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Cannabinoids and multiple sclerosis

Pharmacology & Therapeutics
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0163-7258(02)00255-3
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Pain
  • Cannabis
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol
  • Nabilone
  • Medicine


Abstract There is a growing amount of evidence to suggest that cannabis and individual cannabinoids may be effective in suppressing certain symptoms of multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, including spasticity and pain. Anecdotal evidence is to be found in newspaper reports and also in responses to questionnaires. Clinical evidence comes from trials, albeit with rather small numbers of patients. These trials have shown that cannabis, Δ 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, and nabilone can produce objective and/or subjective relief from spasticity, pain, tremor, and nocturia in patients with multiple sclerosis (8 trials) or spinal cord injury (1 trial). The clinical evidence is supported by results from experiments with animal models of multiple sclerosis. Some of these experiments, performed with mice with chronic relapsing experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (CREAE), have provided strong evidence that cannabinoid-induced reductions in tremor and spasticity are mediated by cannabinoid receptors, both CB 1 and CB 2. Endocannabinoid concentrations are elevated in the brains and spinal cords of CREAE mice with spasticity, and in line with this observation, spasticity exhibited by CREAE mice can be ameliorated by inhibitors of endocannabinoid membrane transport or enzymic hydrolysis. Research is now needed to establish whether increased endocannabinoid production occurs in multiple sclerosis. Future research should also be directed at obtaining more conclusive evidence about the efficacy of cannabis or individual cannabinoids against the signs and symptoms of these disorders, at devising better modes of administration for cannabinoids and at exploring strategies that maximize separation between the sought-after therapeutic effects and the unwanted effects of these drugs.

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