New guidelines published in the journal Neurology claim that some forms of medical marijuana may be effective in treating certain symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), the American Academy of Neurology announced on Monday.
The guidelines issued by the AAN on Monday resulted from a comprehensive review of 115 clinical studies that looked at a variety of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments commonly used by patients suffering from MS. These included ginkgo biloba, magnetic therapy, bee sting therapy, omega-3 fatty acids and reflexology, as well as medical marijuana.
Of the CAM therapies the researchers looked at, a spray and pill form of medical marijuana “appeared to have the most evidence indicating they may be helpful in patients with MS,” Fox News reported.
According to the L.A. Times, the findings “are among the first from a national medical organization to suggest that doctors might offer cannabis treatment to patients.”
“We wanted to review the literature well and see where we went with it, to guide patients and physicians as well,” one of the study's authors, Dr. Pushpa Narayanaswami, told FoxNews.com. “There’s nothing out there that looks at all of these to see how effective and safe they are.”
Only medical marijuana was found to have "strong evidence" that it alleviates certain symptoms of MS, which affects an estimated 2.5 million people worldwide.
“What we learned are these specific forms of medical marijuana can ease patients’ symptoms – specific symptoms of spasticity, or muscle stiffness … and helped with frequent urination,” Narayanaswami told FoxNews.com.
Despite the new guidelines, medical marijuana research remains challenging for American scientists, due to the restrictions imposed by the federal government. The spray forms of medical marijuana cited by researchers are only available in Europe and Canada, and this review did not look at the effects of inhaled (smoked) marijuana.
"The reason there's no evidence on inhaled cannabis is because it's very difficult to study," Dr. Donald Abrams told the L.A. Times. "The government really restricts studies of the plant."
A surfeit of new evidence may help change that. Along with anecdotal evidence, a spate of recent studies have suggested the efficacy of medical marijuana in treating everything from childhood epilepsy to brain injuries to HIV. But until clinical trials are approved, medical marijuana will remain in the category its languished in for decades: A home remedy.
"There is really a need for more research," the lead author of the new guidelines, Dr. Vijayshree Yadav, said.