Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic degenerative disease of the central nervous system that causes inflammation, muscular weakness and a lack of motor coordination. Over time, MS patients typically become permanently disabled, and in some cases the disease can be fatal. According to the US National Multiple Sclerosis Society, about 200 people are diagnosed with this disease every week- often striking those 20 to 40 years of age. Clinical and anecdotal reports of cannabinoids’ ability to reduce MS-related symptoms such as pain, spasticity, depression fatigue, and incontinence are plentiful in the scientific literature-leading many MS-associated patient organizations, including the Multiple Sclerosis Societies of Britain and Canada, to take positions in favor of the drug’s prescription use.
Recent clinical and preclinical studies also suggest that cannabinoids may inhibit MS progression. Writing in the July 2003 issue of the journal Brian, Investigators at the University College of London’s Institute of Neurology reported that administration of the synthetic cannabinoid agonist WIN55, 212-2 provided “significant neuroprotection” in an animal model of multiple sclerosis. The results of this study are important because they suggest that in addition to symptom management, …cannabis may also slow the neurodegenerative processes that ultimately lead to chronic disability in multiple sclerosis and probably other disease,” researchers concluded. Investigators at Netherlands’s Vrije University Medical Center, Department of Neurology, also reported for the first time in 2003 that the administration of oral THC can boost immune function in patients with MS. “These results suggest pro-inflammatory disease-modifying potential of cannabinoids[for] MS,’ they concluded. Most recently, clinical data from an extended open-label study of 167 multiple sclerosis patients reported that the use of whole plant cannabinoid extracts could relieve symptoms of pain, spasticity, and bladder incontinence for an extended period of treatment (mean duration of study participants was 434 days) without requiring subjects to increase their dose.
These results would be unlikely in patients suffering from progressive disease like MS unless the cannabinoid therapy was halting its progression, investigators have suggested. As a result, the British government is now sponsoring a three-year clinical trial to assess the long-term effects of cannabinoids on both MS-associated symptom management as well as disease progression. Health Canada also recently approved the prescription us of cannabis abstracts for the treatment of MS- associated neuropathic pain.Similar approval of cannabis extracts is pending in Britain and Europe.