Could Medical Marijuana Help Manage Your MS?

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. It damages the myelin covering that insulates nerves, interfering with signals to and from the brain. This causes symptoms such as numbness, memory problems, pain, and blindness, to name a few.

Medical marijuana has been used for a variety of conditions to help with pain, spasticity (abnormal muscle tightness), nausea, and other problems, and some people living with MS find symptom relief from using it.

Read on to find out more about how medical marijuana can be used for MS, as well as potential side effects, risks, and benefits.

Talk with your healthcare provider before using medical marijuana.

Portrait of aged senior female consulting with doctor. Therapeutic in medical gown advising cannabinoid oil to patient. Practitioner holding bottle with cannabis leaf sign

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Why Cannabis Might Help With MS

Cannabis, or marijuana, has more than 80 chemical compounds called cannabinoids in it. The most commonly known ones are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is what gives the “high” from marijuana. It attaches to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, producing feelings of happiness, relaxation, altered sensory perception, and increased appetite.

The American Academy of Neurology published evidence-based guidelines back in 2014 about cannabinoids for MS-related symptoms. They found that people living with MS found relief for spasticity, pain, and urinary frequency. That being said, studies are still being done to assess this, with varying results.

Benefits of Marijuana for MS

A 2021 study found that people reporting the most benefit from marijuana, or improvements in two or more symptoms, were those with a milder form of MS and less disability. Those who needed help with mobility found less of a benefit from cannabis than those who did not.

Benefits of using marijuana for MS can include improvements in:

Participants in one study (a little less than half) reported decreasing or stopping certain medications when they used marijuana. These medications included opioid and non-opioid pain medications, benzodiazepines, and muscle relaxers.

Side Effects of Cannabis

While many people use cannabis for both recreational and medicinal purposes, it is not free of risk. Potential side effects of cannabis include:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Anxiety and/or paranoia
  • Dry eyes
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Sedation
  • Increased appetite
  • Headache
  • Impaired balance/coordination
  • Increased heart rate
  • Possible risks to lung health (if smoked)

Do Not Drive While Using Cannabis

It is illegal and dangerous to drive under the influence of cannabis—even medical marijuana.

How to Use Cannabis for MS

Medical marijuana is different from recreational marijuana. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved one cannabis-derived drug product, Epidiolex (cannabidiol), and three synthetic cannabis-related drugs, which are:

  • Marinol (dronabinol): Used to treat nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy
  • Syndros (liquid dronabinol): Used to treat nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, as well as anorexia in adults with AIDS who have lost weight
  • Cesamet (nabilone): Used to treat nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy in those who have not been helped by other therapies

These are prescription-only drugs and are not available over the counter (without a prescription).

Dosage

The dosage for medical cannabis can vary, depending on the person and their symptoms, as well as their overall health. For chronic pain, a typical starting dose of a CBD-predominant drug is 5 milligrams (mg) CBD twice daily, and the provider can increase the CBD-predominant drug by 10 mg every two to three days, up to 40 mg per day. They can then add THC to the dosage if need be, starting at 2.5 mg, and increasing by 2.5 mg every two to seven days for a maximum of 40 mg per day of THC.

Always Discuss Dosage With Your Healthcare Provider

This may vary depending on your symptoms and the specific drug your healthcare provider has prescribed. Your healthcare provider will go over your medication with you and follow clinical dosing guidelines.

Who Shouldn't Use It

Medical cannabis may not be for everyone. It can increase the risk of developing psychosis in those who have experienced such symptoms before and those with a family history of schizophrenia.

It may also worsen cognitive symptoms for some people with MS, like working memory, executive functioning (a set of mental processes that help a person plan, focus on, and execute goals), and information processing speed. It can also increase the risk for cardiovascular diseases, like high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke.

If you’re interested in medical cannabis, talk with your healthcare provider. Tell them about your medical and family history, and any concerns you might have. Together, you can discuss whether it would be safe for you to use.

Federal Employee Considerations

Federal law still prohibits use of cannabis, even if your state laws do not. Therefore, some federal employees are not exempt from workplace rules relating to cannabis use.

Summary

Medical marijuana may be an option for some people living with MS. Depending on what state you live in and your specific medical situation, medical marijuana may be a beneficial tool to add to your treatment regimen. It has been shown to have positive effects on symptoms like pain and spasticity, and has allowed some people to reduce their consumption of medications like opioids and benzodiazepines.

A Word From Verywell

Medical marijuana may not be the best option for some people, and you and your healthcare provider can discuss the risks and benefits. It’s important to remember that medical marijuana is not the same as recreational marijuana, and they should not be used interchangeably.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you get medical marijuana if you have MS?

    Not every state has legalized medical marijuana. If your state has not, then you cannot legally get it. States also have laws as to where you can fill a prescription.

    If you do live in a state where cannabis is legal for certain medical conditions and your healthcare provider deems it medically necessary for your MS, they can prescribe it for you.

    It is not covered by insurance, so you will have to pay for it out of pocket.

  • Can cannabis help with muscle spasticity?

    Studies have found that cannabis helps with self-reported muscle spasticity, but more data is needed.

  • Can marijuana help with bladder symptoms?

    Marijuana has been found to potentially help with overactive bladder (OAB). With OAB symptoms, the bladder contracts with no warning, making a person feel they have to urinate immediately, and sometimes urine sneaks through. Cannabis may interfere with these signals. However, this has not been found to be clinically significant in various studies in those living with MS.

  • Can marijuana help with MS pain?

    Yes, it can. Multiple studies have found that many people living with MS have reported a reduction in pain while using medical marijuana and reduced amounts of pain medication. This can vary among individuals, depending on how severe your disease is.

  • What’s the difference between CBD and marijuana for MS?

    CBD is a compound found in cannabis. It is a single compound, and marijuana is a cannabis plant containing many different compounds, including CBD and THC.

10 Sources
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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  2. US Food and Drug Administration. What you need to know (and what we're working to find out) about products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds, including CBD.

  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. How does marijuana produce its effects?.

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  7. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Medical marijuana FAQs.

  8. US Food and Drug Administration. FDA and cannabis: Research and drug approval process.

  9. Bhaskar A, Bell A, Boivin M, Briques W, et al. Consensus recommendations on dosing and administration of medical cannabis to treat chronic pain: Results of a modified Delphi process. Journal of Cannabis Research. 2021; 3,22. doi: https://doi.org/10.1186/s42238-021-00073-1

  10. Connell K. Can cannabis help an overactive bladder? Maybe. University of Colorado Urogynecology.