Marijuana Component Has Mixed Effect on Multiple Sclerosis

A marijuana component called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, has demonstrated a mixed effect on multiple sclerosis (MS), according to the authors of the CUPID (Cannabinoid Use in Progressive Inflammatory brain Disease) study. The findings suggest marijuana may have a place in managing MS.

Marijuana and MS studies

At least two studies have explored the use of marijuana in MS in recent times, but let’s look at CUPID first. The purpose of the eight-year study, performed by experts from the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, Plymouth University, was to determine whether THC would slow progression of MS based on two outcomes: disability and patient-reported impact.

Nearly 500 people with multiple sclerosis from around the United Kingdom participated in the study, in which the individuals were randomly assigned to take either THC capsules or placebo capsules for three years. The patients were followed to identify whether their MS changed over time.

The researchers discovered the following:

  • THC did not have an effect on progression of MS regarding either disability or patient-reported effect
  • A small group of participants did demonstrate evidence of benefit from treatment, but further research is needed to better define it
  • MS progressed more slowly than expected in treated patients
  • The CUPID study will give investigators important information for use in future large-scale clinical trials concerning MS

According to John Zajicek, professor of Clinical Neuroscience at PCMD, “current treatments for MS are limited, either being targeted at the immune system in the early stages of the disease or aimed at easing specific symptoms such as muscle spasms, fatigue or bladder problems.” With that in mind, here’s a brief look at another new study on MS.

Smoking marijuana and MS
This clinical study was conducted at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine and involved patients with multiple sclerosis who smoked marijuana. Dr. Jody Corey-Bloom, who led the study, reported in a May 14, 2012press release from UCSD Health Systems that “We found that smoked cannabis was superior to placebo in reducing symptoms and pain in patients with treatment-resistant spasticity, or excessive muscle contractions.”

Thirty patients participated in the study. During the first arm of the study, half of the patients smoked marijuana daily for three days while the other half smoked a placebo. Eleven days later, the two groups switched, so all 30 patients eventually smoked marijuana.

Marijuana use was associated with up to a 50 percent reduction in pain and improved range of motion. On the down side, the patients also experienced some short-term problem with attention, concentration, and fatigue.

Multiple sclerosis affects about 400,000 people in the United States and approximately 2.1 million around the world. This autoimmune disease affects women 2 to 3 times more than men, and it can strike at any age, although it typically first appears between 20 and 50.

Marijuana’s role in MS
It should be noted there is already a marijuana-based drug (THC and cannabidiol are the components) on the market for MS. Called Sativex, it is an oromucosal spray used to reduce spasticity. Sativex is not yet available in the United States, although the UK-based firm that makes the drug had applied for FDA approval. The drug has approval in eight European countries, Canada, and New Zealand.

Regarding the PCMD study, Zajicek noted that “researchers around the world are desperately searching for treatments that may be ‘neuroprotective.’ Laboratory experiments have suggested that certain cannabis derivatives may be neuroprotective.”

Research has clearly shown that that marijuana, in some form, can have a positive impact on people who have multiple sclerosis, which suggests further research is needed into the benefits of marijuana and its components in the battle against MS.


Corey-Bloom J et al. Smoked cannabis for spasticity in multiple sclerosis: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Canadian Medical Association Journal 2012 May 14

National Multiple Sclerosis Society

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