Health & Wellness

CBD Oil and Multiple Sclerosis: 3 Key Ways It May Help

Medically reviewed by Jillian Kubala, MS, RD
Written by Aimee McNew
Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

Multiple sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disorder that currently affects nearly 1 million Americans and more than 2 million people worldwide. Multiple sclerosis, or MS, as it’s often referred to, is typically diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 50. It affects more women than men.

This article explains what MS is, how it’s treated, and how CBD may help relieve certain symptoms related to MS. 

What is MS and How is it Treated? 

MS is an inflammatory disease that is marked by central nervous system lesions. As the disease progresses, it can result in life-altering, unpredictable symptoms—such as difficulty walking, fatigue, numbness and tingling, muscle spasticity, problems with fine motor skills, and vision disturbances. 

It’s important to know that every individual’s experience with MS is different, and symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. Symptoms can be temporary or chronic in nature.

Though the cause of the onset and progression of MS is still unknown, scientists believe that multiple triggers cause the immune system to attack the central nervous system (CNS), which consists of the brain and spinal cord.  

Although there is no cure for MS at this time, the disease is usually treated through a combination of immunosuppressant medications and physical therapy, both of which may suppress symptoms, promote function, and slow disease progression. Treatments for MS vary and many other therapies—including different medications—are commonly used, depending on the progression of the disease and severity of symptoms.

Aside from medications and physical therapy, complementary and alternative medicine treatments (CAM) are popular amongst those who have MS. For example, cannabis and CBD oil are used by a number of people with MS as a natural way to control their symptoms. In fact, a web-based survey study hosted by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society discovered that 66% of survey respondents who had MS used cannabis to control MS-related symptoms. 

CBD in particular has been studied for its role in treating certain symptoms related to MS and research has resulted in promising findings. 

3 Key Ways That CBD Oil May Be Therapeutic for People with MS

Symptoms of MS can make life difficult, especially when it comes to pain and fatigue. Additionally, as many as 50% of people with MS experience depressive symptoms, which can significantly impact both physical and emotional wellbeing. 

CBD—when used in combination with THC—may be therapeutic for many symptoms related to MS including pain, depressive symptoms, muscle spasticity, and reduced mobility. 

Also,CBD has been shown to reduce clinical signs of MS including neuroinflammation and slow disease progression in rodent studies when used on its own. However, these effects have not been replicated in human research. 

Here are some ways in which CBD may benefit those with MS.   

Pain Relief

Multiple animal and human studies have shown that CBD oil may help relieve pain related to multiple causes. CBD has powerful anti-inflammatory effects, which makes this compound an effective natural remedy for pain. 

Though some animal research suggests that CBD is effective in relieving pain on its own, it’s important to note that most human studies investigating CBD oil’s impact on pain used a combination of THC and CBD. For this reason, it’s unclear if using CBD alone would result in significant pain relief in those with MS.

Regardless, there is promising evidence that a combination of CBD and THC is highly effective in relieving MS-related pain. In fact, Sativex—an oral mucosal spray that contains THC and CBD—is approved for use in treating MS-related pain and muscle spasticity in many countries including Canada.

Muscle Spasticity 

Some research suggests that CBD may have the ability to treat MS-related muscle spasticity. As mentioned above, the THC/CBD medication Sativex is approved in many countries as a treatment for muscle spasticity in people with MS. 

Studies have shown that treatments with a 1:1 or greater CBD to THC ratio may reduce muscle spasticity in patients with MS. However, this only pertains to CBD treatments used in combination with THC. Further research is needed to determine whether CBD has the ability to reduce muscle spasticity in people with MS when used on its own.

Some animal research suggests that, when used on its own, CBD may help counteract MS-related nerve cell death, which may improve certain MS-related symptoms including spasticity, highlighting the need for further research in this area. 

Depression and Anxiety

Patients who have multiple sclerosis are likely to deal with depressive symptoms.. This may  largely be due to the nature of the pain and physically-limiting symptoms related to the disease. 

Additionally,  major depressive disorder—a mental health disorder marked symptoms such as persistent low mood, fatigue, and loss of interest in daily activity— can co-occur with multiple sclerosis. In fact, individuals with MS are twice as likely as those who don’t have MS to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder.

What’s more, anxiety is also common amongst people who have MS. A recent analysis found that up to 22% of people with MS experience anxiety.  

Some research suggests that CBD may have anti-anxiety effects and may help relieve depressive symptoms. For example, studies in rodents have demonstrated that CBD oil on its own may impart strong antidepressant qualities by acting on certain receptors in the brain. 

Although there are a lack of studies directly linking CBD or a combination of CBD and THC to improvements of depressive symptoms in people with MS, research in this area is ongoing.

Research on CBD’s potential to alleviate anxiety is more robust. While CBD has not been studied as a treatment for anxiety in those with MS, a number of human research studies have demonstrated that CBD is effective in reducing multiple types of anxiety including generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder. While these findings are promising, further research exploring the potential anti-anxiety effects of CBD in people with MS is needed. 

How to Use CBD Oil for MS

There are many ways to incorporate CBD oil into a wellness routine for multiple sclerosis.

CBD oil itself is available in a number of forms including capsules, tinctures, salves, lotions, oils, edibles, and vape pens. Regardless of the delivery system, it’s important for those with MS to consult their healthcare provider before taking CBD to ensure safety as CBD may interact with certain medications. This pertains to CBD-only products and combination CBD / THC treatments. 

The dose of CBD required for symptom relief can vary from person to person, which is why it’s important to work with a practitioner who understands cannabidiol and its uses. Doses can range from 5-10 milligrams per day to upwards of 120 milligrams per day, depending on the product and the person’s condition. Some might take a single higher dose, while others may take smaller doses throughout the day.

When trying CBD oil for MS, work with your healthcare provider to find not only the right dose of CBD, but the most effective method of delivery.

Bottom Line

While CBD oil shows immense promise for addressing several key aspects of multiple sclerosis symptomatology, human studies are needed to determine whether CBD is an effective treatment when used on its own.

Further research investigating CBD as a potential natural treatment for MS is required to fully understand the potential benefits that CBD may offer those living with MS. 

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