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If you have multiple sclerosis, you should smoke dope

The symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Photo: Mikael Häggström
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Photo: Mikael Häggström

Research by the University of Dundee that was publicised in 2013 estimated that 127,000 people in the United Kingdom have multiple sclerosis (MS), with 6,000 people diagnosed with it each year. The British Multiple Sclerosis Society made use of this data, believing it to be the best available, but holds that it is only 82 percent accurate, and the true figure is higher.

So what is it, exactly?

MS is an auto-immune disease that sees the body’s immune cells attack myelin, a fatty substance found in nerves. Among the common symptoms are balance disorders, cognitive dysfunction, fatigue, gastro-intestinal distress, muscle stiffness and twitching and pain.

Hey, let’s try cannabis!

The therapies presently available help little, so many affected folk try other things, of which one is cannabis. The American Association of Neurology reported that several studies provided firm evidence that cannabis relieves pain and muscle stiffness/twitching. One study, at Tel Aviv University in Israel, saw paralysed mice regain the ability to walk. There is no end of anecdotes supporting the aid cannabis provides in the face of anxiety, fatigue, weakness of muscles and sleep deprivation, but these are not scientifically supported because clinical trials are hard to accomplish in the United States, where most states permit cannabis for medicinal use but it remains prohibited by the federal government.

What happens

The Integrative Neurophysiology Laboratory of Colorado State University is studying the effects of cannabis on MS, hampered by the federal ban (although it has applied for a licence, a lengthy process). It conducted an online survey of 139 MS patients who use cannabis, finding that 66 percent of respondents took the drug, of whom 78 percent reduced or ceased their intake of other medications as a consequence. These results are self-reported, so longer clinical trials would be required to make strong recommendations.

Preliminary results are that people with MS who use cannabis have greater leg strength, physical activity and walking speed and less fatigue, muscle stiffness and risk of falling. Of course, while admitting the benefits of cannabis in treating MS, the Multiple Sclerosis Society also lists the negative effects, which include dizziness, impaired memory, sleepiness, feeling drunk or sick, anxiety, heightened risk of seizures, slower reaction time, mental health problems, problems with coordination and reducing the effectiveness of MS drugs, but apart from that last one, these will be things you will have already withstood. The society specifically recommends against smoking cannabis because it makes more likely secondary progressive MS, where there are symptoms without remission, but given the undeniable benefits and since most sufferers end up with this anyway, surely it’s worth doing.

This society concedes that 10 percent of MS sufferers could benefit from cannabis, by which it means Sativex, a cannabis-based oral spray made by GW Pharmaceuticals that treats MS but doesn’t work on everyone and isn’t available from the National Health Service in most parts of this country on grounds of cost. Zach, a sufferer who resides in Phoenix, Arizona, noted that it took several weeks for the effects of cannabis to become apparent.

Take it away, Tracy

Tracy, who has suffered from multiple sclerosis since 1974 and has a sizeable YouTube audience, declared, “When I use medical marijuana, I get to have a normal body … for a little while…. That’s a freedom that you need.”