I've heard that cannabis can help ease symptoms of MS. Is that true?

Answers from Dean M. Wingerchuk, M.D.

Recent studies found that an extract of cannabis taken in a capsule form can help relieve multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms, such as muscle stiffness (spasticity) and spasms, and may also reduce pain. A mixture of cannabis extracts taken in spray form possibly reduces symptoms of spasticity, pain and bladder urgency.

But the use of cannabis to treat MS symptoms is complicated.

All cannabis-based medicines have side effects, and some can be serious, including:

  • Difficulty with attention or concentration
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Dry mouth
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of balance and falls
  • Depression or psychosis

Cannabis is a federally controlled substance. At this time, medical marijuana can be prescribed legally in approximately 20 states and in Washington, D.C.

To date, the Food and Drug Administration has approved two synthetic forms of marijuana for medical use, dronabinol (Marinol) and nabilone (Cesamet), both available in capsule form.

Both drugs are approved for treating nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy that does not respond to standard treatment. Dronabinol is also approved for loss of appetite associated with weight loss in people with AIDS. At this time, the drugs are not approved for other uses.

An oral cannabis extract spray, nabiximols (Sativex), is not currently available in the U.S. Also, smoked marijuana has not been adequately studied for safety and benefit.

The role of cannabis for MS symptoms has not been fully defined. Future research will help determine the balance of benefits and risks of cannabis and compare its effects with other treatments available to treat spasticity, pain and other MS symptoms.


Dean M. Wingerchuk, M.D.

Oct. 03, 2014 See more Expert Answers