Multiple Sclerosis (MS) affects 2.3 million people worldwide. The disease is characterized by symptoms such as fatigue, muscle pain and spasms, and inflammation. Reduced physical activity and mobility are common. The exact cause of this autoimmune disease is still unknown.
What is CBD and THC?
Cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have been the subject of recent studies in regards to how they can affect symptoms of MS. Both CBD and THC are predominant molecules in the cannabis plant (marijuana and hemp). Both molecules interact with your bodies endocannabinoid system (ECS) to promote a state of balanced interaction between all the bodies interconnected systems (this is called homeostasis). Only THC produces that feeling of being ‘high’ as CBD has no psychoactive effects.
How Can CBD/THC Help?
Full spectrum CBD oil has been found to be neuroprotective (protecting the nerves from damage), anti-inflammatory, and an antioxidant (a substance that inhibits oxidation). These properties seems to make it an efficient method to combat symptoms of diseases that affect the nerves. In a recent study, the safety of CBD was described by the lack of alteration of physiological parameters such as heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. In addition, “psychomotor of psychological functions are not negatively affected”.
Using an experimental MS model in mice called experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), researchers have started to discover the exact mechanisms that make CBD and/or THC a useful agent against symptoms of autoimmune diseases such as MS. A reduction in EAE as a result of CBD use can be described by “a significant reduction in clinical scores of paralysis, decreased T-cell infiltration in the central nervous system, and reduced levels of IL-17 and IFNγ” (Elliot, et. al). T-cells are active participants in the immune response. With an autoimmune disease such as MS, the immune response mistakenly attacks parts of your body. Interleukin 17A (IL-17) and Interferon-gamma (IFNγ) are proinflammatory cytokines (proteins important in sending signals from cell-to-cell). Reducing the production of IL-17 and IFNγ inhibits unwanted inflammation as a bodily response.
Additionally, the attenuation of ECE in CBD-treated mice can be contributed in part to the increase of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs). MDSCs have strong immunosuppressive properties. This means that the immune system has a reduction in activation. Therefore a reduction in T-cell infiltration and an increase in MDSCs are positive steps.
The PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway is a signaling pathway important to the regulation of cell cycles. EAE-induced mice showed a significant downregulation of the PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway, providing a link between the downregulation of the pathway and MS. CBD was able to restore the pathway in a recent study. This study once again concludes that the therapeutic value of CBD is derived from the decrease in proinflammatory cytokines, IL-17 and IFNγ.
There is one prescription drug on the market in the U.K. that contains a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD. This mouth spray has been prescribed to treat symptoms of MS by modulation of the ECS. One study found Sativex to be effective for spasms and adverse events were uncommon. Similar to studies mentioned above, another study on Sativex found the drug to be useful against MS symptoms as a result of an increase in anti-inflammatory cytokines, a decrease in proinflammatory cytokines (IL-17 & IFNγ), and manipulations of immunosuppressive MDSCs. There is much more research to be done but so far, “[r]esults from randomized, controlled trials have reported a reduction in the severity of symptoms associated with spasticity, leading to a better ability to perform daily activities and an improved perception of patients and their carers regarding functional status” (Oreja-Guevera).
Although there seems to be much promise when it comes to treating symptoms of MS and other autoimmune diseases with cannabis use (CBD and/or THC), there is still much more work to be done including high-end research and clinical trials. Studies thus far have found CBD to be effective against symptoms of MS because of the decrease of proinflammatory cytokines, the increase of immunosuppressive MDSCs, the downregulation of the PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway, and the inhibition of T-cell infiltration. When searching for CBD for sale, make sure to check for the company’s lab tested results to explain how much CBD/THC is in their products. Always consult your physician before taking new wellness products.