“The drug is really quite a remarkably safe one for humans, although it is really quite a dangerous one for mice and they should not use it.” – J.W.D Henderson Director of the Bureau of Human Drugs, Health and Welfare, Canada. If you or a loved on has MS, then by now you have seen their pain and symptoms and have wondered about marijuana and Multiple Sclerosis.
Depending on who you ask, marijuana is either a cure-all for Multiple Sclerosis symptoms or a deadly drug that creates homeless crack addicts. Compassionate Care, Medicinal Cannabis, whatever you’d like to call it, is a hot-button issue that drives many otherwise sane people to extremes when discussed.
Surveys have shown that as many as 50% or as few as 16% of individuals diagnosed with MS already smoke cannabis even with its inherent legal risks. What does Marijuana do exactly that benefits a person with Multiple Sclerosis? And with a prescription THC pill and mouth spray out there, why choose to smoke it instead?
Studies have been conducted around the world to establish what effect Marijuana has on an individual with Multiple Sclerosis. The results have pointed to multisymptomatic relief. It has been proven to significantly relieve spasticity even moreso than available treatments. Other symptoms have also shown improvement, although in some cases the actual improvement was less than the perceived improvement due to an increase in one’s quality of life. When inhaled (smoked or with a vaporizer) the drug is more effective and the dosage can be controlled more easily than with a pill. Additionally, with 96 chemicals in the plant, there are many cannabinoids that can produce positive effects that do not come in a pill containing only THC. I begin to wonder why did anyone decide to develop a pill for this anyway?
Studies have proven that cannabis can be used to improve the following symptoms:
- pain (including chronic pain)
- sexual dysfunction
- bowel dysfunctions
- bladder dysfunctions
- vision dimness
- balance (ataxia)
- memory loss
- mobility (as measured by a walking test)
Studies have also shown that marijuana usage results in a decrease in relapses, slowing or halting progression of disease.
Yes, marijuana may reduce relapses. Anecdotal evidence points to improvement in speech and depression as well as truly remarkable and extreme effects on spasticity.
Multiple Sclerosis is not the only disease that could benefit from treatment with this drug – studies have very recently shown that it can actually fight the HIV virus. Marijuana is also used to treat glaucoma, symptoms of cancer, aids, rheumatoid arthritis, a variety of spinal and neurological injuries, and possibly a host of other illnesses. Studies have also shown that long-term users of cannabis need lower dosages as treatment progresses.
When I first developed spasticity and looked for alternates to the opiates prescribed to me I found the usual suggestions – heat, avoidance of heat, massage, acupuncture, etc. Anecdotal evidence for marijuana was abundant and sounded miraculous, but scientific evidence was virtually nonexistent. Fortunately, in the years that have passed, numerous studies have been carefully completed to determine the effects of marijuana in a scientific way. Letters to representatives in my state have shown a complete intolerance of it – I believe Lindsey Graham’s reply said that it was both dangerous and deadly and that he would not consider it for medical use.
While possible side effects of marijuana use are low-risk, they may be more serious for a person with mental or cognitive issues: anxiety, panic, paranoia, acute psychosis and hallucination, delusions, slight change in motor and cognitive function, and a brief “high” or euphoria. While death is not a side effect for marijuana, it is a possible side effect for every medication prescribed to me for pain (among a plethora of other dangerous side effects). One may wonder if some of the anxiety, paranoia, etc may be related to the legal status of the treatment.
Where is it legal? In many places in the world it is illegal, but it may be widely used and never prosecuted. Some surprising countries have legalized or decriminalized the substance (like Iran?).
While the list is everchanging, at the time I write this, it is legal in the US for medical use in The District Of Columbia and in the following states:
The term “legal” here refers to use or possession. Whether or not it is legal to cultivate, purchase, or distribute are separate issues. In some states it is harshly punished while it is publicly tolerated in others. My little state, South Carolina, arrests more citizens for marijuana possession than any other state in the union.
Because laws can change so rapidly, please use this link for an overview of cannabis policy by state.
The United States is the largest per capita marijuana consumer in the world with over half the population having used it by age 21. Marijuana possession accounts for approximately half all drug arrests in the country.
With such socially accepted prevalence, how did it become illegal?
Once upon a time, many farmers were required to grow hemp – it was most popularly used in rope and fabric. In fact, cannabis was one of George Washington’s three main crops. It was thoroughly legal until 1860. Approximately 500 smoking parlors were in New York City alone by by 1880, often alongside opium dens.
Widely used as a medicine, in 1906 pharmacies in some states began labeling cannabis as a poison and requiring prescriptions for it (along with opiates). Prohibitions began in the 1920s when rampant racism toward Chinese immigrants drew negative attention to the substance (marijuana is one of the 50 fundamental herbs in Chinese medicine). Prior to the Great Depression, tensions had been growing between small farms and wealthy farms using cheap Mexican labor. The influx of Mexican labor drew attention to their common practice at that time of smoking it.
During the International Opium Convention in 1925, the US supported regulating Indian hemp for the use of medical or scientific purposes, excluding any regulation of European Hemp which was traditionally grown in the US (European Hemp is the industrial hemp used for fabrics, etc which does not produce a medical benefit or a “high”). At this time, Mexico had prohibited Cannabis. As jobs became harder to find laws were created targeting certain groups of immigrants by criminalizing recreational substances such as cannabis. Some type of regulation for marijuana was in place in every state by 1935.
In 1937 The Marijuana Tax Act was implemented making possession and transfer illegal under federal law for all uses without purchasing an expensive excise tax. Logs were then kept to document each sale. Fees were charged per ounce for sales to individuals who had not paid the tax. Following World War II, when farmers were asked to grow hemp they were issued tax stamps by the military to do so. The American Medical Association opposed the Act altogether, but it was not repealed until 1970.
During the 1970s the process toward decriminalization began; however, the drug is still regulated by federal law. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 ruled that cannabis has “no currently accepted medical use” and separated its classification from other narcotics.
Many attempts have been made to decriminalize cannabis on a federal level. The federal government still sends marijuana cigarettes to a few people as part of a program that was ended in 1992. Why was it ended? The program was quickly shut down after an appeal was made to George H W Bush to make AIDS patients eligible for the program.
With the recent raid on Oaksterdam University, talk of drug testing for jobless benefits, and other crackdowns on organizations legalized by their respective states you may wonder what is the federal government’s true stance on marijuana.
You might be surprised.
In 2003, the United States government patented cannabinoids as “antioxidants and neuroprotectants,” having medicinal use in the prevention and treatment of many illnesses including auto-immune disorders, stroke, trauma, Parkinson’s, Alzeheimer’s and HIV dementia.
What an perplexing situation – the federal government is providing marijuana to some citizens and has patented it for its medical properties, but is also prosecuting businesses and institutions who provide the substance to citizens for medicinal use.
I learned so much about the history of cannabis and America when researching this post. My first instinct is to chalk up it’s reputation and legal status to prejudicial attitudes and the delay of full decriminalization on greed. Has history doomed this as a medicine? Some organizations out there are working diligently to fight for this drug as a valid, legal treatment for Multiple Sclerosis and other diseases. I say the more tools we have to improve life with this disease, the better.
Has medical marijuana helped you or a loved one with MS? Has it caused harm? Do you believe it should remain illegal or be decriminalized?