Photo by Joanna Kosinska

Can Cannabis Relieve Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms?

When Justin Loizos injured himself working out, he didn’t think too much of it. Injuries happen all the time. He attributed his subsequent weight loss to the lack of exercise.

“I lost a lot of weight rapidly,” says Loizos. “I was telling myself that my weight loss was from my injury. I see now that was just a rationalization.”

As other symptoms started piling up – bodily pain, fatigue, tingling – Loizos tried to get to the bottom of it all. Over the course of a year he was tested for urinary tract infections and STIs, among other things, but everything came back negative.

“One day my brother-in-law mentioned that his mother had a neurological condition, and that hit me,” he says. The next time Loizos went into the hospital, March 1, 2012, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) immediately. He was 28 at the time.

Looking back now, he says he’d place the beginnings of his MS at the time of a car accident back in 2010. “I was in a car crash, after which I was self-medicating with marijuana, but I didn’t realize it at the time. I didn’t realize that marijuana was already helping me.”

What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis is a condition in which the body’s immune system becomes directed against the central nervous system, damaging myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds the nerve fibres. When myelin is destroyed, signals throughout the central nervous system are inhibited or stopped completely, causing various neurological symptoms. MS presents differently in different people. While some may experience swift deterioration, losing the ability to walk, others will experience long periods of remission.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for MS. Typical treatments include slowing the progression of the disease as well as managing its symptoms. MS patients may be prescribed corticosteroids, which reduce nerve inflammation, or other pharmaceuticals that aim to reduce relapse rate or inhibit immune cells from doing further damage. Treatment plans depend heavily on the type and progression of an individual’s MS.

According to the MS Society of Canada, our nation has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis, with an estimated 100,000 Canadians living with the disease.

Multiple sclerosis and cannabis treatment

More and more, MS patients are realizing the benefits of medical cannabis in managing their MS symptoms.

“I originally thought medical marijuana was a joke,” says Loizos, “even though I had smoked before.”

Now he calls it his life force. Indeed, Dr. Tanny Raz, director of medical business development at Apollo Cannabis Clinics, has seen the clinic’s MS patients respond very well to medical cannabis treatment plans. “Nationwide, Apollo has hundreds of patients who are successfully using medical cannabis to treat their multiple sclerosis symptoms. Our patients report improvements in their chronic pain, chronic fatigue and muscle spasms.”

While more and better studies are needed regarding cannabis’s effect on MS symptoms and its long-term safety, existing studies are promising. A 2012 study by the National Institutes of Health found that participants given an oral cannabis extract reported a twofold improvement in muscle stiffness, pain and spasticity compared to participants who received a placebo. Of course, cannabis is also known for its psychoactive effects, meaning patients and doctors must work together to create an effective treatment plan. “Our patients’ improvements are achieved through a personalized cannabis treatment plan tailored specifically to each individual patient,” says Dr. Raz.ap

The most significant aspect of cannabis treatment for individuals living with MS is what it does for their everyday lives. “What I find most important,” says Dr. Raz, “is that our patients report a dramatic improvement in their quality of life.”

Loizos agrees that medical cannabis, in oil and edible form, has allowed him to live his life and run his business. After his diagnosis, Loizos’ doctors said he’d be wheelchair-bound for life. That’s when he started experimenting with different doses of medical cannabis in different forms.

“A friend of mine who owns a compassion club supplied me with chemo that I made into a cannabis coconut oil,” he says. “Within a few days my toes started to move.” Chemo is an indica strain of marijuana that is reported to have relaxing effects that ease bodily pain. “Since then I’ve been taking 1,000 mg of cannabis almost daily.” This is an extremely, extremely high dose, and Loizos knows it, but he says it works for him. He still has a walker and sometimes needs a wheelchair, but is confident that he’ll be able to switch to walking with a cane very soon.