Multiple sclerosis is characterized by disrupted communication between the brain and the body, resulting in symptoms ranging from blurred vision to muscle weakness and pain. There is no cure for the condition, and therapies have proven difficult, as many have serious side effects. But now, relief may come in the form of a medical marijuana pill.

This is according to a new guideline released from the American Academy of Neurology and published in its journal Neurology.

The guideline investigated complementary or alternative medicine therapies (CAM) for multiple sclerosis (MS). These are unconventional therapies used alongside or instead of doctor-recommended therapies.

Medical News Today recently wrote a spotlight feature focusing on symptoms and treatments for the condition to coincide with National Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month in March.

In that feature, Arney Rosenblat, associate vice president of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, told us that though there are currently 10 disease-modifying therapies approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for MS, "there is deep unmet need for additional therapies, especially to treat progressive forms of disease for which there are few treatment options."

Marijuana treatment eases spasticity and pain

Researchers from the current study, led by Dr. Vijayshree Yadav of Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, focused on what impacts certain CAM therapies have on MS, including oral cannabis, medical marijuana pills, oral medical marijuana spray, ginkgo biloba, magnetic therapy, bee sting therapy, omega-3 fatty acids and reflexology.

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Medical marijuana taken in pill or oral spray form may ease symptoms of spasticity, pain and frequent urination in patients with MS, according to the new guideline.

Regarding prevalence of CAM therapy use, Dr. Yadav says:

"Using different CAM therapies is common in 33-80% of people with MS, particularly those who are female, have higher education levels and report poorer health. People with MS should let their doctors know what types of these therapies they are taking, or thinking about taking."

The researchers note that for most of these CAM therapies, safety is not known, as there is not enough information to show whether they interact with prescription drugs for MS.

However, while the latest guidelines show little evidence most CAM therapies can treat symptoms, medical marijuana pills and oral medical marijuana spray may alleviate symptoms of spasticity, pain and frequent urination in MS patients.

But before patients with the condition rush to medical marijuana dispensaries, the researchers say there is not enough evidence to show whether actually smoking marijuana helps treat symptoms.

Additionally, this therapy may not reduce tremor, and the team cautions that long-term safety of using medical marijuana in pill or oral spray form is unknown.

Side effects of marijuana treatment 'should be considered'

As with most treatments or therapies, the researchers say marijuana in a pill or spray could cause certain side effects. The more serious ones include seizures, dizziness, thinking and memory problems, and psychological problems, such as depression.

Fast facts about MS
  • Most people experience first MS symptoms between the ages of 20 and 40.
  • Initial symptoms are often blurred or double vision, red-green color distortion or blindness in one eye.
  • Most MS patients have muscle weakness and difficulty with balance and coordination.

The last side effect raises concerns, as some people with MS have an increased risk for depression or suicide. As such, the team says both patients and doctors should consider the possible side effects that marijuana treatment can carry with it.

Other CAM therapies that showed some promise were ginkgo biloba - which might help reduce tiredness but not thinking or memory problems - and magnetic therapy - which may reduce tiredness but not depression.

Reflexology may ease tingling, numbness and other skin sensations, while bee sting therapy and a low-fat diet with fish oil do not appear to help MS symptoms of disability, depression or tiredness. Plus, the team cautions that bee stings can cause life-threatening allergic reactions.

When they investigated benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, the researchers found they do not reduce relapses, disability, tiredness or MRI brain scan lesions, and they conclude that they do not improve overall quality of life in MS patients.

In 2013, Medical News Today reported on a study that suggested chemical compounds in marijuana can help treat MS-like diseases in mice by preventing inflammation in the brain and spinal cord.