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MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS & MEDICAL CANNABIS

                Use of marijuana for medical purposes is not a new idea. Marijuana was used by doctors to treat patients for centuries. Multiple Sclerosis is one disease that is at the center of controversy in the United States regarding marijuana as a medical tool. Proponents say that patients deal with symptoms that vary from patient to patient, and therefore their experiences with marijuana to help symptoms should be considered to learn about it for future treatment options. Opponents argue that evidence is insufficient because it is mostly based on patient anecdotal accounts, and therefore unreliable. If the problem is lack of medical support, then the study of marijuana should be allowed as a potential medical tool in the relief of symptoms for patients living with Multiple Sclerosis.

Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, is best described as a “progressive, degenerative disease… (of) the brain and spinal cord nerves”. It is believed that immune cells in the body mistakenly attack the myelin that insulates nerve fibers of the brain and spinal cord, also known as the central nervous system. The loss of myelin is of major importance since, “without myelin, nerve cells lose their ability to transmit electrical signals effectively”. In other words, the loss of this fatty material doesn’t allow for messages to travel successfully and causes glitches in the body, manifested as symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. The symptoms most notably associated with Multiple Sclerosis are; muscle pain, spasticity (muscle tightness), tremors and unsteadiness. The initial treatment is an attempt to slow down development of the disease with medicine that suppresses immune system activity.

Marijuana research could prove the effectiveness of the drug towards control of symptoms and slowing the progression of the disease. The Americans for Safe Access organization says, “Cannabis has demonstrated effects on immune function that also have the potential of reducing the autoimmune attack that is thought to be the underlying pathogenic process in MS.” In other words, since it is believed that immune cells mistakenly attack the myelin and cause damage to the central nervous system, then marijuana could reduce attacks causing damage and slow the deterioration of patients. Foreign administrations are taking notice of marijuana for medical use. For example, the British government is sponsoring a “three-year clinical trial to assess the long-term effects of cannabinoids on both MS-associated symptom management as well as disease progression”. It is further noted that in addition to foreign governments’ interest regarding marijuana and its effects on Multiple Sclerosis, “some health professionals claim that the drug can be used to reduce spasms in those with Multiple Sclerosis”. American physicians interested in the medical use of marijuana have limited data available since the United States “research has often been limited by the federal government”. Research of the medical properties of marijuana, its effects on the disease and the patient are needed since in the United States alone there are an estimated 350,000 sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis.

Multiple Sclerosis currently has no cure. Patients can only hope to find medications to deal with symptoms, and slow the progress of the disease. In the United States marijuana needs further medical research to demonstrate its effectiveness in the treatment of the disease and its symptoms. Even though not medically accepted, there is a wealth of patient testimonials supporting marijuana’s effectiveness in the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis symptoms. For example “Greg Paufler, who found that Marijuana restores his ability to walk, run, speak, and engage in sex, all of which had been lost to MS”. On the other hand the drug Betaseron, which is used for relapse of Multiple Sclerosis for example, is administered to patients by injection 3 times a week. Besides possible redness, pain, swelling or breakdown of skin at the site of the injection, some side effects of Betaseron include fatigue, muscle aches and chills. More serious side effects to the drug are depression, liver problems, allergic reaction or decreased blood cell count. The Multiple Sclerosis patient must “undergo regularly scheduled laboratory monitoring for blood cell counts and liver function”. Betaseron is only used to treat relapse of the disease which means that other drugs would have to be prescribed to help with specific symptoms. Furthermore, Betaseron does not restore patients’ quality of life. Marijuana is a better alternative for Multiple Sclerosis since, as noted by Americans for Safer Access, “a low risk profile is evident from the literature available. Serious complications are very rare and are not usually reported during the use of cannabinoids for medical indications.” Consequently, marijuana is a better option to current drugs because not only does it control the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis, but at the same time helps slow advancement of the disease. No drugs currently used for Multiple Sclerosis can make the same claim.

                Information regarding marijuana’s effect in Multiple Sclerosis does exist. Patients are documenting firsthand accounts of the effects of marijuana on their body and on the particular set of symptoms experienced from Multiple Sclerosis. In addition, there is supportive evidence from physicians, and witness accounts from family or caretakers to the positive effects of marijuana on patients. The medical community interested in furthering research of marijuana to treat Multiple Sclerosis should be encouraged because it would help the prospects for patient until a cure is found. ~