MS, or multiple sclerosis, is a chronic degenerative disease of the central nervous system, with symptoms that include muscular weakness, a loss of motor control, and inflammation. Over time, patients with MS generally become permanently disabled, and in some cases, death can result. Data from the U.S. National Multiple Sclerosis Society says that roughly 200 people/week are diagnosed with the disease, with most new patients between the ages of twenty and forty.
Both clinical and anecdotal reports point to the ability of cannabinoid drugs to reduce MS-related symptoms including depression, fatigue, incontinence, pain, and spasticity. Among the most recent research is a study from the University of California at San Diego which showed that when inhaled, cannabis can significantly reduce pain and spasticity in MS patients. Other information shows that nearly one in two MS patients uses marijuana for therapeutic reasons.
Other studies have even greater news for MS patients: a report in the July, 2003 issue of the journal Brain says that cannabinoids may actually inhibit the progression of MS, rather than merely providing a means of managing symptom. Specifically, synthetic cannabinoids provided "significant neuroprotection" when tested on lab animals. The study said:
"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."
In the same year, researches at Vrije University Medical Center, in the Netherlands, reported that the use of oral THC can improve immune function in patients who have multiple sclerosis, while a 2006 study of 167 patients showed that they could get symptom relief for up to 434 days without having to increase their dosage of marijuana, when using whole-plant extracts. In fact, the longer they used the drug, the lower their pain scores became.
Health officials in Canada, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom have already approved the prescription use of "plant cannabis extracts" to treat MS symptoms. The European Union and the United States of America have yet to approve the drug, but in the 15 U.S. states where medical marijuana use is allowed, and in Washington, D.C., MS is on the list of qualifying conditions.