At the recent Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers meeting, held in Orlando, Robert Fox, MD, of the Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, reported the findings of an interesting survey of people living with multiple sclerosis (MS).
According to data in the North American Research Committee on Multiple Sclerosis (NARCOMS) registry, about one-third (31 percent) of people living with MS have tried using cannabis as a treatment for their symptoms.
Twenty-one percent of survey respondents had used cannabis within the previous 30 days, making them “current users.”
Legality a Concern for Many
The drug is legal for medical use in only 36 of the 50 states, 4 out of 5 U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.
Legality was stated as a concern for both those who reported using cannabis for their MS as well as for those who did not.
Of the 3,249 people with MS who completed the NARCOMS survey, 69 percent had not tried cannabis for their MS symptoms, with 25 percent of them stating that legal concerns were the reason they had not tried it.
Few Seek a Doctor’s Guidance on Cannabis Use
The pointed section of the report for this writer was that while 75 percent of the current users had talked with their healthcare team about cannabis, “nobody/self” was reported by the majority as their primary source of medical guidance.
In other words, they had talked to their physicians about the drug for their MS, but only 23 percent sought medical guidance for the use of cannabis for their MS symptoms.
The symptoms for which patients tried cannabis most frequently — in a variety of forms and formulations, including smoking the herb, consuming edibles, and using products with varying amounts of THC and cannabidiol — were spasticity, pain, and sleep issues.
Ninety-five percent of respondents who had tried a form of cannabis for those symptoms reported it “very helpful” or “somewhat helpful.”
RELATED: Can Medical Marijuana Ease MS Symptoms?
Price of Cannabis Products Also a Concern
Beyond legal concerns, price also seems to be of concern, with 51 percent of people saying that they used less than they thought optimal due to cost and lack of insurance coverage.
The survey asked about sourcing and found that 62 percent of current users used medical dispensaries to obtain cannabis products, while 18 percent used friends and family contacts, and another 13 percent used “acquaintances.”
Twenty percent of current users reported that they used dispensaries not only as a source for the product but also as their primary source of information and medical guidance.
What’s Wrong With This Picture?
I find it confusing that with a fair number of states allowing doctors to prescribe medical cannabis, and a large percentage of MS patients reporting that they have spoken to either their primary care or MS-specializing physician about cannabis, so few list those same professionals as their primary source of medical guidance on using cannabis.
Does that mean we don’t feel like our doctors are up to speed on cannabis as an MS therapy? Do we suspect that their opinions are influenced by the pharmaceutical industry?
Dr. Fox brought up several interesting points and concerns in his presentation of the data. And if I, as a person with MS and a patient advocate for others with the disease, have these questions, I hope that the medical profession is also asking themselves the same query: “Why are our patients not relying on us for important advice on this topic?”
I wonder what their answer would be …
Wishing you and your family the best of health.