Could cannabidiol (CBD) help treat multiple sclerosis? That’s a question that many multiple sclerosis researchers are wondering. Much of the research that’s being done on treating multiple sclerosis has looked at how CBD and cannabis could potentially treat this disorder. And the evidence we have so far is promising. There are studies that suggest CBD may help treat many of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, including spasticity, mobility issues, muscle soreness, and neuropathic pain. There are also studies that suggest CBD may have neuroprotective qualities, which some say could help it treat neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system (CNS), a bodily system that’s made up of the brain and spinal cord. In multiple sclerosis, the immune system attacks the fatty substance (myelin) that covers and protects nerve fibers in the CNS. When this protective substance becomes damaged, this causes communication issues between the brain, spinal cord, and the rest of the body. Over time, this lack of myelin can lead to permanent damage to the nerves within the CNS.
The symptoms of MS can vary widely, as they’ll depend on which nerves are being affected by MS and how much nerve damage has occurred. How MS presents over time can also vary widely from person to person. For some, the symptoms of MS come and go (relapsing-remitting MS or RRMS). For others, MS symptoms can steadily worsen over time (primary-progressive MS or PPMS).
Some common symptoms of multiple sclerosis include:
- Numbness and tingling
- Stiffness and weakness
- Muscle spasms
- Fatigue and drowsiness
- Mobility issues, including:
- Ataxia (balance and coordination issues)
- Dizziness and vertigo
- Cognitive difficulty or impairment
- Depression and anxiety
- Bladder and bowel problems
- Difficulty with speech and swallowing
- Vision problems, including:
- Temporary vision loss
- Eye pain
- Flashes of light
- Double vision
- Color blindness
What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?
Unfortunately, scientists haven’t figured out the exact cause of multiple sclerosis. Research suggests that MS is autoimmune disease in which a person’s own immune system attacks their central nervous system, but there’s no clear cause for this autoimmune response. It’s thought that MS could be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Can You Cure MS?
Multiple sclerosis cannot be cured, so treating MS involves managing the elements of the disease. There are treatments that focus on speeding up MS attack recovery time, slowing the progression of the disease, and treating specific MS symptoms.
Research on Using CBD to Treat Multiple Sclerosis
There’s been quite a lot of international research on using medical marijuana and CBD to treat multiple sclerosis, much of which is very promising. Promising enough that in 2014 a Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology recommended that clinicians could offer oral cannabis extract, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or Sativex (nabiximols) for certain MS symptoms.
Various studies on using cannabis plants and CBD suggest that they may help ease spasticity, reduce muscle soreness, improve mobility, protect against inflammation, and ease neuropathic pain. Below, we’ll take a closer look at some of the more prominent studies on this topic, focusing on what they say about treating specific symptoms.
CBD and Protection From Inflammation
While doctors and medical researchers don’t know exactly what causes multiple sclerosis, it’s generally accepted that it’s an inflammatory disease. This could be why some people with MS say that CBD, a cannabinoid that may have anti-inflammatory properties, helps ease their symptoms.
Numerous studies suggest that CBD may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and some studies suggest that these properties may combine to create a neuroprotective effect. This is a major reason there has been so much research on using CBD to treat MS. It’s thought that the progression of MS occurs when the nerves in the CNS become inflamed, lose their coating, and become damaged. Many researchers are interested in whether or not CBD could help fight this process due to its potential anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. While more research is needed, some recent studies suggest that CBD may in fact have neuroprotective benefits that could benefit those with neurological diseases like MS, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinston’s disease.
CBD and Improved Mobility
There are studies that suggest cannabidiol may improve mobility and muscle tone in people with multiple sclerosis. A review published in a 2018 edition of Frontiers in Neurology posits that these effects may occur due to CBD’s potential ability to “reduce fatigue, pain, [and] spasticity,” which the authors concluded could “ultimately improve mobility” in patients with MS.
THC, CBD, and Reduced Spasticity
Some studies suggest that using THC and CBD together may effectively reduce muscle spasticity, including severe spasticity in those with treatment-resistant MS. At the 2019 American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting, MS researchers presented the findings of a multicenter study that looked at real-life, long-term efficacy outcomes of using a THC:CBD oral spray for severe MS spasticity. Their study found that 81.4% of the 1,845 participants achieved an improvement in spasticity symptoms. This study is just one of a number of studies that suggest Sativex (a 1:1 THC:CBD oral spray) may improve spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients. Note that there are also some studies that suggest CBD alone may improve spasticity. However, far more studies have looked at using Sativex, so there’s more data available on this combination cannabinoid treatment.
CBD and Reduced Muscle Soreness
Some people with MS report that CBD oils, CBD tinctures, and other CBD products help reduce their muscle soreness, a prominent symptom of the disease. Experts believe that muscle soreness in MS is often a side effect of spasticity and muscular weakness. There’s some evidence that suggests CBD may reduce both of those symptoms, so it’s possible that reducing these side effects could reduce any soreness caused by them.
CBD for Neuropathic Pain
People with multiple sclerosis often deal with chronic neuropathic pain, which is very difficult to treat. But some research suggests that cannabidiol may help suppress chronic pain, including both chronic neuropathic pain and chronic inflammatory pain. A notable animal study from 2009 found that CBD and dehydroxyl-CBD suppressed chronic inflammatory pain in mice and rats, while a notable 2008 animal study found that DH-CBD suppressed chronic neuropathic nerve pain.
Final Thoughts on How to Treat Multiple Sclerosis With CBD
While there’s some very promising research on using CBD for multiple sclerosis, more research is needed to understand the exact relationship between this cannabinoid and treating MS. Still, some people with MS have voiced their desire to use cannabis for MS on their own before waiting on more research. Scientific research happens quite slowly and, due to federal restrictions on researching marijuana, cannabis-related research can happen even more slowly than other research. And since MS is typically a degenerative disease, some MS patients don’t want to let more time pass by before trying potentially helpful treatment options.
If you have MS and you want to use CBD or marijuana for medical purposes, the best thing to do is to speak with your doctor. You may be able to buy marijuana or CBD without talking to a medical professional, but you should always talk to your doctor before trying something to treat a medical condition. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before trying any non-prescription medications or supplements, since they can sometimes interact with prescription medications. Additionally, it’s always best to speak with the doctor that’s treating your condition so they can coordinate your care and help you understand the latest medical guidance on using a specific non-prescription substance.