When it comes to using CBD for medical purposes, there is not always much peer-reviewed research available. But when it comes to CBD oil and MS (multiple sclerosis), the research is actually further along than it is for many other conditions.
Read on to learn about the many ways CBD can help people with MS.
About CBD Oil and MS
CBD can treat multiple sclerosis symptoms and repair damaged nerves.
Just the Facts
There is evidence that CBD is an effective treatment for some of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
About Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the central nervous system (CNS). The exact cause of MS is unknown, but it may be the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Currently, MS affects about 2.3 million people in the U.S., and most patients are diagnosed between the ages of 20-50. It’s unclear why some people develop MS and others do not.
— Ben Thrower, MD
In MS, the protective insulation around nerve fibers, called myelin, becomes damaged by the immune system, leaving patches of scars behind. This damage causes the CNS to missend signals to the brain, which result in a range of symptoms.
Some people experience relatively mild symptoms like abnormal fatigue, while other cases commonly involve pain, involuntary muscle tension and spasms, vision problems, memory and attention issues, and in the most severe cases partial or complete paralysis.
Types of Multiple Sclerosis
From person to person, the symptoms of MS can vary a great deal. That said, there are four main forms of multiple sclerosis:
This is the most common form, and about 85 percent of MS patients initially receive a diagnosis of RRMS.
People with RRMS experience temporary flare-ups or exacerbations of symptoms, followed by periods of remission where no symptoms occur.
For people with this type of MS, symptoms worsen over time with or without flare-ups.
Most people diagnosed with RRMS progress to SPMS.
This form is not very common, and only occurs in about 10 percent of MS patients.
Slowly worsening symptoms from the beginning, with no flare-ups or remissions, characterize this form of MS.
This rare form of MS occurs in about five percent of MS patients. Symptoms worsen steadily from the beginning, with acute relapses but no remissions.
How CBD Oil Could Help With MS
Dr. Ben Thrower is a physician at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, GA, a medical center that specializes in research and rehabilitation for people with diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
According to Dr. Thrower, MS patients usually find full-spectrum CBD products to be most helpful for treating both spasticity and pain. “Many of our MS patients have used hemp-based CBD products with 0.3 percent THC or less,” Thrower said. “For the management of spasticity/spasms or burning pain (central neuropathic pain), I have found that most patients need higher THC concentrations.”
Since THC is a known pain reliever, that may explain why high-THC products are popular for treating MS symptoms. However, Thrower said some patients do find relief with “low-THC, CBD lotions applied topically.”
As for unwanted side effects, Thrower said there are very few, and they’re uncommon. “I have found the side effect profile of these products to be less than some of the prescription medications,” he added. “CBD/THC products tend to be far less sedating than Baclofen or Tizanidine, which are [muscle relaxants] traditionally used for spasticity.”
Although there is not much evidence suggesting CBD or other cannabinoids can repair nerve damage in the long term, research in that area is underway. “To date, studies have not shown a long term benefit from cannabinoids in MS, but [they] are ongoing,” Thrower said.
One Patient’s Story
Devin Garlit, who has relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, uses CBD products in addition to his prescribed MS medication, Tysabri. While the pharmaceutical has done a lot to halt the progression of his MS, the CBD has been especially helpful in managing his symptoms.
— Devin Garlit
Although it took Garlit some time to notice whether the CBD was working, he says that it’s been helpful. “It wasn’t until several friends had remarked that I looked better and they noticed I was able to get out and do more, that I took a step back and began to appreciate the effects of CBD,” he said.
Garlit uses a full-spectrum CBD tincture, taking about one milliliter orally every day, and that routine has been important. “A huge key for me was doing this consistently, every day, regardless of how I felt,” he said. Garlit also said that he has not experienced any negative side effects from the CBD.
2018: CBD for Mobility in MS Patients
In this research review, scientists examined existing papers to find indirect evidence that cannabinoids, including CBD, can help MS patients improve mobility.
The paper discusses how cannabis with a high CBD to THC ratio has been shown to reduce muscle spasms and pain in MS patients, and how cannabis decreases inflammation, which can contribute to fatigue. Cannabinoids have also been shown to reduce depression in animal models, which can impact mobility.
Because CBD oil may be able to reduce and alleviate so many symptoms of MS — fatigue, pain, inflammation, depression, and spasticity — and those reductions often lead to improved mobility, it is reasonable to conclude that CBD can help MS patients with mobility.
2016: Safety and Effectiveness of Cannabis for MS
Researchers studied how a pharmaceutical cannabinoid, Sativex®, might help reduce muscle spasms in MS patients.
Sativex® is an oral spray that contains a 1:1 ratio of CBD to THC. It was developed to alleviate neuropathic pain, spasticity, overactive bladder, and other common MS symptoms.
Researchers looked at self-reported data from several hundred MS patients who took the drug over the course of one year. Results showed that after the first month, 70 percent of patients reported a 20 percent improvement to their spasticity, and 28 percent of patients reported 30 percent improvement.
However, a number of patients dropped out (39 percent), saying they felt the treatment was ineffective. While the results are not conclusive, the study does provide evidence to support further testing of cannabinoids on MS patients.
2009: Cannabis for MS-Related Spasticity
None of the papers examined focused on testing CBD alone with MS patients. Rather, studies used combinations of THC and CBD in oral extracts and capsules. These formulas generally contained a higher ratio of THC to CBD. In the end, they determined a trend of reduced spasticity.
Although participants in most of the studies reported adverse effects, these effects did not always appear to stem from ingesting the cannabis extracts. Ultimately, the researchers determined that patients tolerated the combined THC and CBD extracts well.
Concerns about CBD oil and MS
There are not specific concerns related to taking CBD for multiple sclerosis. However, because the combination of THC and CBD appears to be a popular and effective treatment for MS, some patients may want to avoid possible psychoactive effects from THC in relatively high doses. If you want to avoid feeling altered, it’s best to start with products with low THC-to-CBD ratios, such as most full-spectrum CBD oils.
And as always, when you are considering using CBD to treat a medical condition, it’s important to do so under your doctor’s supervision. This is especially important if you are taking other medications, because CBD has the potential to interact with some common pharmaceuticals.