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Jurys still out on use of marijuana derivative for MS

St. Paul, MN Anecdotal claims of the benefits of marijuana for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) have been around for years, but the few studies on the topic have been small and inconclusive. A new study suggests that marijuana derivatives do not improve MS symptoms, but researchers say more studies need to be done before conclusions can be reached.

At 16 patients, the study is the largest randomized, controlled clinical trial on this topic. The study is published in the May 14 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The patients were given capsules of a placebo, marijuana plant-extract, or synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the active ingredient in marijuana, for four weeks each.

The patients had severe spasticity, the MS symptom that some reports have found the most responsive to marijuana treatment. Spasticity, one of the more common symptoms of MS, involves involuntary muscle stiffness and/or spasms.

The study found that both the synthetic THC and the plant-extract were safe for patients, although side effects such as dizziness and headache were more common with plant-extract treatment. The study was designed to determine whether the marijuana derivatives are safe for patients. It was not designed to determine how effective they are in treating MS symptoms.

Due to the limited numbers of patients, we cant draw any definite conclusions, said study author Joep Killestein, MD, of the VU Medical Center in Amsterdam, Netherlands. But these results suggest that synthetic THC and plant-extract do not improve symptoms for MS patients.

There were no differences in the patients level of spasticity while taking placebo and either of the marijuana derivatives, according to neurologist Chris H. Polman, who supervised the study. Patients muscle tone improved while on the drug treatments, but their ratings on a scale measuring overall disability declined. In their own rating of their
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Contact: Cheryl Alementi
calementi@aan.com
651-695-2737
American Academy of Neurology
13-May-2002


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