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CBD has been shown to support the regeneration of the myelin sheath around the nerve fibers.
It’s also used to support pain, anxiety, and inflammation.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating neurodegenerative disorder affecting two and a half million people around the world.
Cannabis extracts have recently been investigated for their potential role in treating the disease and its symptoms — and the results are promising.
In this article, you’ll learn how CBD and THC are used as a treatment for MS and its symptoms, and the limitations of this all-natural approach.
A pharmaceutical preparation of CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) — Sativex® — was approved by the FDA in 2018 as a treatment for MS.
Sativex® comes as a spray containing a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD and a trace amount of other select cannabinoids.
MS begins with low-grade inflammation in the brain. Specialized cells known as T-cells pass through the blood-brain barrier and congregate around the nerve fibers.
These T-cells are one of the main components of our immune system. Think of them as our immune soldiers, deployed to fight infection.
In the case of MS, these T-cells decide to attack the myelin sheath around the nerve fibers — destroying and scaring them in the process.
One of the primary aims of treatment is stopping these T-cells from going rogue and attacking the body, and preventing them from being passing the blood-brain barrier.
CBD has been shown to slow the movement of T-cells across the blood-brain barrier and limit the inflammatory reaction involved with the disease [4, 5, 6].
It’s important to remember that there is still no cure for MS — CBD and other medications can only slow the progression of the disease and treat individual symptoms.
MS is an autoimmune condition affecting the myelin insulation around nerve cells. Without myelin, the nerves can’t transmit messages to the rest of the body or the brain.
The cause of MS is hard to determine in most cases but usually involves underlying autoimmune conditions. Autoimmunity happens when the body’s immune system begins attacking and destroying myelin on the nerve cells in the brain.
There is no cure for MS — most of the treatment options are aimed at slowing progression and easing symptoms.
MS can have different levels of severity from one person to the next — symptoms can be anywhere from mild to severe. However, the lifespan of those affected is generally the same as those without the disease. Some reports suggest a six-year difference between people with MS and those without.
Each of our neurons is coated with a fatty substance known as myelin. Its purpose is to speed up the electrical transmission as it moves down the neuron. MS causes a breakdown of this myelin and a buildup of scar tissue in its place (sclerosis).
When the myelin sheath is destroyed, electrical impulses can’t move through the nerve effectively and get lost before getting to the intended destination in the brain or elsewhere in the body. This means the message won’t reach its destination. Thoughts feel slowed, concentration is difficult, and body movements become clumsy as only some of these messages make it through.
The myelin also prevents nerve impulses from affecting other nearby neurons — so without it, our neurons begin to “short-out” — sending electrical signals unintentionally. This accounts for a lot of the muscle spasms involved with MS.
Eventually, when there’s no myelin left, the affected neurons can no longer send messages at all. As this begins to happen, there are several negative symptoms depending on where the demyelination occurs. People with MS often experience bouts of dizziness, loss of bladder control, changes in the way they walk or move, hearing loss, vision loss, headaches, and fatigue.
This is the first episode of MS symptoms. Usually, the first sign of the disease is a sudden onset of symptoms that last more than 24 hours. When this happens only once, it’s referred to as clinically isolated. When these symptoms return, we can begin classifying them as a specific form of MS listed below.
This form of MS is characterized by bursts of intense symptoms followed by periods of remission. The condition gets gradually worse over time — often, over many years.
Roughly 85% of people with MS experience this form of the disease.
This form of MS involves a steady progression of symptoms without remissions. It affects about 15% of MS cases on average.
Primary progressive MS involves a steady attack on myelin, producing a predictable worsening of symptoms over time.
Plateaus may occur from time to time, during which symptoms appear to remain the same for long periods. However, it’s unclear why some cases plateau for a while before continuing their progression. Good MS management will promote plateaus more often, but this isn’t always possible.
This is a hybrid of relapse-remitting and primary progressive MS. Symptoms generally start with initial episodes of relapse or remission before transitioning into something with a more steady progression of symptoms.
Roughly 1 in 700 people in the United States will be diagnosed with MS at some point in their lives. These figures are similar in other developed regions of the world. Twin studies on the condition have shown that although there are genetic components to the disease, it goes much deeper than that. With identical twins, if one has MS, the other only has a 30% chance of developing the condition — this is much lower than with other genetic disorders.
It’s hard to determine the individual causes of MS — it’s more than likely the condition is a combination of many different factors.
There are some factors that medical researchers have determined to be related to those affected. We call these risk factors for the condition. The more risk factors are present, the higher the chances of developing MS.
The most debilitating symptoms of MS are fatigue, muscle spasms/weakness, and nerve pain. Therefore, the primary treatment aim, aside from slowing the progression of the disease, is to address these symptoms as necessary.
Opiate and corticosteroid analgesics are often used to treat severe cases of pain. Otherwise, other analgesics such as acetaminophen are preferred because they produce fewer side-effects and less potential for addiction.
Cannabis extracts — including CBD and THC — are also popular treatments for the pain associated with MS.
Emotional changes are common with the condition, so antidepressants and mood stabilizers are often prescribed.
MS, like many other medical conditions, is characterized by underlying inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. Inflammation itself is extremely complex, often involving dozens of inflammatory messengers each interacting differently with each other.
Researchers have highlighted key inflammatory messengers involved with MS — this is used to drive the development of new treatment options.
In the case of MS, the primary inflammatory markers involved include TNFα, IL-1β, IL-2, IL-6, IL-12, and IFN-γ. CBD has been shown to reduce the activity of all of these inflammatory markers and activate other inflammatory processes in the microglial cells that are found abundantly in the human brain [4, 5, 6].
The overall effect is a reduction in neuroinflammation driving the destruction of the myelin — the primary cause for disease progression.
A 2012 meta-analysis analyzed a series of clinical trials from 1980 to 2012 to review the effects of CBD and THC on muscle spasticity associated with MS . They found that, overall, CBD and THC extracts were well tolerated and offered improvement in symptoms even in patients who were unable to find relief with conventional anticonvulsant medications.
Sativex® was involved in a series of clinical studies to determine its effects on the various symptoms of MS, including nerve pain . This study found that those taking Sativex® had significantly reduced pain scores in the final week of treatment.
CBD is a useful supplement for alleviating symptoms of MS and may even be able to slow the progression of the disease.
Most of the research involving CBD for MS used a combination of CBD and THC at a 1:1 ratio. It appears these two cannabinoids work synergistically together to provide relief from symptoms.
In many countries, products containing THC are illegal. However, MS is one of the few conditions that medical cannabis is generally prescribed for — but this can vary according to your country.
Even if you can’t find products containing both THC and CBD, or don’t want the psychoactive effects from the THC, you can still use most CBD products. CBD will provide relief from several key symptoms of MS.
As previously mentioned, products containing an even ratio of CBD:THC are likely going to have the most to offer. These products are not widely available, however, because they are illegal in most countries.
The second best option is to source a product made with a full-spectrum extract. This will include the whole array of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other phytochemicals from the cannabis plant.
There are plenty of high-quality full-spectrum CBD products on the market. Separating the good products from bad ones is as easy as skimming through reviews written by knowledgeable CBD users. This is an essential step because the CBD industry is poorly regulated and there is a lot of low-quality, contaminated products on the market.
With MS, contaminants can worsen the condition, so it’s crucial that you go with a product that’s been made from organic hemp and undergone third-party lab tests to confirm the absence of contaminants such as heavy metals or pesticides.
CBD comes in many different forms. Although all are going to be beneficial, there are positives and negatives to each.
The next step is to outline the rough dosage you’re likely to need.
This can vary from one person to the next but can be estimated using your weight and the desired strength (low, medium, or high).
Recommended strength for MS: high strength
Here’s a convenient dosing chart to make calculating your dose as simple as possible.
MS is a slow-progressing neurodegenerative disorder affecting the myelin sheath on the neuron cells. As the myelin breaks down, the neurons lose their ability to transmit electrical signals to other areas of the brain and body.
CBD and THC have both been extensively tested to establish their role in alleviating symptoms of this condition. It appears that an even ratio of the two compounds is going to offer the most benefit, but products containing a high CBD content still have positive effects.
We recommend using a full-spectrum product at the higher end of the dosage scale for this condition. It’s also critically important that your doctor monitors your CBD use to avoid negative interactions with other medications and to ensure the best possible outcome.