MS Society calls for legalisation of medicinal cannabis and dispels 5 myths

Legalise medicinal cannabis is the call of the MS Society as it tries to persuade the UK government to act. And, as part of its campaign, the society is seeking to dispel some popular misconceptions. It has also produced its own report on the use of medicinal cannabis in treating MS.1

Oomsn its website, the society says that with so much information “swirling around the internet”, it’s hard to be sure what’s true and what’s not. That’s why it decided, in its own words, “to bust five common myths about cannabis and MS”.

These are the misconceptions that the society has highlighted:

1. ‘Cannabis for medicinal use’ means any kind of cannabis

This can be confusing, as the media often refers to both licensed cannabis products and the illegal drug as ‘medicinal cannabis’.

What medical professionals usually mean by ‘medicinal cannabis’ or ‘medical cannabis’ is cannabis products licensed as medical treatments. So, for MS, that means Sativex, which is specifically licensed to treat muscle spasms and stiffness in MS. Journalists or other people using the phrase could mean cannabis used for any medical purpose.

We’re calling for the Government to legalise cannabis for two medicinal purposes: to treat pain and spasticity when other treatments haven’t worked.

2. Cannabis has never been legal for medicinal use

This isn’t true. Thanks to the evidence, countries including Germany and Canada have already made cannabis available for medicinal use, and Ireland is considering it.2 This means people in those countries can get it safely on prescription and be confident about the quality and doses of what they’re taking.

We want the UK Government to do the same, so people with MS can treat their symptoms safely.

3. Smoking cannabis is as safe as taking Sativex

medicinalWrong – evidence shows that smoking cannabis can be harmful to people with MS, especially when it’s mixed with tobacco. Unfortunately, smoking has also been shown to speed up how quickly people develop secondary progressive MS.

As cannabis is illegal there’s no guidance about doses or quality either, so you can’t be sure if what you’re smoking is safe.

4. Cannabis is natural, so it’s better than pharma drugs

That’s not how it works. One of the main active ingredients in cannabis is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is ‘psychoactive’ and can do lots of things – including alter your mind and make you hallucinate. If you or your family have a history of mental health problems (such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder), using cannabis can trigger these or make them worse.

5. Cannabidiol (CBD) products will help my MS

CBD is the other active ingredient in cannabis. It’s not psychoactive like THC and has anti-inflammatory, anti-tremor and anti-spasmodic properties.

At the moment, there’s not enough evidence to show that products containing just CBD, like cannabis oils, can help MS symptoms. And currently there are no CBD products licensed to treat MS symptoms.

But the evidence shows that cannabis containing both CBD and THC could work for some people with MS to help with pain and spasms. It is thought that the ratio of THC to CBD determines the level of psychoactive vs. therapeutic effects of cannabis.

That’s why we think the UK Government should change the law to make cannabis available for medicinal use to help people with MS treat pain and muscle spasms, where other treatments have not worked for them.

I have never tried cannabis in any form, so cannot give any recommendation one way or another. However, I have looked into the issue and can say that I’d be prepared to give medicinal cannabis a try.

1 Cannabis and MS – The role of cannabis in treating MS symptoms.

2 The use of cannabis has been legalised in more countries than the society says, as well as some US states.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at with other companies and products. Read more.

* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

Nine myths about MS

Myth: Multiple Sclerosis is a death sentence

Fact: No, it’s not, but it is a Life sentence. Life expectancy is close to normal for most people with MS. It is a Life sentence because, as yet, a definite cure has not been found.

There are many disease modifying therapies (DMTs) that are claimed to slow the disease progression and reduce symptoms but each has its own side effects. Opinions differ but, maybe, the nearest we have to a cure is the, as yet unapproved, Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant (HSCT).

FactsMythsMyth: You’ll soon be in a wheelchair

Fact: Unlikely, actually most people with MS will never need a wheelchair or other walking aid to move around. However, about 25% will – although some, like me, will only use a wheelchair to travel longer distances.

Myth: Everyone’s MS is the same

Fact: This is simply not true. Just because someone you know who has MS can do certain things but not others, and has certain symptoms, is NO indication that you or anyone lose will progress in the same way.

No two people with MS have the same symptoms; that’s why it is known as the Snowflake disease.. Some people have mild numbness in the limbs once in their lifetime, while others may develop severe paralysis or loss of vision. The course of MS is often unpredictable.

Myth: Young people cannot get MS

Fact: MS is not an elderly person’s disease. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. However, children, teenagers, and even seniors can develop MS. Age is irrelevant.

Myth: The number of MS cases is increasing

Facts: Well, this not a total myth as more peole are being diagnosed now than previously BUT that may be because doctors are now better equipped, with MRI scans for example, to help them make that diagnosis.

What we do know is that the gap between women and men with MS is growing. It used to be two women being diagnosed for every one man but now it is nearer four to one.

Myth: Women with MS cannot become pregnant

Fact: Oh yes they can. Indeed, it may actually be a good thing as many will go into remission during their third trimester. There is even a growing body of evidence that pregnancy can lower a women’s risk for life.

Myth: Mothers with MS cannot breastfeed their babies

Fact: This probably stems from the fact that some of the medications used to treat MS can’t be taken while breastfeeding. However, with medical advice, it may be possible to stop those medications temporarily to allow a period of breastfeeding.

Myth: It’s all in your genes

Fact: Genes do play a role, and some forms of the disease havle been proved to be hereditary, however, genes are only part of the story. Viral infections and environmental factors are also in the mix.

Myth: People with MS shouldn’t exercise

Fact: More than 20 years ago this would have been the advice but in 1996 researchers at the University of Utah showed that aerobic exercise improved many of the symptoms of MS including bladder and bowel function, fatigue, and depression.

On the negative side, exercise can cause someone with MS to become overheated, which can trigger symptoms, but staying hydrated and not overdoing the activities can mitigate that.


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