We've all heard the debate about medical marijuana and its uses for some chronic conditions. As of today, 17 states and Washington, DC have approved the use of medical marijuana. Let's take a look at the arguments for and against the use of the controversial treatment option as it relates to multiple sclerosis.
Good: Smoking marijuana reduces spasticity and pain
A recent report from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine has found that smoking marijuana can help reduce symptoms of MS, including spasticity and pain. MS is caused by the breakdown of the lining of the nerves in the brain, leading to damaged nerves. The brain then sometimes fails to properly deliver "messages" to different parts of the body, leading to difficulties with walking, bladder dysfunction and cognitive problems.
In this most recent report, 30 MS patients were tested; 15 were given a placebo to smoke, 15 were given marijuana to smoke. The groups were then switched – the placebo group was given marijuana and the marijuana group was given the placebo – and in both studies the marijuana smokers reported reduced spasticity and pain. Researchers used the Ashford scale, which tests range of motion and rigidity; the second part of the exam studied the pain levels in each patient.
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The conclusion? Jody Corey-Bloom, MD, PhD at UC San Diego and lead researcher said, "We found that smoked cannabis was superior to placebo in reducing symptoms and pain in patients with treatment-resistant spasticity, or excessive muscle contractions."
Bad: Smoking marijuana impairs cognitive abilities
Despite the aforementioned benefits of smoking marijuana for some MS patients, studies have not completely cleared the drug of any side effects. Published in the February 13, 2008 volume of Neurology, a study out of the University of Toronto found that "people with multiple sclerosis who smoke marijuana are more likely to have emotional and memory problems." The study interviewed 140 MS patients, including 10 who defined themselves as current marijuana users; these smokers were then "matched" by age, sex and length of time with MS to four individuals who did not use marijuana.
The study found that the marijuana users performed at a 50 percent slower pace on information processing tests. There was also a significantly higher rate of anxiety, depression or other emotional problems in those who used marijuana over those who did not.
As noted by the researchers, emotional problems are more common among individuals with MS to begin with; increasing the risk by smoking marijuana may negate any positive benefits a patient experiences.
Good: Support from the medical community
In addition to the jurisdictions that have passed laws legalizing the use of medical marijuana, the American College of Physicians, the American Psychiatric Association and the Medical Studies Section of the American Medical Association have all made strong statements in favor of the use of cannabis for medical purposes.