Canada is amongst the highest multiple sclerosis rates in the entire world, with almost 80,000 Canadians estimated to live with the disease. Canada’s rate is almost 10 times the global median. One contributing factor to pain and spasms related to MS is our cold climate further from the equator, which isn’t about to change any time soon. That means we need to do something to make the lives of Canadians with multiple sclerosis better. Now.
About half of sufferers experience pain directly related to MS. That pain can impact sleep, mobility, mental wellness and more, leading to exhaustion and potentially even depression. And MS doesn’t only affect those living with the disease themselves, but their friends, families, and colleagues.
MS Symptom Management
One of the keys to addressing a chronic disease like MS is symptom management. Medical trials show cannabis to be very effective at helping patients manage specific MS symptoms – specifically around pain management. In one study, muscle stiffness improved by almost twofold using medicinal cannabis after 12 weeks. Marked improvements were also noted in relation to spasms and sleep quality. Another study using an oral spray derived from cannabis showed significantly improved spasticity, meaning less common and less intense spasms. That study showed approximately a 20% improvement in spasticity in just 4 weeks.
It’s also important to note that there are non-medical strategies to improve the quality of life of those suffering from MS. They include exercise, physical therapy, and other approaches to wellness. But undertaking those tasks can be incredibly daunting in the midst of pain and exhaustion. Introducing medicine for symptom management, like medicinal cannabis, relieves some of the hurdles that prevent some from undertaking these non-medical actions. (As an aside, The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) released the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults with MS to provide an exercise guideline for those with MS.)
A somewhat subtle dynamic that arises with all of the complications of multiple sclerosis is those in the support system can be overbearing or over-protective. Losing a sense of independence can dramatically impact self-esteem and resilience. Finding a pain treatment plan that enables somebody with MS to accomplish more means sustaining the healthy level of self-esteem necessary to fight a lifelong battle.
Anecdotally, some MS patients have described medicinal cannabis use as allowing them to “to have a normal body for a little while.” It’s exactly that experience of feeling normal that can disrupt a pattern of discomfort and depression, allowing somebody suffering from MS to realize they can improve their pain management. That there is a path to feeling better.
The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada includes THC and CBD among the short list of available pain relief treatments. However, opioids are minimally useful and are not recommended. While we may not be able to change our rate of MS in Canada, we can improve the quality of life for those living with the disease every day.