptoms. I am very jealous of my MS friends who live in more progressive states (Alabama still won’t even allow a Lotto….).

But one concern I have is, I would like to see it in other forms, perhaps more like what DonnaM was saying….other than smoking. I also have Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency which in many cases leads to very early onset emphysema….so smoking is NOT an option for me, even if Alabama came around! :P

One last point that addresses what Julie said about choice: alcohol. I used to drink (more than I should have…), and when I DID, I also had a lot of spasticity relief (and from other symptoms). Of course it made me drunk. :-/ But THAT is legal in every state in the nation if you are 21…so why is alcohol any more of a threat to the general public than marijuana? Would be some welcome tax money, I would think. My husband believes the problem would come more from drug cartels that don’t appreciate their business being taken away by pharmaceutical-grade marijuana farms. ? Who knows. But the arguments AGAINST MM use seem to be weaker and weaker as time goes by and more and more people gain significant relief from it….

May 16, 2012 at 8:08 pm
(12) Angie says:

My neurologist recommended that I try marijuana for fatigue, but cautioned me that there are two types of cannabis out there: sativa and indica (probably more, I don’t know). The sativa does give me energy, but when I need relief from spasticity and pain, the indica works best. There are all kinds of ways to ingest marijuana without smoking it, and if you are considering using it for relief of MS symptoms, I’d suggest looking into vaporizers or foods. Works for me!

May 16, 2012 at 10:01 pm
(13) Cindy says:

I, too participated in this extra curricular activity as a teen, purely for the fun of it. While I had some degree of “high” , ( I would say it was equal to about two margaritas) it was mostly a feeling of total relaxation and calm for me. I did not suffer from MS at that time, so could there be a possibility that people with MS do not get “as high” as people without MS? I know if I could legally get my hands on it now, you bet, I would find a way to use it (probably not smoke it…I never enjoyed that part of it.) As much as those of us with MS suffer with this disease and the medical community cannot offer pharmaceuticals that WORK without dangerous side effects, why does the government begrudge a MS sufferer this small measure of relief? Lets face it, everyone with MS is different; different therapies work for different people. MM may work for some MS sufferers and others may not get relief.

My personal opinion is that marijuana should be legalized, grown and harvested like any other agricultural crop and sold at the market. Of course, you would have to be of legal age, just like alcohol to purchase it. Driving under the influence of any substance legal or not is still against the law. Doing this would clear out some of the over crowding of the prisons and stop some of the drug problems overflowing from Mexico.

May 17, 2012 at 1:22 am
(14) Dee2 says:

I was diagnosed in 2009 at 38 years old. I had been experiencing some signs for nearly 20 years. The most prominent lareets(?) but never pain. I am what my neurologist refers to as a functional pothead. I have used marijuana on a pretty regular basis (less pregnancies) for 20 years. Once I was diagnosed and was told to stop my use as the dr. didnt want it mess up my head mixing it with my symptom relief drugs especially nuvigil (for gstigue) and therapy drugs (rebif) which I agreed to. I for one believe that my chronic usage probably masked most of my symptoms and pain all of these years. Once I stopped using I began having pain and other symptoms. After 6+ months I tried marijuana again and had immediate relief. I have had only 1 relapse since 2009 and so far no new lesions. As far as my cognitive abilities I can’t say as marijuana user is normal for me. I have a bachelors degree and work in higher education. I may have some cognitive difficulties at times but nothing that impairs my abilities to work. While my doctor still disagrees with providing me a perscription (marisol synthetic pills are the only legal option where I live) mostly because he says I am young and healthy, not because he discounts it’s benefits. Instead he prescribes Lyrica for pain which I dislike. I’d would rather injest something natural like marijuana then the prescribed meds with horrible side effects. Worst marijuana side effect I have had is eating too many chips!

May 17, 2012 at 5:16 am
(15) Shirley Salas says:

It’s about time! Read Montel Williams’ books. He thoroughly discusses pros & cons of marijuana use. In the 60′s I tried to smoke a couple of times, but I’m not a smoker and didn’t know how to inhale! I now live in Oregon and plan to get my medical marijuana card. Several days a month I ache all over and can barely walk. Other days I only have a little fatigue. I am tired of all the prescription meds I am taking and their combined side effects … much worse than any possible MJ side effects! For many years I taught beginning levels of “English as a second language”. Many adult students told me about various historic uses of marijuana. Most of their grandparents and parents would soak marijuana leaves in oil and apply it as a topical ointment for arthritis. I have also read about many studies in which the smoking helps the nausea from chemotherapy. Why is the public so afraid of legalizing marijuana? I would bet more people are killed or seriously injured by texting while driving than by smoking a joint! And to those people who say approx. 5 out of 7 addicts start with marijuana, I say that 7 out of 7 addicts started life drinking milk! Don’t use statistics to claim a cause and effect relationship! Just the opinions of a soon-to-be user!

May 19, 2012 at 6:20 pm
(16) Pam says:

Marijuana gets rid of my spasticity that enables me to exercise. I can have pain, stiffness, and weakness which will leave soon if marijuana is used. It helps me tremendously.

Marijuana is an herb like oregano, basil, catnip, etc. so what’s the big deal? Government could legalize with a tax that could help with their deficit. Any way its looked at it should be legalized

May 20, 2012 at 1:48 am
(17) Roxanne says:

I have MS and have a prescription for medical marijuana here in California. I get a tincture that has no THC (the psychoactive property in marijuana) but instead is full of CBD, a lesser known compound in marijuana that has been shown to have the medicinal benefits. See: http://www.harborsidehealthcenter.com/highcbdstrains.html

I have a job which requires me to be 100% with it so I would never “get high” at or before work. That said, I can have my tincture at work and only feel the medicinal effects, not the psychoactive ones. I highly recommend it for pain, nausea and menstrual cramps.

January 5, 2013 at 5:23 pm
(18) Chloe says:

Everyyyday we are becoming closer and closer too being legal! EEveryone needs too at least trry it before the knock it,,,if only one time! how can the feds try and take something away that truly helps with pain. nnausea fatigue …any of it! what is wrong with the people we call leaders now adays!

February 22, 2013 at 10:00 am
(19) Waukesha Wisconsin says:


August 2, 2013 at 2:41 am
(20) Ash says:

I’m 34 and I have been diagnosed with MS since 2007. Marijuana is the only thing that works at all and I don’t get high like everyone else, I become a normal functioning human being. Its really hard to get and I wish they would legalise it. I ran out a week or so ago and I was in so much pain from spasticity that when I finally got found some more I was in tears because the relief from my muscle cramps was so dramatic. Within a few hours I felt like my muscles had untwisted. I also have speech problems and marijuana makes this perfect too. I read once that marijuana fills in the gaps in your brain and it feels like that to me.

February 27, 2014 at 3:11 pm
(21) Martin says:

Every day all day I take natures medicine. I’ve been diagnosed about 8 years now. Recently in the last two years the spasticity has kicked in my legs. It comes and it goes. When it’s cold outside i stiffen up now. Can’t really play ball anymore. Thankful I live in a time when they are pushing for legalization. Hold tight everyone before you know it legislation will be passed for God’s plant.

1. God clearly gives it to us in the good book.
Genesis 1:29-Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.

Last time i recall herb had seeds.

2. Hemp oil is a great cure. You should be pissed watching this video.

Yet you can purchase a pack of cigarettes with no problem. That should really make you think.

April 22, 2014 at 1:00 pm
(22) Kippi Paquin says:

You should check n see whom holds the ONLY PATENT for medicinal marijuana in the US THE US GOVERNMENT.

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