What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic condition that affects the nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. Unfortunately it’s a long-lasting disease without a cure. It is, however, not a fatal disease. Most of the 2.3 million people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis [1] have a normal life expectancy and manage their MS with lifestyle changes and medication. The disease can be quite devastating, however, so treatment plans are necessary to give patients the best quality of life possible.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that has the ability to cause the body to malfunction and attack its own cells. With MS, the immune system strikes the body’s myelin, a protective substance that covers the nerves. When this substance is broken down and the nerves are left unprotected, they are quickly damaged and unable to function properly. The damaged nerves cause a variety of symptoms, each at different levels of severity. 

The symptoms of MS can vary from person to person and they can range from mild to debilitating. They can also remain constant or come and go over time. The most common symptoms of MS are numbness and tingling in one or more of the arms, legs, or on one side of the face. Some may experience weakness, tremors, or clumsiness in the legs and hands. Partial loss of vision, double vision, or eye pain are also common first symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Other common symptoms include fatigue, bladder and bowel dysfunction, weakness, cognitive changes, acute and chronic pain, muscle spasticity, and depression. 

Unfortunately, multiple sclerosis can also affect cognitive function. The damage MS does to nerves causes those with the condition to eventually have the inability to concentrate, problem-solve, or successfully navigate their bodies in relation to their surroundings. This, understandably, also leads to frustration, anger, and depression from the patient. 

Multiple sclerosis is a disease that often comes with treatment involving relapse and remission. While the periods of remission are free of any symptoms of the disease, they often come back for extended periods of time. These periods are called relapses, or exacerbations. Some are lucky enough to experience years of remission, but that doesn’t mean their condition has been cured, they are simply being granted a temporary remission based on whatever therapy they used. The results of the therapy could change over the years, becoming less effective in handling MS symptoms. 

CBD and the Human Body

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the 113 identified cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. CBD is the most prominent cannabinoid extracted from the plant. It produces no psychoactive results and is used primarily for therapeutic purposes. It’s currently undergoing lots of scientific research for its abilities to provide its users with therapeutic benefits with new information being released yearly. CBD doesn’t have any euphoric effects and is a safe option for those who don’t enjoy feeling intoxicated or legally cannot consume THC products. 

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is an important part of the human body. It is responsible for maintaining the body’s state of homeostasis. If a disruption is introduced in the body, the ECS will start working to correct the problem and make sure everything in the body remains at a stable and optimal level. This is a critical function of human physiology. All the internal systems need to be in a state of equilibrium to work effectively.  

There are three primary elements that make up the endocannabinoid system. The first are endocannabinoids, the compounds that are naturally produced by the body and very similar to the chemical compounds in cannabis. The second elements are the cannabinoid receptors, which are found on the surface of cells throughout the body. Endocannabinoids and cannabinoids will bind to these receptors. Binding allows them to communicate with different systems in the body, helping the endocannabinoid system maintain an equilibrium in each system. The final elements are the enzymes. After the endocannabinoids attach themselves to the cannabinoid receptors and the ECS has achieved stabilization in the body, enzymes break down the compounds to avoid a possible overcorrection.

Since endocannabinoids and cannabinoids from cannabis plants are so similar chemically, it’s possible for cannabinoids like CBD to attach themselves to the receptors in the same way the endocannabinoids do. CBD has the ability to bind to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Once attached, CBD acts as an antagonist, or blocker, binding to receptors and dampening their signals. 

For example, CBD works to inhibit the FAAH enzyme which breaks down the anandamide endocannabinoid the body produces. Anandamide produces a calming feeling, so by keeping the enzymes from destroying this compound a naturally therapeutic effect should be felt immediately [2]. Researchers have found that CB1 and CB2 receptors are found in immune cells, which indicates they are both used in regulating inflammation and immune response [3]. Because CBD can attach itself to both these receptors, it could prove to be effective for treatment of multiple sclerosis. 

How CBD Can Help

Since MS is a disease that has no cure, many patients find themselves trying a variety of therapies and medications to try and control their symptoms. Some of these treatment plans work and some do not. Some are only helpful temporarily and which leads sufferers to seek new treatment options when their current plan fails. This has led many to investigate what CBD can offer in the way of relief. 

CBD has been known to exhibit both anti-inflammatory [4] and neuroprotective [5] properties, so researchers are interested in what effects it might have on multiple sclerosis. The benefits of CBD on MS are still being researched, but a recent study suggests that CBD with an equal part THC may help relieve pain and muscle spasms for some MS patients [6]. With reduced pain and muscular issues can come decreased fatigue for MS patients, a common and upsetting symptom of MS [7]. This can give those suffering from multiple sclerosis improved mobility, allowing them a reprieve from one of the most debilitating symptoms of the disease.  

Evidence from studies performed on animals also suggests that CBD could be used effectively as an antidepressant, treating depression in patients [8]. While CBD doesn’t change the chemical compounds in the brain, researchers found that it does change the way those chemicals are processed by its ability to attach itself to receptors, allowing the ECS to stabilize different systems. 

It also has the potential to help those taking prescription drugs to lower their daily dosage of those medications. Studies have found that CBD can be used alone or in combination with other medications to heighten their usefulness and reduce the required dosage needed to get the same benefits [9]. Since many medications have harmful side effects. Patients often deal with side effects like nausea, drowsiness, blurred vision, dizziness, and anxiety. Having the ability to reduce dosage and the side effects associated with the drug can make all the difference to patients sensitive to medications. This also helps cut down on the risk of addiction to painkillers or other prescribed medications which are often common in a multiple sclerosis treatment plan. 

While there has been no evidence of serious drug interactions with CBD, there is always a risk of complications that could go along with adding anything new to a medication treatment plan, so those looking to add CBD or cannabis products to their therapy should check with their doctor before making any decisions.