MS and Marijuana: The story of a skeptic turned believer
I’ve waited to discuss a certain topic because it can be a rather sensitive issue to some folks. This issue is the use of marijuana to treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis. While some people still scoff at the idea of using this plant as medicine, I’m here to tell you that it’s been life changing for me. With the legalization of marijuana becoming more and more prevalent across the country, it may be able to help you too.
First off, I want to say that I was never really into recreational marijuana. I’m a guy who has always liked to party, but weed was just never my thing – my recreational intoxicant was alcohol. I never had anything against marijuana, it just didn’t “do it” for me. I’ve always held a strong dislike for smoking in general (though I was much more likely to give someone a pass if it was marijuana). So while I’d been around it enough, I didn’t really pursue it. I’d heard of medical marijuana before but didn’t really think anything of it. Like many, I thought, “oh sure, your ‘medicine’” about people who proclaimed its greatness. Even when someone would tell me that it really and truly helped their ailments, I took that with a grain of salt. In the past, I tried doing the whole diet and exercise thing alone to treat my MS, and while I felt great at the time, I ended up with some disease progression that didn’t really manifest itself until later. Because of this, I tend to be extra skeptical of treatments that fall into the “alternative” category.
Then, about two years ago, I found myself on disability, with severe pain and spasms in my legs (amongst other symptoms). I had a doctor who had me try a number of things to help with my issues: Gabapentin, Cymbalta, Baclofen, etc. We all know the long list of drugs they’ll try out. Most of these had zero effect for me. Finally, my doctor suggested I give medical marijuana a shot. When you are in pain almost constantly, you’re willing to try anything. So I said “sure, let’s do it”, and we went through the process (which, sadly, is long and drawn out) of getting my prescription set up. The process itself can take several months, and not every doctor can prescribe marijuana.
It took a while to get everything in place, but finally I was able to get and use medical marijuana. Mind you, I was still skeptical – if some of the strongest drugs available couldn’t help me, how was this going to be any different? Well, it turns out I was wrong. It was helpful, very helpful. Did it cure me? No. Did it ease my pain and spasms? Yes. I say ease because it doesn’t rid me of them, but it sure makes them bearable. I was suddenly able to walk much better when I used it. Was I going to be running a marathon again? No way. But it certainly makes a difference when I can use just a cane instead of a walker, or even at times skip the cane altogether. That may not seem like much, but to me, that’s a very big thing. I still have pain and spasms while using it but they are considerably less than when I am not. Being in less pain makes a massive difference in terms of quality of life!
One of the big issues I’ve had over the course of my disease is the large number of side effects that traditional medications can cause. So many times I’ve thought that maybe something was helping me, but at what cost? My pain may be less, but I feel nauseated all the time, how is that a help? I find that with marijuana, I just don’t have negative side effects. You are probably thinking, “well don’t you get ‘high’? Don’t you have the ‘munchies’?” The answer to that is occasionally yes, but mostly due to a misuse on my part. Let me explain.
Not all marijuana is the same. Different strains contain different percentages of cannabinoids (chemical compounds excreted from the cannabis flower, these compounds mimic natural occurring compounds in our body called endocannabinoids. Without getting too heavy into the science, the endocannabinoid system helps communication between cells. The important thing to note here is that this is already an important part of your body and the compounds from marijuana can imitate the ones that you’ve had all along). You may have heard of the cannabinoids THC and CBC, which are just two of over 85 cannabinoids that come from the cannabis flower. Each cannabinoid can have different effects on your body. THC tends to be the cannabinoid that has the psychoactive effects that people associate with marijuana, and indeed, most recreational marijuana is bred to have increased percentages of THC. You’ll find most multiple sclerosis patients benefit from a higher percentage of CBC, another cannabinoid, that can actually be very calming. I often hear people worry about being anxious or paranoid on marijuana – well, that’s only marijuana with a high percentage of THC. A strain with a higher percentage of CBC can actually have the opposite effect and aid greatly in anxiety. The big takeaway here is that different strains (and even mixes of strains) can have different effects because of the varying percentages of cannabinoids. We are now seeing more and more strains bred to have increased percentages of particular cannabinoids. When you go to a dispensary, you can typically tell someone what your symptoms are and they can help you pick out the appropriate strain or mix of strains. So if I have a side effect like paranoia or the “munchies”, it’s because I didn’t select the right strain.
I mentioned earlier that smoking anything is not up my alley. I’ve even heard people say they’d never use medical marijuana because they don’t want to smoke. Fortunately, there are methods to use this treatment without smoking! In my case, I create an oil out of it and carry it around in an eye dropper bottle. I place drops under my tongue when I am expecting to need some relief. This is my preferred method. I also have a vaporizer that looks just like an asthma inhaler that I will sometimes use to inhale a vapor. Both of these methods are free from the issues associated with smoking. They are very discreet too!
I went from a skeptic to a firm believer in marijuana as a medicine almost overnight. I want to reiterate that it is not a cure but it can be invaluable as a way to relieve some of our harshest symptoms. In my case, I still take a DMD but marijuana is my primary treatment for symptoms. I can’t stress enough how big of a difference it’s made in my life. The relief of my pain, spasms, and tremors has helped me tremendously. As the social stigma of marijuana continues to erode, I believe we will see more and more people turning to this plant for treatment.