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
On 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
Wrong – 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.
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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50shadesofsun.com 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.