What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that impacts the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. These three areas of the body make up the entire central nervous system and control our actions.
The exact cause of multiple sclerosis (MS) is unknown, but scientists know that it typically starts with an immune system trigger that prompts an attack on the central nervous system (CNS). The attack disrupts signals to and from the brain by causing damage to myelin, which is the protective layer that insulates essential nerve fibers. The lapse in the function of these signals causes various symptoms, such as numbness, tingling, mood changes, memory loss, chronic pain, fatigue, blindness, and partial to entire paralysis.
Every patient’s experience with multiple sclerosis can vary; the symptoms may be temporary or long-lasting and can range from mild to severe depending on the stage of MS.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Symptoms
Symptoms of multiple sclerosis will vary and can include:
- Bladder issues
- Concentration issues
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Impaired coordination
- Memory Loss
- Muscle weakness
- Chronic Pain
- Temperature sensitivity
- Visual (eye-related) symptoms
Risk Factors of Multiple Sclerosis
The below factors may increase a person’s risk of having MS:
- Age. Onset usually occurs between ages 20 and 40.
- Sex. Women are up to three times more likely than men to have MS.
- Family history. You are at higher risk of developing MS if it runs in the family.
- Certain infections. Various viruses have been linked to MS, including Epstein-Barr.
- Race. White people of Northern European descent have the highest risk of developing multiple sclerosis.
- Climate. The disease is common in countries with temperate climates, such as Canada, Europe, the northern United States, New Zealand, and southeastern Australia.
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiencies and extreme sunlight exposure are associated with developing MS.
- Autoimmune diseases. There is a greater risk of developing MS if you have other autoimmune disorders.
Types of MS
There are five main types of multiple sclerosis:
Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS)
CIS is the first onset of symptoms caused by inflammation and myelin removal from the central nervous system. The attack will typically last at least twenty-four hours and is characterized by MS symptoms but does not meet the MS diagnosis criteria and may never get there in some patients. When lesions appear on a brain MRI after developing CIS, there is a higher likelihood of the second episode of symptoms and an official diagnosis.
Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS)
RRMS is defined by increasing significant attacks of neurologic symptoms. These relapses are usually followed by partial or complete remission periods, where symptoms may either disappear or become permanent. Relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis is characterized as either active, inactive, or worsening. An average of 90 percent of patients with MS are initially diagnosed with RRMS.
Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (SPMS)
SPMS follows an initial relapsing-remitting course. Some patients diagnosed with RRMS will eventually transition to a point where neurologic function progressively worsens over time. SPMS can be further characterized as either active, inactive, progressive, or non-advancing.
Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS)
PPMS is a worsening accumulation of disability from symptom onset without early relapses or remissions. PPMS can be further described as either active or inactive, with progression or without advance. Around fifteen percent of multiple sclerosis patients are diagnosed with PPMS.
Benign Multiple Sclerosis (BMS)
Benign MS is a mild course that can occur for approximately fifteen years after having an MS diagnosis and recovery. BMS occurs in five to ten percent of patients, but it can not be predicted before or at the time of receiving a multiple sclerosis diagnosis.
What is an Autoimmune Disease?
Your immune system protects the body from disease and infection by attacking harmful germs in the body, like bacteria and viruses. Your immune system has a unique way of telling which objects are foreign and then destroys them accordingly. However, with an autoimmune disease, your immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy organ and tissue cells. Over eighty autoimmune diseases can affect relatively any part of your body.
What causes autoimmune diseases?
There is no exact cause of autoimmune disorders, and even with all of the studies, they are still reasonably mysterious to the medical world. They tend to pass along genetically from generation to generation, meaning some people are more likely to develop an issue. Viruses, certain chemicals, and other environmental factors can trigger autoimmune diseases in some people. Millions of people of all ages have autoimmune disorders in the United States and across the globe. Women develop autoimmune diseases more often than men, but the reason is unknown.
How are autoimmune diseases diagnosed?
Autoimmune diseases can be challenging to diagnose. There’s usually no specific test to show whether you have a particular autoimmune disease, and many autoimmune diseases have similar symptoms, so it can take many doctor visits to find out precisely what is wrong. Seeing a specialist is recommended.
Current Treatments for MS
The FDA approves over ten disease-modifying therapies to treat various types of multiple sclerosis. Each drug indicates explicitly which type of MS it will best treat. Currently, more treatments are available for relapsing forms than ongoing ones, but scientists worldwide are actively working to find more effective treatment options.
Can Medical Cannabis Help?
Science seems to think so, yes! The cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant can activate the endocannabinoid system in the human body and may help manage many chronic illnesses. Cannabis activates CB1 receptors in the central nervous system and CB2 receptors in organs, muscles, and tissues. Cannabinoids can directly influence our body’s ability to maintain homeostasis.
CB1 receptors are responsible for large and small bowel muscles and digestion in the intestines. Activating the CB2 receptors targets immune cells that can reduce intestinal pain and inflammation. Cannabinoids can even interact with other receptors influencing everyday gastrointestinal tract functions.
Many studies have evaluated cannabinoids’ effects on MS-related symptoms like pain, spasticity, and bladder issues. These published studies have typically shown that synthetic cannabinoids can positively benefit chronic pain and spasticity symptoms.
It has been shown that multiple sclerosis patients are more likely to report recent marijuana use than are people without MS. Owing to potential adverse effects, medical marijuana use by patients with MS may warrant vigilance by caregivers, given shifting social stigmas and the cannabis legalization trend in the United States.
Medical cannabis benefits patients with various autoimmune diseases, including Multiple Sclerosis. THC, CBD, CBN, and more have anti-inflammatory and immune healing properties that could help as an alternative therapy option. We recommend discussing medical cannabis with a trusted healthcare provider before making any changes to your treatment plan.
Last Updated: July 25, 2023
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