By Janis Siegel ,
When it comes to finding a cure or even understanding why someone develops multiple sclerosis, scientists in Israel, who in 1964 were among the first in the world to identify the therapeutic effects of compounds in marijuana, could transform the face of the disease for many — including patients in Washington.
Washington State is known globally for its high levels of incidences of multiple sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease where the immune system attacks the nervous system. Researchers really don’t know who is at risk for developing the disease or why certain people become affected by it.
But researchers at Israel’s Tel Aviv University and Weizmann Institute of Science recently completed a second round of successful research using cannabidiol or CBD, a non-psychotropic extract from cannabis, the “high-inducing” substance in marijuana. It reduces, and in some cases stopped, cell inflammation, the condition now known to be the cause of the debilitating effects of MS.
Both the 2011 study and the latest 2013 study were published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.
“Our study looks at how compounds isolated from marijuana can be used to regulate inflammation to protect the nervous system and its functions,” said Dr. Ewa Kozela of Tel Aviv University’s Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Center for the Biology of Addictive Diseases and the Sackler Faculty of Medicine. “Inflammation is part of the body’s natural immune response, but in cases like MS it gets out of hand.”
Doctors from the immunology department and the neurobiology department at Weizmann co-authored the study report.
Several compounds in marijuana can reduce the inflammation in a patient’s brain and spinal cord, thereby retarding the effects and the progress of MS’s most debilitating symptoms — its attack on a person’s motor skills, mental faculties, and body functions.
In the 2011 study, scientists followed a commonly used MS-inducing research model, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis or EAE, and injected 30 male mice twice in eight days with MOG 35-55 fragments, a protective nerve sheath glycoprotein, while the control group of mice did not receive the MOG 35-55.
Those mice treated with the CBD during the onset of the disease showed much less severe effects of MS symptoms than those that weren’t. The injections also protected against the development of the disease’s symptoms.
In addition, the mice treated with CBD showed significantly less inflammation in the spinal cord than the mice not treated with CBD.
In 2013, the researchers focused on the immune system to see if the CBD compound could have an anti-inflammatory effect on the immune system — the initiator of the inflammation.
They found that by treating the immune cells of MS-induced mice with CBD, these cells were much less likely to become inflamed and then less likely to trigger inflamed molecules that could reach the brain and spinal cord of a potential MS sufferer.
Not only did the immune cells produce less inflamed molecules, they also showed a dramatic reduction in the development of a particular one, interleukin 17, which is known as the molecule most commonly associated with cell damage in MS patients.
In many countries, CBD is prescribed for the management of MS symptoms, but it is not necessarily legal. According to Pain Management of America, a medical marijuana online information hub, the use of medical marijuana helps patients with a variety of symptoms including “chronic pain, depression, fatigue, numbness, spasticity, ataxia, emotional changes, and sexual dysfunction.”
The PMA cited survey results that were presented at the 10th World Congress on Pain, which showed that “most medical marijuana patients with multiple sclerosis reported relief from spasms and pain.”
In the U.S, 10 drugs are currently approved for use in treating its symptoms, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. It does not endorse the use of marijuana to manage the disease, saying that “early studies showed mixed results and some side effects.”
Twenty states, including Washington, and the District of Columbia, have legalized the use of medical marijuana.
Following the public comment period that closed in early November, the Washington State Liquor Control Board is currently developing medical marijuana sales guidelines, due next year, that will regulate, authorize and tax healthcare dispensaries and providers.
TAU’s Kozela looks forward to more research with CBD and its compounds and MS, citing that many countries already allow it to be prescribed as a treatment.
“When used wisely, cannabis has huge potential,” said Kozela. “We’re just beginning to
understand how it works.”
Longtime JTNews correspondent and freelance journalist Janis Siegel has covered international health research for SELF magazine and campaigns for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.