The question of whether marijuana — produced from the flowering top of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa — should be used for symptom management in multiple sclerosis (MS) is a complex one. It is generally agreed that better therapies are needed for distressing symptoms of MS — including pain, tremor and spasticity — that may not be sufficiently relieved by available treatments. Development of more treatments for MS symptoms is a priority for the National Society in its 2011-2015 strategic response. Still, there are uncertainties about the benefits of marijuana relative to its side effects. The fact that marijuana is an illegal drug in many states and by federal statute (see Supreme Court ruling below) further complicates the issue.
The Society supports the rights of people with MS to work with their MS health care providers to access marijuana for medical purposes in accordance with legal regulations in those states where such use has been approved. In addition, the Society supports advancing research to better understand the benefits and potential risks of marijuana and its derivatives as a treatment for MS.
On June 6, 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government has the power to prohibit and prosecute the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes — even in the 20 states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) and Washington, D.C., where it is currently legal.
The decision overturned a 2003 ruling by a federal appeals court that shielded California's Compassionate Use Act, the medical-marijuana initiative adopted by the state's voters nine years ago, from federal drug enforcement. The appeals court had held that Congress lacked constitutional authority to regulate the noncommercial cultivation and use of marijuana that did not cross state lines.
In December 2014, the federal government ended its prohibition on the use of marijuana for medical purposes in fiscal year 2015 in those states where the use of marijuana had been approved for medical purposes before May 2014 (when the bill to end this prohibition was passed in Congress). Read more in Marijuana FAQs.