In this article we’ll be covering how hemp works for multiple sclerosis and how we can utilize cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system to bring balance and order back to a system of dysfunction.
This is important news for those suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS) as the evidence piles in favour of cannabinoid rich products used to alleviate the symptomatology of neurodegenerative conditions such as MS.
We’ve done our best to simplify some of the medicalized science terminology in this article to make it easier to read, so bear with us as we cover this exciting and relatively new area of research.
Multiple sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease that is characterised by repeated inflammatory/demyelinating events within the central nervous system (CNS).
Alongside relapsing-remitting neurological insults which often lead to a loss of function, many people are quite often left with ongoing, extremely challenging symptoms like spasticity and pain. These greatly diminish people’s quality of life, and have prompted some to self-medicate with and perceive benefit from cannabis.
Now that we’ve mentioned cannabis, on a side note, it’s noteworthy to state that the term cannabis refers to a genus family of plants, which includes both hemp and marijuana. The simple difference between the two plants is that while marijuana contains 10-20% THC (the psychoactive constituent), hemp contains a legal limit of less than 0.3% (rendering it null and void of any psychoactive effects). Back to MS...
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an immune‐mediated disease of the central nervous system (CNS) that leads to a progressive functional decline. It is the most common cause of nontraumatic neurological disability in young adults and has a major negative impact on quality of life.
The worldwide prevalence of MS is reported to be 50 to 300 per 100,000 people. About 2.3 million people are estimated to live with MS globally, although this number may be underestimated because data are lacking from large populations, such as populations in India and China.
Although the aetiology of MS remains unknown, associations with genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors have been reported. MS is commonly classified into different forms: relapsing‐remitting (RRMS), secondary progressive (SPMS), primary progressive (PPMS), and progressive‐relapsing (PRMS).
Multiple sclerosis symptoms vary greatly from person to person and include fatigue, painful muscle spasms and stiffness, weakness, chronic neuropathic and musculoskeletal pain, mobility restrictions, visual impairment, depression, anxiety, and bladder and bowel dysfunction. This can make leading a normal life excruciatingly difficult as sufferers do their best to function with the disease.
People with MS have multiple symptoms; for example, people with spasticity may also have chronic pain resulting from their spasticity. Therefore it is necessary to consider the overlap of indications people have when using a symptomatic treatment.
Spasticity (muscle stiffness) is a common and serious feature of MS that increases with disease progression and leads to disability worsening, weakness, and fatigability. Adaptive features may develop including contractures in muscle, tendons, and joints which can further worsen limb positioning, movement, and function. Spasticity also causes pain, bed sore, fatigue, instability, and difficulties in maintaining hygiene.
Treatment with anti‐spasticity medication is made for different reasons in people with MS. People with severe mobility disability are treated for symptomatic relief (pain and spasms) and are treated in order to make nursing care and seating easier. Those who are able to walk are treated with the additional aim of improving or preserving mobility. Chronic neuropathic pain occurs in more than half of people with MS and is directly related to MS pathology.
An international survey found that MS was one of the five medical conditions for which cannabinoids were most often used; with back pain, sleep disorders, depression, and post‐injury pain being the other four conditions.
The symptoms reported by medical cannabis users to be most effectively relieved were stress, sleep, mood, stiffness/spasm, and pain (MS Society 2014).
A recent internet‐based survey in the USA found that 66% of people with MS used cannabis for symptom treatment, and a study from Canada reported that about 50% of people with MS would consider the legal use of cannabis if evidence of benefit is available.
Traditional medicalized treatments include disease modifying treatments (DMT’s), by which there are several drugs available in New Zealand for those with MS, along with stem cell therapy and various types of steroids. Stem cell treatment is a therapy that uses stem cells or targets stem cells to treat MS.
Treatments differ depending upon the severity and type of MS. As always, when assessing treatment options, consult a licenced medical professional.
What does hemp have to do with the most important system of physiology in the body: the endocannabinoid system (ECS)?
The ECS was discovered in mid-1990 by researcher Dr. Ralph Mechoulam. It was found that the ECS is an integral part of our physiologies responsible for maintaining order and balance across all other systems of the body from the circulatory, digestive and reproductive, to the nervous system, and hemp plays a crucial role by supplying us with all-important cannabinoids.
When the endocannabinoid system experiences dysfunction, all other systems in the body can be thrown out of balance. The ECS responds powerfully to both endo-cannabinoids (made within the body), and phyto-cannabinoids (made by plants).
The goal is to activate your endocannabinoid system with cannabinoids through hemp products made with a full spectrum of plant compounds, fatty acids and terpenes. Read on to learn more about the powerful effects of hemp cannabinoids and how they activate the grandmaster, the endocannabinoid system.
In a large scale meta-analysis titled “Endocannabinoids control spasticity in a multiple sclerosis model” researchers from the Neuroinflammation Group, including the University College of London, the Institute of Neurology, and The Medical Research Council Human Movement and Balance Unit discovered:
“endocannabinoids inhibit spasticity”
Meaning they prevent and/or stop spasticity, and
“the two antagonists block the action of disease-limiting endocannabinoids, whose levels are elevated during spastic disease”
In MS patients, the healing effects of endocannabinoids are halted by other compounds throwing the system out of balance.
Another study found,
“inhibition of endocannabinoid degradation in the control of spasticity”
Meaning, there was a noted relationship between preventing the destruction of endocannabinoids and controlling levels of spasticity, and
“AEA—can limit spasticity, then augmenting the levels of endogenous AEA might have a therapeutic effect”
AEA, a cannabinoid our body produces, can limit spasticity, so they’re saying if we could consume/dose AEA, we might receive a therapeutic effect in MS, and
“inhibition of endocannabinoid signaling exacerbates spasticity”
When researchers prevented endocannabinoids from being received by the body, spasticity increased, and
“strong evidence for a role of endocannabinoids in the control of spasticity”
They concluded after thoroughly reviewing the evidence in this large scale meta-analysis.
In a study titled, “The endocannabinoid system is dysregulated in multiple sclerosis and in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis” researchers found:
“The results of the present study show that MS and EAE are associated with significant alterations of the ECS.”
Meaning, an ECS that is dysfunctional, not working properly, is strongly associated with multiple sclerosis. This begs the question, why wouldn’t we want to get the ECS back online and functioning optimally? They went on,
“We found that AEA, but not 2-AG, is increased in the CSF of MS patients, indicating that the two endocannabinoids are differentially engaged during CNS inflammatory diseases.”
What they’re saying is that the balance between these two compounds our body produces is completely out of balance, and that this imbalance correlates in those suffering from diseases like MS. If we can get our levels of AEA and 2-AG in balance, where they’re supposed to be, then perhaps we can alleviate the symptoms of MS?
Another study found,
“The ECS is altered in MS.”
“Anandamide (AEA) and palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) were higher in RRMS compared to controls”
Again, we’re seeing the ECS is altered, and all out of balance (it’s broken and not functioning properly), and that AEA was again increased, but out of balance compared to ‘controls’ - people without MS.
One recent study concluded,
“Recent advances in cannabinoid biology are beginning to support these anecdotal observations (of self medicating cannabis use), notably the demonstration that spasticity is tonically regulated by the endogenous cannabinoid system. Recent clinical trials may indeed suggest that cannabis has some potential to relieve pain, spasms and spasticity in MS.”
“Our study suggests that targeting the endocannabinoid system might be useful for the treatment of MS.”
And another study,
“This review appraises the current knowledge of cannabinoid biology particularly as it pertains to MS and outlines potential future therapeutic strategies for the treatment of disease progression in MS.”
Another study emphasized that the current clinical data proves cannabinoid-based medicine can reduce symptoms in those with MS,
“Remarkably, a wealth of preclinical and clinical data proved that cannabinoid-based medicines reduce spasticity symptoms in MS and also in other neurodegenerative disease”
A study based on cannabinoid therapy concluded,
“these results represent a biochemical-based support to the positive outcome noted with cannabinoid therapy in MS.”
Another large study involving several clinical trials concluded,
“recently clinical trials on the ability of cannabinoids to alleviate limb spasticity, a common feature of progressive MS (and also ALS) and neurodegeneration. Experimental studies into the biology of the endocannabinoid system have revealed that cannabinoids have efficacy, not only in symptom relief but also as neuroprotective agents which may slow disease progression and thus delay the onset of symptoms.”
Another study stated,
“evidence that both exogenous and endogenous cannabinoids alleviate spasticity and tremors in an animal model of multiple sclerosis (MS), which finally supports previous anecdotal reports that the use of cannabis could ameliorate the symptoms of this disorder.”
Merging the research showing both cannabinoids made by the body and by plants are of value in alleviating symptoms of MS in animal models and backing up anecdotal reports from people with MS.
Cannabis is a plant (Cannabis sativa) that contains over 120 phytocannabinoids. The most well‐known cannabinoids are: delta‐9‐tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which produces a variety of effects including altered cognition and motor function, analgesia, psychotropic effects; and cannabidiol (CBD), a non‐psychoactive molecule.
Of those 120 phytocannabinoids, only a handful have been studied, by which the main two, CBD & THC have accumulated the most clinical data. In isolated products such as CBD isolate, which is available by prescription only in New Zealand, you only benefit from one single cannabinoid.
However, in a full spectrum cannabis product made from hemp, you can enjoy a rich spectrum of those 120 cannabinoids all working together to produce synergy and enhance one anothers effectiveness. This synergistic effect has been coined the “entourage effect” and this is why it’s important to utilize a full spectrum hemp product as opposed to a single isolated cannabinoid product such as CBD oil.
One study had this to say about the use of medical marijuana,
“strong evidence for medical marijuana in neurological disorders was for reducing the symptoms of patient-reported spasticity and central pain in MS and that the only complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) intervention in MS with strong supportive evidence was cannabinoids.”
They went on to conclude,
“evidence to indicate benefits in treatment of spasticity and neuropathic pain in multiple sclerosis.”
Another study on cannabinoids and MS found,
“There is a growing amount of evidence to suggest that cannabis and individual cannabinoids may be effective in suppressing certain symptoms of multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, including spasticity and pain.”
“strong evidence that cannabinoid-induced reductions in tremor and spasticity are mediated by cannabinoid receptors, both CB(1) and CB(2).”
Our body has two types of receptors which fit like lock and key with cannabinoids made by our bodies and made by plants, called CB1 and CB2. You can learn more about those receptors on our home page.
Another study found,
“data indicate that endocannabinoids are released and accumulated in response to many different types of toxic insult, such as excitotoxicity, excitotoxic stress, traumatic injury and ischemia possibly representing a compensatory repair mechanism.”
The ECS releases cannabinoids in response to injury or trauma on the body as a repair mechanism. Like we mentioned earlier, it is the grandmaster, responsible for overseeing the healthy functioning of all other systems of the body. If our grandmaster is sick, tired and broken, or dysfunctional, all other systems begin to fall into collapse and dysfunction.
So far the US FDA has approved one CBD-based medication to treat epilepsy, and two CBD-derived medications to treat symptoms related to AIDS. The future looks very bright for cannabis products assisting those with MS.
Another study had this to say about CBD-rich hemp products,
“we are in the opinion that we already have some good reasons to believe that CBD enriched cannabis is useful to improve the mobility of PwMS.”
One study noted there is now a pharmaceutical product approved by the US FDA to treat multiple sclerosis,
“The oromucosal spray administration of Sativex (a commercially available preparation containing CBD and Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, Δ9-THC) has been agreed for the treatment of pain and spasticity in multiple sclerosis (MS).”
“the different mechanisms of action of CBD, its beneficial effects on animal models of MS, and perspectives for human therapeutic treatment.”
CBD has shown benefit in animal models and is showing promise for human treatment also.
We hope this article has covered how hemp works for multiple sclerosis, the enormity of the research backing the effectiveness of hemp cannabinoids for those suffering with MS and how the endocannabinoid system and its vital functioning are integral to the healing, regeneration and healthy functioning of every of the system of the body.
If you found this article of value, share it with a friend, and check out our blog for the latest research on all things hemp, cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system relating to human health.
As always, prior to undertaking any changes to your lifestyle or treatment plan consult with a licenced medical professional.