THE QUESTION Marijuana has been investigated as a medicinal aid for people with cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and other conditions. Might smoking marijuana help relieve the muscle spasticity in people with multiple sclerosis?
THIS STUDY involved 30 adults (average age, 51) with MS who had spasticity (tight, difficult-to-control muscles) that had not responded well to treatment. To get around, nearly half used a cane or walker, and 20 percent needed a wheelchair. Under supervision, they smoked either a marijuana cigarette or a placebo cigarette once a day for three days, averaging four puffs per cigarette. Eleven days later, the process was repeated but with participants smoking the other substance. Before and after each daily session, health professionals used a standardized scale to evaluate muscle tone in elbows, hips and knees; cognitive abilities also were tested. Participants had about 30 percent less spasticity after smoking marijuana than after using the placebo, and they reported 50 percent less pain. Scores on cognitive tests were consistently lower after marijuana use than before. The marijuana was described as well tolerated, but side effects included dizziness and nausea, and a few people said they felt “too high.”
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People with multiple sclerosis, a disease in which damage to the protective sheath around nerves interrupts messages from the brain to the body. Spasticity, one of the common effects of MS, is usually treated with medication, but those drugs can have serious risks and side effects and do not work for all people.
CAVEATS The authors wrote that more study is needed to determine if lower doses of marijuana could produce benefits with less negative effect on cognition. Only short-term effects were tested. Long-term use of marijuana has been tied to an increased risk for lung disease, cancer, heart attack, anxiety and other health problems, as well as memory and thinking problems and addiction risk. Marijuana for medical use is legal in some states, though doctors who prescribe it might be liable to prosecution under federal law.
FIND THIS STUDY May 15 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (www.cmaj.ca).
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-
reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.