What is multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition that affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves, which make up the central nervous system (CNS). It causes a wide range of symptoms, such as problems with vision, movement, sensation or balance. MS is a lifelong condition that ranges from mild to severe disability. According to the MS Society, over 130,000 people in the UK have MS and each year around 7000 people are newly diagnosed.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune condition, meaning the immune system mistakenly attacks a healthy part of the body. In MS, the immune system targets the central nervous system and attacks the protective layer around nerve fibres, called the myelin sheath. This results in a damaged myelin sheath and the underlying nerves can also be damaged, so nerve signalling is slower or disrupted. Eventually, the disease can cause permanent damage/deterioration of nerves. It is unclear why the immune system does this, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Symptoms of MS
Symptoms of MS vary depending on the amount of nerve damage and which nerves are affected. Symptoms differ significantly from person to person and over the course of the disease, for example:
- Vision problems – blurred/double vision or partial/complete loss of vision
- Muscle stiffness and spasms (spasticity)
- Problems with balance and coordination
- Difficulty walking
- Neuropathic and musculoskeletal pain
- Bladder and bowel problems
- Problems with thinking, learning, and planning
- Mental health issues
- Speech and swallowing difficulties
- Sexual issues
Treatments for MS
There is no cure for MS, but there are a number of treatments that can control the condition and ease symptoms. Steroid treatment is common to speed up recovery after a relapse, but they do not prevent further relapses or slow the progression of the condition. Steroids are only given for a short period of time to minimise side-effects, such as osteoporosis, weight gain, and diabetes. Muscle spasms and spasticity can be improved with physiotherapy or for more severe spasms, medicines that relax muscles (baclofen, gabapentin, tizanidine, diazepam etc.). These medications have side-effects, such as dizziness, nausea, diarrhoea, and weakness. If these medicines are not effective, patients may be offered a 4-week trial of nabiximols.
How can CBD help?
CBD binds to receptors in the central nervous system, which can ease inflammation and help the brain’s immune response. According to a 2014 survey by the MS Society, 1 in 5 people with MS use cannabis to ease their symptoms, particularly muscle spasticity and pain. A 2018 review found that CBD reduced fatigue, pain, inflammation, depression, and spasticity in people with MS, which improved overall mobility. CBD increases the levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines and inhibits pro-inflammatory cytokines. Most of the body’s cannabinoid receptors are located in the central nervous system, which is why CBD is a very promising treatment for MS.
Savitex is the brand name for the cannabis-based drug nabiximols. Savitex is licensed in the UK to treat muscle spasticity in MS patients that has not improved with other treatments. It is a mouth spray containing equal parts of THC and CBD. It is licensed for moderate to severe spasticity. Savitex can be prescribed a doctor but since it is not approved to be routinely commissioned on the NHS, it is very difficult to get without paying for a private prescription.
Savitex has been shown to be a safe and effective way to reduce muscle spasticity in MS patients. According to the MS Society, around 7 in 10 users of Savitex see their spasticity reduce by at least 20%. Savitex is only licensed to treat muscle spasticity but people have reported it can help with other symptoms, such as:
- Neuropathic and musculoskeletal pain
- Bladder problems and urination frequency
- Difficulty sleeping
- Mental health issues – emotional outbursts, anxiety, depression
A 2014 study investigated the effects of nabiximols in 276 patients with treatment-resistant MS. They found that after 1 month, nabiximols provided relief in 74.6% of patients. It was concluded that nabiximols is an effective and well-tolerated treatment for resistant MS. Other studies found that cannabinoids are an effective treatment for the symptoms of MS, but more research is needed to determine how cannabinoids relieve muscle spasticity.
DISCLAIMER: This content was developed for purely informational purposes and does not constitute healthcare advice. All the information is generalised and is from referenced third parties. HempWell does not offer medical advice. HempWell’s CBD products are sold as food supplements. If you have any concerns about taking CBD, please contact your healthcare provider, especially if you are on other medications.