Multiple Sclerosis and Medical Marijuana

Multiple Sclerosis, commonly referred to as MS, is a neurological problem that is not only difficult to diagnose but also to treat because it’s a very ‘individual’ disease. Diagnosis is very often a prolonged procedure and may take years. Factors that neurologists look for would be lesions found through an MRI that would be on the patient’s spinal cord or brain. The location of the lesion, and more often lesions, determines how an individual is affected. Also there are tell tale signs in spinal fluid. But symptoms of individuals are as varied as the individual themselves. But there are usually SOME common denominators:

  • Tingling sensation
  • Pain that ranges from moderate to severe
  • Tremors-which usually happen as the disease progresses
  • Spasticity
  • Loss of strength
  • Loss of energy
  • Limb impairment that may deteriorate to use of canes, walker, or wheel chair

The type of drugs that neurologists may prescribe run a gamut from monthly injections, to daily injections, cortisone shots for pain and even chemo therapy. All of these have toxic side effects. There have been many instances of those with MS who left their employment prematurely due to the discomfort that they experienced from side effects of the drugs. On the other hand, a number of people with MS would not be able to stave off the progression of the disease without the medication. As a consequence, the drugs may allow them to continue working longer than without the medical intervention. A catch 22. But for those who suffer with side affects, either from the disease, or from medication, have their lives turned upside down. Pain may be the determining factor as to whether they are able to do grocery shopping, go out with their spouse, have friends in for dinner, or, even as basic, as dress themselves that day.

Pain management is something that has been a hit or miss, trial and error experience for physicians.

“Let’s first try this medication and see how you respond.” This is a typical attempt at pain management by a neurologist trying to treat any neurological problem. And what happens to the patient is that more often than not they are overly medicated, and remain in a stupor state, with their brain functioning at drastically reduced ability. Studies done by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences has concluded that one can control pain by the use of marijuana and can minimize the effect of the marijuana with a limited intake. It is a drug that works within a few minutes—literally within two according to several interviewees—so the patient can then stop smoking it once the pain, or tremors, have abated. This is not as easily controlled in other forms of marijuana-such as pill or suppository.

“Within two minutes of smoking a joint I’ve had a dramatic decrease in muscular pain and spasticity. It’s amazing! And I feel relaxed which is such a difficult thing to achieve when your whole body is in pain.” Claims Jim L. of Wisconsin.

He goes on to say, “Pain and tremors stopped me from doing many of the activities that I enjoyed doing. Other medications that my neurologist had given me kept me in such a fog that I found it difficult to get going in the morning and functioning during the daytime.

Other medications presently being prescribed for pain management are known to be addictive.

The National MS Society was initially non-supportive but has admitted that up to 15% of people with MS are using marijuana for medicinal purposes. The society has recently opted to fund further studies, which will not be concluded until 2008. This is a study that has been taking place at University of California The Davis School of Medicine, but recently lost its funding. The study is specific to spasticity. Reactions from several MS users on the National MS web page were the same, “They are finally listening to us!”

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