How Does CBD Work to Treat MS?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is unpredictable and affects everyone differently. While there is no cure, medications can slow progression and help with symptoms. Cannabidiol (CBD) may offer some relief for MS symptoms. CBD is a cannabinoid derived from the Cannabis sativa plant.

The cannabis plant contains over 100 different cannabinoids. The two main cannabinoids in the plant are THC (the psychoactive compound found in marijuana) and CBD, the nonpsychoactive component. CBD has been shown to have beneficial properties such as lowering inflammation and relieving pain.

In this article, you will learn how CBD affects the body, the MS symptoms CBD can help with, its side effects, and how to use CBD to treat MS.

Person with MS holding CBD oil vial

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How Does CBD Affect the Body?

CBD affects the body through the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS sends signals throughout the body to regulate different processes, such as motor function, stress response, and mood. The ECS also plays a role in how the body processes pain and inflammation.

CBD is chemically similar to endocannabinoids naturally produced by the body to help with pain, stress, and mood. Using CBD can replicate these effects. CBD has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anxiety-reducing effects.

CBD for MS Symptoms

In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath (protective covering) of the nerves, causing a disruption in communication between the brain and the body. MS symptoms include numbness, spasticity (rigid and tight muscles that can affect mobility), pain, loss of eyesight, difficulty walking, and cognitive impairments.

Though research into CBD for MS is ongoing, many people with MS are turning to cannabinoids to help relieve their symptoms. An international survey found that MS is one of the five main conditions in which people use Sativex (nabiximols, containing both CBD and THC) to treat symptoms such as inflammation, pain, and more.

Inflammation

MS causes chronic inflammation of the central nervous system, which can drive symptoms such as pain and fatigue. Inflammation in the brain and spinal cord occurs when the myelin protecting the nerves is damaged.

CBD has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects on the body that can help with inflammation, thereby reducing pain, It may possibly slow the progression of the disease by lowering neuroinflammation. CBD combined with THC was shown to reduce neuroinflammation.

Pain

About two-thirds of people living with MS experience pain. MS pain occurs in different forms, including headache, neuropathic pain (like pins-and-needles sensations), back pain, and muscle spasms.

CBD can help with the various types of MS pain. One study found that half of the people who used CBD along with opioids reduced or eliminated their opioid use after eight weeks of CBD use.

Muscle Spasticity

Spasticity (muscle stiffness) is a common symptom of MS that can increase as the disease progresses, leading to reduced mobility.

In people with MS, CBD had a significant effect on reducing spasticity and the pain and other symptoms that go along with it. A reduction in spasticity can help with weakness and fatigue. Treating spasticity can also improve and, in some cases, preserve mobility.

Fatigue

Fatigue is an overwhelming sense of tiredness that can affect the quality of life, making it difficult to participate in daily activities. People with MS have an overactive immune system that causes inflammation, resulting in increased fatigue.

CBD has been shown to decrease inflammation, which in turn can help with fatigue.

Depression

Depression is more common in people with MS than those without the disease.

CBD has been shown to have antidepressant effects. This may be due in part to the direct effect on the endocannabinoid system’s mood regulation processes. But it may also be due in part to CBD’s effects on pain and other symptoms. A reduction in symptoms can have a positive effect on mood.

CBD Side Effects

While there are many potential benefits to CBD use, as with all medications CBD carries the risk of side effects. Possible side effects include but aren’t limited to:

  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Irritability
  • Diarrhea

People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take CBD as it is unknown whether it can cause harm to the fetus or newborn. In addition, CBD can interact with other medications. Talk to a healthcare provider to assess whether the risks outweigh the benefits.

How to Use CBD to Treat Symptoms of MS

No two people living with MS experience the exact same symptoms, and treatment plans vary among individuals. It is important to talk to your healthcare provider regarding CBD use for MS. They will be able to consider whether it might interact with medications or supplements you are taking.

While most MS healthcare providers are familiar with CBD use, if your healthcare provider does not have information or you feel uncomfortable talking to them about CBD use, you can find information from your local dispensary if you live in a state where marijuana is legal.

Over-the-counter (OTC) CBD products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and there is very little guidance in the United States regarding how much CBD a person should consume for various symptoms and conditions.

People should start with lower doses and gradually increase the dosage until they receive the desired effect. Not specific to MS symptoms, nonprescription CBD is often used in doses of 200 milligrams per day or less. It has been shown to be safe for durations up to 13 weeks.

Types of CBD Products

CBD can be found in various forms. Oils and creams can be applied topically to relieve pain and muscle stiffness.

Oral forms of CBD may come in tinctures, capsules, gummies, or other edibles. Some forms of CBD may be inhaled either through nasal administration or through a smoking device.

Epidiolex (cannabidiol) is a prescription-only CBD product regulated by the FDA. It is FDA-approved to treat certain types of seizures.

Choosing Quality Products

Nonprescription CBD is not regulated by the FDA. This means there is no standard for the quality of the products. It is important to find reputable sources of CBD.

Products may be mislabeled and contain more or less CBD than they claim. Since there is no regulation, there is also a risk that products could contain other harmful substances such as pesticides, heavy metals, molds, and bacteria.  

To find reputable cannabis companies, talk to your healthcare provider. They may be able to point you in the right direction. If you live in a state where marijuana is legal, your local dispensary will often have experts on staff who can advise you.

You can also research the brands your local dispensary sells. Many cannabis companies will post on their website the sources of their cannabis and any independent studies they have done on the purity of their products.  

Summary

CBD affects the body through the endocannabinoid system, which regulates many of the body’s processes. CBD has been shown to help with a variety of symptoms of MS, most notably pain, fatigue, spasticity, inflammation, and depression.

While there are many benefits of CBD, side effects can include drowsiness and change in appetite. It may also interact with other medications or supplements you are taking, so it should be discussed with your healthcare provider and pharmacist.

It comes in a variety of forms, such as topical or oral applications. Since over-the-counter CBD is not regulated by the FDA, it is important to find reputable sources of the substance to avoid any negative outcomes.

A Word From Verywell 

If you are living with MS, you have likely considered using CBD to help with your symptoms. Up to 90% of people with the condition have considered or tried CBD and other cannabinoids.

Though there remains some stigma around CBD and cannabis use, there is no shame in wanting to find relief for your symptoms and improve your quality of life. CBD has been shown to be effective in helping many people live well with MS. Although research is ongoing, there is much hope for the future of CBD for MS.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is CBD legal everywhere in the US?

    In 2018 the Agriculture Improvement Act removed CBD produced from the hemp plant from the controlled substances list, effectively making it legal everywhere. However, some states have not removed it from their own state’s controlled substances lists.  

  • How much CBD should you take for MS?

    Research is ongoing, and there is little guidance on what dosage can help with MS symptoms. Consult your healthcare provider when starting CBD supplementation. They can offer insight into what has worked for other people they treat. Not specific to MS symptoms, CBD is often taken at 200 milligrams per day or less.

  • Is it OK to take CBD with other MS medications?

    CBD can interact with other medications. Talk to your pharmacist or healthcare provider before taking CBD.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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