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A new survey shows high usage rates of cannabinoids like CBD for multiple sclerosis, but most patients are figuring out these new products on their own. Can CBD help with your MS symptoms? Learn more about the research, how to take it, side effects, and more.

More People with MS Turning to Cannabis for Help with Pain, Sleep

A new survey shows high usage rates of cannabinoids like CBD for multiple sclerosis, but most patients are figuring out these new products on their own.

More than 40% of those with multiple sclerosis said they’ve used cannabis products in the past year, according to recently published results from a national survey on pain in people with MS.

And those who turned to products with some combination of compounds derived from the cannabis plant (CBD, or cannabidiol, and THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol) were most likely to try them for help with chronic pain and sleep—two symptoms that are common and often go together in this chronic neurological disease.

It represents an increase from previous studies of CBD/THC use in MS, as more states legalize marijuana use recreationally and/or medically. However, there’s a wide gap between the proportion of people with MS who have used a cannabinoid in the past year (42%) and the proportion who have spoken with their physician about it (only 18%). Furthermore, fewer than 1% of cannabinoid users received information from their provider about the type of cannabinoid product recommended for their symptoms.

“Reasons for the disconnect between respondent use and provider guidance in our sample requires further study, but reinforces a longstanding concern that research focused on the use of cannabinoids for MS symptoms has not caught up with consumer use of these products,” says lead author Tiffany Braley, M.D., M.S., an associate professor of neurology and an MS specialist at Michigan Medicine.

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The study included survey responses from more than 1,000 people with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis from across the nation.

When it comes to selecting a cannabinoid product, survey respondents who had a preference tended to use CBD products, which don’t have the same psychoactive effects of THC and tend to be easy to find online or in stores in many different forms.

Senior author Anna Kratz, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, said “patients are looking for guidance from their providers to make informed choices about whether cannabis compounds should be used at all, and if so, which formulations would be most beneficial.”

However, providers still don’t have a lot of good evidence to help them advise patients who plan to explore a cannabinoid for their chronic MS symptoms. It’s frustrating, Braley says, because symptoms like chronic pain and some sleep disturbances in MS can be challenging to treat with existing options, and new, safe, more personalized approaches would be welcomed. “However, provider guidance for patients must be informed by research focused on the benefits and harms of both CBD and THC, and potential mechanisms that underlie the effects of cannabinoids on MS symptoms.” she says.

Braley adds many publications about cannabis in MS, including this one, have had populations that skew female-identifying and white, highlighting a need for more diverse perspectives from racial and ethnic minorities that have been historically underrepresented in MS research.

Paper cited: ” Cannabinoid use among Americans with MS: Current trends and gaps in knowledge.” Multiple Sclerosis Journal – Experimental, Translational and Clinical. DOI: 10.1177/2055217320959816

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What to Know About CBD and MS

The FDA hasn’t approved CBD to treat multiple sclerosis, or MS. Studies are ongoing, but the evidence is mixed. Here’s what we know.

How It May Help

Experts think CBD affects your brain by attaching to certain receptors in the central nervous system. They change the way these receptors respond to stimulation. This may ease inflammation and help with your brain’s immune responses.

More research is needed, but scientists think CBD may help with these MS symptoms:

How to Take CBD

It comes in many forms. You can find CBD in:

  • Certain foods or drinks (oral capsules, oral sprays, nose sprays, oils)
  • Personal care products you rub on your skin

CBD oil is a common way to take it. You can put it under your tongue or add it to your food or drinks. You can also put it on your skin. Some research found sprays you put under your tongue might be best for MS.

CBD is considered a dietary supplement. The FDA doesn’t regulate supplements, so there’s no way to know if what you’re getting is safe and effective. Studies show many CBD products aren’t as pure as the label says. Some have ore or less CBD. Others may have some THC in them.

Experts say taking 300 milligrams a day by mouth for up to 6 months might be safe. Taking 1,500 milligrams per day by mouth for up to 1 month may be OK, too. People have used 2.5-milligram sprays under their tongue for up to 2 weeks.

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What to Watch For

Possible side effects may include:

Eating foods that are high in fat can cause your body to absorb more CBD. This can lead to side effects. It could react with other medications you’re taking, such as blood thinners. Be sure to talk to your doctor before trying any form of CBD.

Show Sources

Harvard Medical School: “Cannabidiol (CBD) — what we know and what we don’t.”

National Institute on Drug Abuse: “What is marijuana?”

FDA: “FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products, Including Cannabidiol (CBD).”

MS Trust: “Sativex (nabiximols).”

Frontiers in Neurology: “Cannabidiol to Improve Mobility in People with Multiple Sclerosis.”

British Journal of Pharmacology: “The endocannabinoid system as a target for the treatment of neurodegenerative disease.”

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