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What is the Society’s position on the use of marijuana for medical purposes?
The Society supports the rights of people with MS to work with their health care provider 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 the need for more research to better understand the benefits and potential risks of marijuana and its derivatives as a treatment for MS.
Recent federal legislation passed for fiscal year 2015 may ease the minds of people who want to use medical marijuana in certain states. Although marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, this legislation clarifies that in 2015, the federal government will not use federal funds to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that enacted legislation prior to May 7, 2014 permitting medical marijuana use.
We believe that the federal government’s decision to end their prohibition on the use of marijuana for medical purposes in fiscal year 2015 will ease the existing legal confusion in those states listed in the legislation, where the use of marijuana was approved for medical purposes by May 2014.
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What is the basis for the Society’s position?
There is significant, unmet need for therapies that can address complex and painful symptoms often experienced by people with MS. An increasing number of studies suggest that derivatives of marijuana such as oral cannabis extract, sprays and pills may lessen patient reported MS symptoms like spasticity, pain related to spasticity, and frequent urination.
Current research is unable to fully determine whether smoked marijuana is safe or helpful for treating MS symptoms. Additional research is needed and should be initiated to better determine the possible role smoked marijuana or marijuana derivatives could have in treating MS symptoms and helping people with MS to live their best lives.
Some people with MS have reported that smoking marijuana can help alleviate their MS symptoms. Research suggests that cannabinoids (marijuana derivatives) have potential for the management of MS symptoms such as pain and spasticity, and even protecting the nervous system, though further research is required to determine what that potential might be. However, based on studies to date, the benefits of smoked marijuana as a treatment for symptoms associated with MS still remains unclear.
As with any therapy, along with potential benefits come potential side effects. Cannabis-related therapies can cause various side effects including: difficulty with attention or concentration, dizziness, drowsiness, loss of balance, and problems with thinking and memory. Each individual, in consultation with their health care provider, should make an informed risk-benefit decision regarding the use of marijuana and its derivatives.
While research continues, and since cannabis derivatives including oral cannabis extract, sprays and pills, are not yet approved in the U.S. for treating MS, the National MS Society supports the rights of people in the United States to work with their health care provider to access marijuana for medical purposes through designated state-monitored dispensaries in states where such use has been legalized.
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The American Academy of Neurology has completed and published an extensive review of existing research looking at the effects of marijuana for medical use in MS symptom management (.pdf), as well as many other complementary and alternative therapies. This guideline is an important step forward in assisting both the public and professional community in better understanding what is currently known about complementary and alternative therapies and what research is still required to better evaluate their impact in addressing MS symptoms.
What have been the findings to date of research funded in this area by the Society?
The Society is supporting a clinical trial of different forms of cannabis products to test their ability to relieve spasticity in people with MS. Unfortunately, completion of this trial has been delayed due to challenges with recruiting patients able to adhere to the significant government requirements for trials using cannabis products.
The Society is committed to funding additional research with cannabis products and to addressing government regulations that may be impeding research progress.