Montel Williams is probably the best-known celebrity that treats his Multiple Sclerosis (MS) symptoms with cannabis. But there are thousands of other MS sufferers that find relief from their MS symptoms – everything from inflammation to tremors to depression and anxiety.
In this article we will discuss why cannabis is such an effective treatment for a variety of MS symptoms as well as how cannabis works to relieve these.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
MS is a major cause of neurological disability among young adults and is characterised by symptoms such as painful muscle spasms, tremors, loss of motor control, blurred vision, mental fatigue, depression and anxiety.
What happens in the bodies of MS sufferers is that the immune system starts to attack the central nervous system (CNS). White blood cells infiltrate the white matter (myelin) surrounding neurons, destroying the myelin sheath that protects and insulate them, ultimately causing lesions and neural degeneration.
Because myelin is essential for the nervous system to function properly, it is this demyelation, along with inflammation, that cause the physical and cognitive impairments in MS sufferers. Myelin is a fatty substance that forms a sheath around axons - essentially working in the same way as the plastic tube around electric wiring - helping to direct the electrical nerve pulses that travel through the axon, and enhancing signal speed and conduction.
Without this protective myelin layer, the electrical neural impulses travelling along the neural pathways essentially “short-circuit”, causing things like painful muscle spasms, tremors and poor muscle control.
In conjunction with electrical neural impulses, neurons also communicate with each other and the rest of the body by sending neurotransmitters from one neuron to another. These chemical messages regulate everything we feel, think and do by traveling across the synapse (the gap between two neurons) and attaching itself to specific receptors on the receiving (postsynaptic) neuron. When this attachment happens, the postsynaptic neuron moves into action and triggers the sets of events that allow the message to be passed along – whether that is a message to move an arm or a signal to regulate emotions.
What are endocannabinoids and how do they work?
Endocannabinoids are a unique set of neurotransmitters that works “backwards”. Unlike neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin that work on the postsynaptic neurons, endocannabinoids interact with presynaptic neurons.
When a postsynaptic neuron gets triggered, the “on demand” production of endocannabinoids is activated. They then travel “backward” up the axon toward the presynaptic (or “sending”) neuron. This allows endocannabinoids to act like a type of “dimmer switch” for the presynaptic neurons, limiting the amounts in which other neurotransmitters are released. Because of this “limiting” effect, the way in which neural impulses and neurotransmitters are sent, received and processed by the nervous system is basically mediated by the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
Anandamide (AEA) is an endocannabinoid that plays and important role with regulating the immune system and the way in which it functions. But it would seem that in MS patients, this ECS have gone haywire and it should therefore not come as much of a surprise that researchers found that MS sufferers don’t produce enough AEA.
How do Cannabinoids help to treat Multiple Sclerosis?
Reintroducing cannabinoids into the system along with their inherent properties, seems to be provide one answer in helping MS patients to combat many of the symptoms associated with MS.
So, let’s look at how CBD’s do this.
1. Cannabinoids are Anti-inflammatory
Because the immune system is in overdrive in MS sufferers, one of the biggest issues they have to deal with is inflammation in the brain. Inflammation ultimately leads to neural degeneration, not only worsening MS symptoms but can also lead to further CNS damage.
When the immune system activates, a proteien called cytokine is release. Cytokine is a major culprit when it comes to inflammation. Cannabinoids are powerful anti-inflammatories, and along with helping to regulate the immune system, can be extremely effective in treating MS and the majority of the associated symptoms.
2. Cannabinoids improve Muscle-Tone Control
Spasticity, tremors and poor muscle control are issues that many MS patients have to deal with – either periodically or constantly. Involuntary muscle spasms and contractions – either sustained or sudden - can be as mild as a slight feeling of tightness around joints and the lower back, but can also be so severe that it causes painful, uncontrollable movements and cramping of extremities.
Several studies such as this one and this one, found that cannabinoids are effective in controlling muscle tone, which can greatly improve the severity and frequency with which spasticity, tremors and even things like bladder function is improved.
3. Cannabinoids are Analgesics
Cannabis for the treatment of chronic pain is not new. But, just as other patients with chronic pain benefit from the analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties of Cannabinoids, so too do MS sufferers.
Cannabinoids get their analgesic effect by mediating the function of glycine receptors. These receptors play an important role when it comes to inflammatory and neuropathic pain because they regulate the way in which pain receptors signals the spinal cord and brain.
The best of all? Unlike other pain medications, CBD-users do not build up a tolerance to its effects so doses don’t need to continually be increased, cannabinoids are non-addictive, and the side-effects are minimal.
According to this 2017 meta-analysis, 30.5% of MS patients struggle with depression, and about 22% with anxiety. For a long time, mood disorders in MS patients have been caused by the diagnosis and prognosis of the disease itself. But recent research suggests that the relationship between mood and MS is actually due to brain inflammation.
As mentioned before, cannabinoids help with inflammation. This means that the actual potential root-cause of depression and anxiety can be treated with Cannabinoids. But, not only are cannabinoids anti-inflammatory, they have also been shown to directly influence the limbic system – the so-called “emotional” brain.
5. Cannabinoids are Neuroprotective & Help Neurogenesis
All in all, the effectiveness of cannabinoids as an aid in alleviating the painful and debilitating symptoms that MS patients have to deal with, are moving out of the realms of anecdotal tales and into those of scientific evidence. Research is increasingly starting to show that cannabinoids can be highly effective in treating the symptoms of MS, suggesting that in some way, cannabinoids protect and can sometimes even reverse nerve damage that has already occurred.
About Lieze Boshoff
Lieze, founder of LB Cannabis Content & Copy is a Cannabis Copywriter & Content Creator that mixes her knowledge of the cannabis industry and psychology with marketing strategies to write content and copy that attracts, engages, converts and retains.
Let her help you and your cannabis business establish its brand authority and grow market share. Contact her here for a free consultation.
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