A growing number of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients are turning to medical cannabis to help treat chronic pain, insomnia, and other issues, according to a new study published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal – Experimental, Translational and Clinical.
A team of researchers from the University of Michigan conducted a national survey to collect up-to-date data on the use of medical marijuana by MS patients. Out of 1,217 patients who responded to the survey, 1,027 answered a question about whether they had used cannabis within the past year. A total of 427 respondents (42 percent) said that they had indeed used pot recently, and 90 percent of these cannabis users said that they were using weed either strictly for medical use, or for simultaneous medical and recreational benefits.
The survey indicates that a growing number of MS patients are recognizing the health benefits of cannabis, but the medical community is lagging behind. Out of all the cannabis users in the survey, only 18 percent said they discussed medical pot with their physician, and less than 1 percent said they actually received any specific recommendations about what formulations of cannabis would best treat their symptoms.
Since they were unable to rely on their doctors for advice, most MS patients chose cannabis products based on online research or recommendations from friends. Over the past year, 44 percent of the cannabis-using patients said they had found a specific blend of THC and CBD that worked best for them, while another 41 percent were unsure what cannabinoid blend worked best for them. Most of the patients who expressed a preference said that low THC/high CBD blends worked the best for them.
The researchers note that “both THC and CBD may have different potential benefits for pain and sleep in other populations, or differential effects based on dose, yet the majority of research to date for these symptoms in MS has focused on a 1:1 or 2:1 combination of THC/CBD.” Few studies have focused on using either THC or CBD in isolation, or in other ratios. The study authors also cite prior research noting that high doses of CBD (160mg/day) improved sleep, while low doses of CBD were associated with insomnia.
One of the main reasons why doctors have been slow to recommend specific cannabis treatments for MS and other conditions is the fact that there is currently very little clinical research on the topic.
“Despite growing public support for clinical use of cannabis-based treatments in MS, evidence that suggests benefits for central pain and spasticity, and potential benefits for sleep disturbances, specific guidelines regarding how cannabinoid use should differ based on underlying clinical phenotype or other comorbid symptoms are scarce,” the authors explain.
“Many Americans with MS use cannabinoids, and CBD-predominant products in particular, to self-manage a wide range of symptoms,” the study concludes. “These findings highlight crucial gaps between community use and clinical care, and illustrate an immediate need for prospective, mechanistic studies focused on the effects of cannabinoids for chronic MS symptoms, as well as interactions between MS symptoms.”