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Cannabis capsules may ease muscle stiffness in MS

Taking capsules with cannabis extract can improve muscle stiffness for people with multiple sclerosis, a study suggests. However, this is still an experimental treatment.

BMJ Group News

What do we know already?

cannabis leaf

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), the nerves in your brain and spinal cord slowly lose their coating. Over time, these nerves get damaged and may stop working properly. This can cause numerous problems, including extreme tiredness, numbness, and muscle spasms. Most people with MS also have periods of stiff, painful muscles.

Medicines can help with MS symptoms, but some people find that the treatments don’t help enough or that they have unacceptable side effects. They may seek out alternative treatments as a result.

Cannabis (marijuana) is one such treatment. Despite being an illegal drug, some estimates suggest that cannabis is used by up to 4 in 100 people with MS in the UK. Many people with MS who use it say it improves their muscle stiffness and other symptoms, but there’s not much good-quality research to confirm this.

To learn more, researchers recruited 279 people with MS who had muscle stiffness. The participants were randomly assigned to take capsules with either cannabis extract or no extract (placebo capsules) for 12 weeks. Neither the researchers nor the participants knew who had been given the cannabis capsules until after the study.

What does the new study say?

People taking cannabis capsules were about twice as likely to report that their muscle stiffness had improved. After 12 weeks, nearly 30 in 100 people taking cannabis capsules reported improvements, compared with about 16 in 100 people taking the placebo.

People in the cannabis group were also more likely to have improvements in their pain, muscle spasms, and sleep quality.

Participants in both groups reported side effects. However, side effects were more likely in the cannabis group, with 93 in 100 people reporting side effects, compared with around 75 in 100 in the placebo group. These problems included dizziness, attention problems, sleepiness, dry mouth, nausea, and diarrhoea.

How reliable is the research?

This study is a randomised controlled trial, which is the best type for finding out the effects of a treatment. Its results should be fairly reliable.

However, it’s possible that some people guessed they were taking cannabis capsules based on the side effects they got. This could have affected how they rated their symptoms. Still, it’s notable that many people taking the placebo capsules also reported side effects.

What does this mean for me?

If you have MS, this study suggests that taking cannabis capsules might help with muscle stiffness and other symptoms. But not everyone taking these capsules had improvements - around 70 in 100 people did not report significant relief from their muscle stiffness.

Cannabis capsules are still experimental and not widely available to treat MS symptoms. It is also illegal to possess most forms of cannabis in the UK. However, a cannabis spray called Sativex is available to help with muscle spasms. You can talk to your doctor if you’re interested in this treatment

Published on October 09, 2012

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