July 31, 2008- Last month saw a milestone in American healthcare that largely passed unnoticed: The National Clinical Advisory Board of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has issued an “Expert Opinion Paper – Treatment Recommendations for Physicians” which recognizes the healing properties of Cannabinoids and Cannabis (marijuana), specific to the pain and muscle spasticity of MS. The MS Society also calls for research into the neuroprotective aspects of Cannabinoids, following evidence that the progression of the disease can be slowed or halted by these remarkable therapeutic agents. Paul Armentano at NORML has put together a comprehensive post detailing this news, plus links to research, studies, etc. confirming the efficacy of Cannabinoids for MS. (More from Paul below)
The MS Society’s position may seem tentative, given the exciting research coming out of Europe, some involving human trials of a whole plant extract of Cannabis (more below) and surveys of MS patients showing nearly half use Cannabis as a medicine. This news comes at a time when more and more people are aware of the limited efficacy of synthetic pharmaceutical preparations and the horrendous side-effects that seem to come with all of them. Five years ago, I met several people who already knew these things – MS patients using Cannabis, each with an amazing story.
In 2003, I was in Washington, DC to attend a memorial for a friend who had recently passed away. On a rainy evening in front of the Supreme Court, we gathered because it was what she wanted - MS patients, caregivers and activists converging on Washington to force politicians and the MS Society to acknowledge the obvious. The friends of Cheryl Miller and her husband Jim had no doubt that a God-given herb did more to ease their suffering than all the modern medicines meant to be their only choice.
September 23, 2003 – Before meeting up at the Supreme Court that evening, I rode with the Multiple Sclerosis Patients Union to bring their stories of wondrous healing (anecdotal evidence) to an organization that seemed to shun their voices. They knew that the British Multiple Sclerosis Society had already posted news of Cannabis use by patients and had cooperated in the clinical trials of “Sativex” – a whole, natural extract of the Cannabis plant, formulated by GW Pharmaceuticals in England. The ride from our hotel to the MS Society was an educational experience in itself:MS Patients Visit MS Society, DC, Part 1
After filling the MS Society’s Washington office wall to wall with patients and friends, we listened to Jim Miller thank our host and recount his experiences fighting MS with his wife and struggling to have their story heard by politicians and the medical establishment, even as research confirmed what they were saying. Then we heard from the patients – bright, cheerful people who didn’t seem at all embittered by their fate, by being victims of a horrific disease and unjust laws. Also, Mary Lynn Mathre from Patients Out of Time points out that the American Nurses Association and many other health care providers have endorsed patient access to medical Cannabis.MS Patients Speak to MS Society, Washington, DC – Part 2
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws was one of the sponsors that made this gathering possible and was represented by Paul Armentano (now Deputy Director at NORML ), who had previously worked with GW Pharmaceuticals on MS research and subsequently collected data for NORML on the science of Cannabinoids, medical Cannabis and Multiple Sclerosis. In this video, Paul reads from some of these studies and more MS patient tell their stories.MS/Cannabis Research & Patients at MS Society, Part 3
The clinical trials in England to which Paul Armentano refers were conducted by GW Pharmaceuticals, in production of their natural Cannabis extract, “Sativex” (a sub-lingual spray). Dr. Geoffrey Guy, President of GW Pharmaceuticals, outlines results from Phase One and Two Clinical Trials on MS patients at the 2004 Cannabis Therapeutics Conference in Charlottesville, VA, hosted by Patients Out of Time - Oromuscosal Cannabis-based Medicine, Geoffrey Guy, MD
That afternoon, all the patients met again for a press conference arranged by NORML and featuring Rep. Barney Frank (D) MA – long time champion of individual liberties, including the right to heal oneself with a natural herb (Previous Post) - an issue he became aware of as legions of HIV patients pressed the government to allow them access to medical marijuana in the early 1990′s. In this video, Rep. Frank restates his assertion that the people are far ahead of the politicians on the issue of medical Cannabis, then MS patients and caregivers visit their representative’s offices.Barney Frank Speaks to MSPU, MS Patients Lobby their Reps
Another hero to these MS patients was also at the press conference. Dr. Denis Petro, the consulting neurologist for their Multiple Sclerosis Patients Union, told his story of science, bureaucracy and politics. Dr. Petro conducted the first clinical trial using synthetic THC (a principle Cannabinoid in Cannabis) to treat muscle spasticity in MS. His results showed efficacy, as did seven follow up trials, but Cannabinoids, and especially marijuana, failed to be adopted into the treatments of Multiple Sclerosis. Denis Petro comments on the reasons why in this video:MS, THC & Cannabis Research, with Dr. Denis Petro – MSPU
Finally, we all met at the Supreme Court – a deeply spiritual coming together of patients, caregivers and activists, all veterans of a long battle with the government – a struggle for dignity, relief of pain, quality of life, justice and compassion. But in the midst of it all, the shining spirit of love that Cheryl left each of us strengthened our resolve and reminded us of the truly transcendent.Cheryl Miller Memorial - Supreme Court, Sept 2003