Multiple Sclerosis Treatment: The Medical Marijuana Controversy
The list of multiple sclerosis symptoms is a lengthy and, at its worst, it can result in total disability. MS is also known to cause cognitive difficulties, anxiety and higher incidence of depression and suicide than in the general population, affecting quality of life not only for the patient, but for their loved ones and caregivers as well. For many, the battle is relentless...and extremely personal.
There are widespread claims by MS patients and advocates that the use of medical marijuana provides relief from nerve pain, tremor, spacticity, sleeping disorders and depression. Marijuana is also reported to help patients endure a wide variety of conditions including AIDS, cancer and glaucoma.
There is no shortage of controversy on the topic of medical marijuana.
- Criminal penalties for growing or possessing medical marijuana have been removed in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, yet medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law, allowing prosecution at the federal level.
- From the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Jerome Kassirer, on January 30, 1997, wrote “Federal authorities should rescind their prohibition of the medical use of marijuana for seriously ill patients and allow physicians to decide which patients to treat.” He went on to say, “The alleviation of distress can be so striking that some patients and their families have been willing to risk a jail term to obtain or grow the marijuana. I believe that a federal policy that prohibits physicians from alleviating suffering by prescribing marijuana for seriously ill patients is misguided, heavy-handed, and inhumane. Marijuana may have long-term adverse effects and its use may presage serious addictions, but neither long-term side effects nor addiction is a relevant issue in such patients.”
- The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada calls for “a more compassionate system of possession and production for individuals who feel they may benefit from the use of marijuana for medical purposes.“ (MS Viewpoint, July 13, 2001) On June 20, 2005, Sativex (R), a cannabis-based drug for the treatment of MS-related pain, became available by prescription in Canada.
- From The British Multiple Sclerosis Society (August 28, 2003) “We urge the courts to deal sympathetically with people with MS who are charged with cannabis use when seeking relief from their symptoms.“
- European Journal of Neurology (EJN) (February 28, 2007) reports a study which shows that Sativex (R), a cannabis based medicine, significantly reduces intractable spasms and stiffness (spasticity) in people with Multiple Sclerosis.
- In the February 13, 2008, online edition of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, reports that “People with multiple sclerosis (MS) who smoke marijuana are more likely to have emotional and memory problems.” Study Author Anthony Feinstein, Mphil, PhD, of the University of Toronto, is quoted as saying, “This is the first study to show that smoking marijuana can have a harmful effect on the cognitive skills of people with MS.”
It appears obvious that marijuana use can cause cognitive impairment, whether you have a debilitating condition or not.
I do not endorse use of marijuana as a recreational drug. I do not believe that the physical difficulties I personally experience with MS would be improved by medical marijuana, nor do I feel the risk of cognitive difficulties is warranted in my case. I cautiously reserve the right to change that opinion should my MS symptoms become more severe.
Many legally prescribed medications come with the risk of far more serious side effects. Marijuana has the potential to make life bearable for the chronically ill. Patients should be free to make an informed decision with the guidance of a physician.
It just may be that in some cases, a “harmful effect on the cognitive skills” is the lesser evil.