Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating neurological condition. MS causes nerve cells to become dysfunctional. The symptoms of multiple sclerosis vary from person to person and over time; however, one of the most common symptoms of MS is muscle spasticity. More than 80% of patients with MS have some degree of muscle spasticity.
Muscle spasticity causes increased muscle tone. Affected muscles contract even though the person is not trying to contract them. Patients may also experience uncontrollable muscle jerking and spasms. These muscle contractions can be quite painful and interfere with daily activities. In fact, about one in 20 multiple sclerosis patients with muscle spasticity are completely disabled because of it.
It can be difficult to treat muscle spasticity in patients with multiple sclerosis. Physicians may prescribe baclofen, tizanidine, or dantrolene for muscle spasticity; however, these treatments are only mildly effective and may cause troubling or serious side effects. Baclofen may cause muscle weakness, tizanidine may cause severe dry mouth, and dantrolene is toxic to the liver, for example. Researchers are continuously looking for ways to help multiple sclerosis patients to reduce muscle spasticity.
Cannabinoids are the biologically active chemicals found in the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids have been used successfully for various medical purposes. For example, these agents have been used to treat nausea caused by chemotherapy and to stimulate appetite in patients with cancer. Patients with multiple sclerosis have reported that hemp extract helps relieve symptoms. Moreover, research studies have shown cannabinoids can protect nerve cells against damage. Based on these findings, researchers conducted a clinical trial to study the effect of cannabinoids on muscle spasticity in patients with multiple sclerosis.
A total of 630 patients with multiple sclerosis and muscle spasticity received the hemp extract or placebo for 15 weeks. The researchers then performed a number of objective tests to assess muscle spasticity. Patients who received the cannabinoids had fewer symptoms and less muscle spasticity at the end of the clinical trial compared to patients taking the placebo. The greatest benefit appeared after 40 weeks of treatment. Indeed, patients felt that cannabinoids helped manage their condition. Importantly, no major safety concerns were reported.
These clinical trial results suggest long term cannabinoids treatment is safe and may help people with Multiple Sclerosis control symptoms of muscle spasticity.
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Reference: Zajicek et al. (2005). Cannabinoids in multiple sclerosis (CAMS) study: safety and efficacy data for 12 months follow up.Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. 2005 Dec;76(12):1664-9.