Marijuana for Multiple Sclerosis

Cannabis extract capsules relieve pain from muscle stiffness in MS patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) One of the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) is pain due to muscle stiffness. The difficulty of finding relief through medication and dealing with a medication’s side effects has led many to seek alternative treatments.

A recent study investigated the use of cannabis extract for MS patients who experience muscle stiffness.

The study showed that cannabis extract could be useful for treating MS muscle problems and the pain associated with stiffness.

"Speak with your doctor."

Professor John Peter Zajicek, PhD, of the University of Plymouth and fellow UK researchers conducted a double blind, placebo controlled study of 279 MS patients across 22 centers in the UK.

The patients were aged 18 to 64 years and had stable MS for at least six months. The patients had experienced muscle stiffness for at least three months.

The study participants were randomly assigned to either receive oral gelatin capsules of cannabis extract or placebo capsules. The cannabis extract pills were given daily to 144 of the patients and 135 were given daily placebos for 12 weeks.

Dosage was increased from 2.5 mg to a maximum of 25 mg for two weeks. Maintenance doses were continued for ten weeks.

An 11 point category rating scale measured change in muscle stiffness, pain, muscle spasms and sleep quality. Spasticity, physical and psychological impact and walking ability were reported by the patients.

The results showed that those taking placebo were on higher dosages of the medication throughout the study than those on cannabis extract, signifying that cannabis was having positive relief beyond the placebo effect.

At two weeks, 87 percent of those taking placebo and 47 percent of those taking cannabis extract had increased to the maximum dosage. At 12 weeks, 69.4 percent of those taking the placebo were at maximum dosage compared with only 25 percent who were taking cannabis extract.

While 16 percent of those taking the placebo reported improved muscle stiffness, pain and sleep quality by the end of the study, almost 40 percent of those on cannabis extract reported the same results.

Similar rates of improvement were seen steadily throughout the study.

Side effects were also reported more frequently in those taking cannabis extract. The most side effects were seen in the first two weeks of treatment and included mild nervous system disorders and digestive problems.

This study used Cannador cannabis extract pills from the Society for Clinical Research, Berlin, Germany. These oral capsules contained tetrohydrocannabinol (THC) as the main cannabinoid and have been used in several clinical trials.

Cannador capsules are not yet available to the public, however a similar formula is available as an oral mouth spray. This spray is called Sativex and is an available licensed drug in most countries.

In the UK, Sativex has been licensed for use in clinical trials for 8.5 years and is available as an unlicensed drug for named patients. Nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid, is licensed for use for chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting in the UK.

The laws regarding cannabis and cannabis extract in the U.S. are more complex than in the UK. Under state law, medicinal use of cannabis is allowed under certain conditions and restrictions in 12 states.

These state laws conflict with federal laws. In the U.S., Sativex remains illegal to possess except as an FDA-approved clinical trial for cancer pain. However, Marinol, a synthetic form of cannabis extract, and Nabilone are available under certain conditions and restrictions.

According to the International Association of Cannaboid Medicines, 60 percent of Americans favor the legalization of cannabis for medicinal use. Laws regarding cannabis and its extract are expected to change and develop over the upcoming years.

Studies such as this one are helping doctors and lawmakers understand the uses, side effects and benefits of cannabis and cannabis extract.

The study was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry and funded by the Society for Clinical Research, Berlin, Germany and Weleda AG, Arlesheim, Switzerland.

Study authors report receiving consultancy fees from several drug companies, the Society for Clinical Research, Berlin, Germany, and funding for studies using cannabinoids. One author is the inventor of two patents on cannabinoid use in MS.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 29, 2012
Last Updated:
November 4, 2012