Study: Marijuana Alleviates Muscle Pain in MS

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Where numerous other treatments have failed to safely relieve stiffness in patients with multiple sclerosis, cannabis extract proved twice as effective as a placebo. It also helped with pain, spasms, and sleep.

mikebaird615.jpgmikebaird/Flickr

PROBLEM: Muscle stiffness, often painful, affects up to 90 percent of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), yet no reliable treatment has been found. Drugs that have undergone clinical trials have been proven to be either ineffective or, in the case of baclofen, to further weaken those with the disease. This phase-III trial considers the clinical effectiveness of cannabis, already turned to as an alternative treatment by patients.

METHODOLOGY: At different sites across the UK, adult MS patients were randomly assigned to 12 weeks of treatment: 144 received cannabis extract in the form of a pill, while 135 others were treated with a placebo. A rating scale was used to evaluate improvements in muscle stiffness, its associated pain, muscle spasms, and sleep quality.

RESULTS: Just under 30 percent of subjects treated with cannabis extract experienced relief from muscle stiffness, making their success rate almost double that of the placebo group. Pain, spasms, and sleep quality were also improved in the treatment group to about the same extent. At the end of the twelve weeks only one in four patients were taking the maximum daily dose of 25 mg of cannabis. None of the side effects experienced by those in the treatment group were particularly severe. Most occurred during the first two weeks of the trial (when they were allowed to increase their dosage) and were therefore probably attributable to the rapid dose escalation.

CONCLUSION: Cannabis extract was confirmed as a viable treatment option, and an effective form of pain relief, for those experiencing muscle problems associated with MS.

The full study, "Multiple Sclerosis and Extract of Cannabis: results of the MUSEC trial," is published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry.

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Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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