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What is MS? Multiple Sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Multiple Sclerosis involves an immune-mediated process in which an abnormal response of the body’s immune system is directed against the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. The exact antigen (or target) that the immune cells are sensitized to attack, remains unknown, which is why MS is considered by many experts to be “immune-mediated” as opposed to “autoimmune.” What exactly happens inside the body of a person with MS? Within the CNS, the immune system attacks the myelin, which is the fatty substance that surrounds and insulates our nerve fibers; nerve fibers themselves are also attacked. In MS, immune system T cells pass from the bloodstream into the CNS to attack the myelin coating around the nerve fibers. The damaged myelin forms scar tissue called sclerosis; this is where the disease gets its name. When any part of the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is damaged or destroyed, the nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted, resulting in a wide variety of symptoms. The disease is thought to be triggered in a genetically susceptible individual by a combination of one or more environmental factors. Those with MS typically experience one of four disease courses, which can be mild, moderate, or severe.
What symptoms are related to MS? MS symptoms are unpredictable and differ among each individual. No two people have exactly the same symptoms and a person’s symptoms can change and fluctuate over time. Someone may experience only one or two symptoms while another person can experience many more. Listed below are the most common symptoms of MS.
· Numbness or tingling in face, body, or extremities (arms and legs)
· Weakness, especially in the muscles
· Dizziness and Vertigo
· Sexual problems
· Pain, sometimes chronic pain
· Emotional changes
· Walking (gait) difficulty
· Vision problems
· Bladder problems
· Bowel problems
· Cognitive changes
Less common symptoms include speech and swallowing problems, tremors, seizures, breathing problems, itching, headaches, and hearing loss. These symptoms (both more and less common) arise directly due to damage of the myelin sheath and nerve fibers in the CNS and are called primary symptoms. Secondary symptoms are the complications that can arise as a result to these primary symptoms. For example, bladder dysfunction can cause repeated urinary tract infections. While secondary symptoms can be treated, the optimal goal is to treat those primary symptoms before they lead to secondary symptoms. These symptoms include social, vocational and psychological complications. For example, if you are no longer able to drive or walk, you may not be able to hold down your usual job. The stress and strain of dealing with MS often alters social networks and sometimes fractures relationships. Problems with bladder control, tremor or swallowing may cause people to withdraw from social interactions and become isolated.
How does a doctor diagnose a person as having MS? At this time there are no symptoms, physical findings or laboratory tests that can, by themselves, determine if a person has MS. An individual must undergo several tests to determine if a person meets the long-established criteria for a diagnosis of MS, and to rule out other possible causes of whatever symptoms the person is experiencing. These strategies include a careful medical history, a neurologic exam and various tests including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), evoked potentials (EP) and spinal fluid analysis.
Today multiple sclerosis (MS) is not a curable disease. Effective strategies can help modify or slow the disease course, treat relapses (also called attacks or exacerbations), manage symptoms, improve function and safety, and address emotional health.
So what about cannabis as a form of medication for treating some of these painful symptoms? The fact that marijuana is still considered an illegal drug under Federal law in a lot of states does make it more difficult for MS patients to obtain the harmless plant specifically for medical use. “I feel as though I need to hide in my closet when I need to use the only thing that relieves the pain I am experiencing, not only from my MS but from the fibrosis I have as well” claims a Florida resident who is furious that the medical cannabis bill did not pass this year in her state of residency.
In 2013 Dr. Zajicek reported on the MUSEC study, which evaluated oral cannabis extract for treating muscle stiffness in 400 people with all types of MS. In this study muscle stiffness improved by almost twofold in the group taking cannabis extract compared to placebo, and improvements were also noted in body pain, spasms and sleep quality. The most frequent adverse events were urinary tract infections, dizziness, dry mouth and headache. However, research suggests that smoking cannabis is not the best route to take as it does seem to interfere with cognitive function (memory and thinking).
“Inflammation is part of the body’s natural immune response, but in cases like MS, it gets out of hand,” says Dr. Ewa Kozela of Tel Aviv University, Israel. There are two components of the marijuana plant that are suggested to have anti-inflammatory properties to assist in the regulation of inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. These two cannabinoids are known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). “The presence of CBD or THC restrains the immune cells from triggering the production of inflammatory molecules, and limits the molecules’ ability to reach and damage the brain and spinal cord.” A 2011 study showed that CBD helps treat MS-like symptoms in mice by preventing immune cells attacking nerve cells in the spinal cord. Researchers injected mice that had an MS-like condition and partially paralyzed limbs, with CBD. The animals regained movement, “first twitching their tails and then beginning to walk without a limp.” The researchers noted that the mice treated with CBD had much less inflammation in the spinal cord than their untreated counterparts, this lead to further testing on humans. “When used wisely, cannabis has huge potential,” Dr. Kozela says.
Fact: CBD reduces inflammation in the brain and spinal cord without the psychoactive influence that THC gives.
Unlike THC, CBD does not cause a high. While this makes CBD a poor choice for recreational users, it gives the chemical a significant advantage as a medicine, since health professionals prefer treatments with minimal side effects. CBD seems to offer natural protection against the marijuana high. When CBD is present in large quantities, CBD seems to enhance the positive effects of THC while negating many of the negative effects. It is evident both cannabinoids coexist in the plant for a reason, often acting synergistically. In addition, it is important to note that both CBD and THC have been found to show no risk of lethal overdose. However, to reduce potential side effects, medicinal users may be better off using cannabis with higher levels of CBD.
Not only has CBD been proven effective in managing MS symptoms, studies have found CBD to be effective in reversing brain damage due to alcohol abuse. Stoners have known forever that a few tokes can provide incredible hangover relief, but a study at the University of Kentucky takes the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids to a whole new level. CBD has also been shown to be a very effective treatment for severe social anxiety as well as having the ability to “turn off” a cancer related gene that causes cancer cells to metastasize (spread). CBD is also a potent antipsychotic medication. CBD is considered legal and any American citizen is able to have CBD infused products shipped safely to their home. CBD can come in many forms, whether it is pills, oil, edibles or lotions… I want you to know, it is available to you.
We have come a very long way educating ourselves about the marijuana plant and its effects on the human body. I hope you found this information as useful as I did. From the Grimey Gatsby’s family to yours, we wish you and your loved ones the best of health and wellness.
Written by: Jessica Frost