What is multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). The central nervous system consists of a communication network of neurons (nerves) that transfer messages throughout the body. Multiple sclerosis attacks the protective barrier surrounding these nerve cells. This protective barrier is called the myelin sheath. The myelin sheath facilitates faster speeds for message transmission between neurons. The damage to the myelin results in inflammation and damage directly to the nerve cells because they are no longer protected. As a result, nerve signals are slowed significantly, or stopped all together. The body not being able to communicate properly causes all of the symptoms associated with the disease.
- Women are more likely to develop MS than men.
- Symptoms usually develop between the ages of twenty and forty.
- Countries further from the equator have higher rates of occurrence than countries closer to the equator.
There is no cure for multiple sclerosis, nor is there a one fix-all treatment plan. The purpose of traditional treatment is not to treat the disease, but to relieve and control the symptoms associated with the disease. Patients often go into periods of remission between symptomatic flare ups. Listed below, are the most common treatments for multiple sclerosis. A patient will likely require a combination of two or more of these options:
- Rehabilitation (physical therapy, speech therapy, cognitive therapy)
- Lifestyle change
There are ten medications approved to treat MS. Among the approved are anti-inflammatory medications and steroids that can help to slow the process of the disease. Unfortunately, many of the medications come with sever side effects such as nausea and vomiting. Physical, speech, and cognitive therapies help patients learn to live the highest quality of life possible with the disease. Depression is common among MS patients, so they often benefit from emotional support as well.
What role does marijuana play in the treatment of multiple sclerosis?
There is a reason that multiple sclerosis is on the list of qualifying, debilitating medical conditions in most of the United States that have a medical marijuana program. Medical marijuana can help alleviate some symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis. One of the cannabinoids in marijuana, THC, is known to reduce nausea. The other most well known cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD), is known to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. This means that in some patients, marijuana can also help with muscle spasms, tremors, fatigue, and depression. In April 2014, the American Academy of Neurology published hopeful findings in four trials. In these trials, medical marijuana proved to be beneficial in the treatment of central pain, painful spasms, and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis.
- Numbness and tingling
- Blurred or double vision
- Cognitive problems
- Speaking problems
- Trouble walking
- Loss of coordination
- Loss of bodily functions (bladder, sexual)
There is no singular known cause of multiple sclerosis. It is hypothesized to be instigated by unidentified environmental factors, heredity, and a malfunctioning immune system. There may even be an infection that triggers the onset. The causes of multiple sclerosis are not certain. There is much more research to be done on this topic.
photo credit: MTSOfan