Medical cannabis has proven useful in treating a wide range of medical conditions, especially those that come paired with chronic pain and muscle spasticity, such as multiple sclerosis (MS).
Currently, around 400,000 Americans live with this physically detrimental autoimmune disease, which is caused by immune cells attacking a fatty substance called myelin that coats the axons of nerves and aids in the body’s electrical signaling. MS commonly causes symptoms that can include balance disorders, cognitive dysfunction, fatigue, pain, and muscle spasticity.
While most traditional therapies fail to relieve these symptoms, cannabis has become a go-to medical alternative for those dealing with MS. According to the Rocky Mountain MS Center, one in 550 people living in Colorado suffers from multiple sclerosis, the highest proportion of MS patients in the US.
Although cannabis has proven itself to be a viable treatment for MS, all of the supporting evidence is strictly anecdotal. In order to learn more about medical marijuana’s impact on the autoimmune disease, the Integrative Neurophysiology Laboratory at Colorado State University has been studying MS patients who are already using cannabis as a treatment.
The ultimate goal of this research is to determine whether or not cannabis can safely and effectively treat the symptoms of MS. Unfortunately, due to federal regulations, the lab is only legally permitted to conduct observational studies, meaning that only patients who are already using cannabis can be studied.
The Integrative Neurophysiology Laboratory recently completed a survey of 139 MS patients, categorizing what types of cannabis-based products they used, as well as how often and how long they used those products. The results showed that 66 percent currently use some form of cannabis as treatment, and 56 percent admitted to smoking or consuming edibles. Of those cannabis users, 78 percent claimed that it’s helped them reduce or completely stop the intake of additional medication.
The lab is also in the midst of a longer-term observational study on the effects that cannabis use has on the physical function and activity levels of people with MS. This study, expected to end in mid 2017, will reportedly be the first that uses objective measures of motor function for MS patients using cannabis, including muscle strength and fatigue tasks, as well as walking performance and postural stability tests.
Thus far, preliminary results of the observational study show that MS patients using cannabis have greater physical activity levels, increased leg strength and walking speed, less spasticity, less fatigue, and a lower risk of falling. While the initial findings of this study are promising, the lab is hoping to further their research by obtaining a special license to conduct a clinical study.
Once granted, the researchers hope to better understand what cannabis products and strains MS patients should be using, as well as what dosage and form of consumption is optimal for treatment. They also plan to unearth the safety of long-term cannabis use by people with MS, and find out whether or not the effectiveness of cannabis changes due to increased tolerance over time.