Ask Dr. Leigh: can cannabis help ease MS?

cannabis for ms

Using cannabis can have a big impact on your physical and mental health—for better and, once in a while, for worse. That’s why it’s important to consult a healthcare provider before experimenting.

Here at GreenState, cannabis clinician Dr. Leigh Vinocur is here to answer your questions on healthy living with cannabis.

RELATED: Ask Dr. Leigh: what is HHC?

Editor’s Note: The answer to this question is meant to supplement, not replace, advice, diagnoses, and treatment from a healthcare provider.  Always consult a medical professional when using cannabis for medicinal purposes, and do not disregard the advice of your healthcare provider because of anything you may read in this article. 

Q) Can cannabis help with multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is thought to be a chronic autoimmune disorder and is a potentially debilitating degenerative disease.  It primarily affects the central nervous system due to an overactive immune system that attacks the cells of the protective myelin sheath surrounding the nerves, causing inflammation. The myelin sheath is an insulating layer of cells that helps nerve impulses transmit efficiently. Much like the insulation of electrical wires, if this sheath is damaged, the nerve impulses can sort of short circuit, causing neurological damage.  

Over time, this inflammatory process can lead to developing scars called plaques all over the brain and spinal cord, causing a host of different symptoms that wax and wane depending on where in the brain there is a flare-up.  These range from muscle spasms and spasticity (rigidity) to muscle weakness, vision, and bladder problems, as well as numbness, severe neuropathic (nerve) pain, and even mood and cognitive memory problems. 

While there is no cure for MS at present, treatments focus on managing symptoms of flare-ups and trying to slow the progression of the disease. Because our endocannabinoid system plays a role in neuroprotection, the use of cannabis in treating MS symptoms has gained attention in recent years. Additionally, we also know that cannabinoids are potent anti-inflammatory agents, and they also have analgesic properties, which make them a candidates for managing the symptoms of MS. 

In fact, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society supports cannabis use when appropriate and in states where it’s legal. It also supports the removal of barriers to research of medical cannabis, which will encourage treatments as well as the creation of evidence-based guidelines for MS patients.  

A survey study from 2020 of MS patients found that 42 percent endorsed cannabis use for helping them manage nerve pain and sleep, with a preference for CBD-dominant preparations. Another web-based survey found that 66 percent of MS patients use cannabis to manage their symptoms, and they reported benefits in mood, memory, and fatigue. 

What science says about cannabis and MS

A common and painful symptom of MS is spasticity, which is characterized by muscle stiffness and involuntary muscle spasms.  Cannabis has shown promise in reducing these symptoms. Cannabinoids can interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, potentially easing muscle stiffness.

A review of the scientific literature from 2018 reviewed 32 different studies using both oral synthetic THC dronabinol or nabiximol (brand name Sativex), an approved plant-based pharmaceutical drug in the United Kingdom (UK) that is a 1:1 THC: CBD combination. Researchers found evidence that cannabinoids can reduce muscle spasms and spasticity in MS. Another recent study from 2022 looking at nabiximol also found a reduction in MS spasticity and neuropathic pain while improving their quality of life. 

Additionally, less muscle rigidity and spasticity can lead to increased mobility in MS patients. A 2018 study on CBD found that it can reduce fatigue, pain, inflammation, and spasticity, as well as depression, which all lead to increased mobility.  

Another disabling symptom found in 80 percent of MS patients is called a neurogenic bladder. The bladder is made up of smooth muscle fibers called the detrusor muscle. Spasm of this muscle leads to bladder dysfunction, which is a common and distressing symptom causing urgency, frequency, and incontinence. Emerging evidence suggests that cannabis may help in managing these symptoms. A 2017 review study found it to be effective in reducing incontinence episodes.

In conclusion, while the use of cannabis in treating MS symptoms shows promise, it is essential to discuss these treatment options with your physician before use. Cannabis can have potential side effects, such as increasing your risk for falls, as well as drug interactions when taken orally. It’s important to understand the potential benefits and risks, as well as to ensure compliance with your local laws.

Research into the therapeutic use of cannabis for MS is constantly evolving. We still need more clinically meaningful studies to better understand the optimal dosages to create clinical guidelines for use in the treatment of MS symptoms. But hopefully, with future research and advances in medical cannabis science, it may become a more integral part of the therapeutic landscape for managing this devasting illness. 

Got cannabis questions? Ask Doctor Leigh. Send your questions to GreenState’s Editor at and keep an eye out for new answers from Dr. Leigh Vinocur every month.

Dr. Leigh Vinocur is a board-certified emergency physician who also has a cannabis consulting practice for patients and industry. She is a member of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians and a graduate of the inaugural class, with the first Master of Science in the country in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics from the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.

The response to this question was not written or edited by Hearst. The author is solely responsible for the content.