CBD is a natural treatment for MS that may help with muscle stiffness and inflammation. Learn how to find high-strength CBD products for MS pain. Looking for the best CBD oil for multiple sclerosis? Discover all you need to know about practicality, effectiveness, and available research. A new survey shows high usage rates of cannabinoids like CBD for multiple sclerosis, but most patients are figuring out these new products on their own.
What Are the Benefits of CBD for Multiple Sclerosis?
Research on CBD for MS is limited, but shows it might reduce pain and spasticity
Kelly Burch is a freelance journalist who has covered health topics for more than 10 years. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and more.
Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Emily Dashiell, ND, is a licensed naturopathic doctor who has worked in group and private practice settings over the last 15 years. She is in private practice in Santa Monica, California.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that causes a range of symptoms, including fatigue, cognitive impairment, and muscle weakness. MS can manifest in many ways, but patients have one thing in common: the symptoms of MS have a big impact on their quality of life.
To manage symptoms, some MS patients turn to cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant. Scientists are still researching the benefits of CBD for people with MS, but early indications show that CBD might help control some MS symptoms, such as pain and muscle stiffness.
This article will review what you should know about CBD and multiple sclerosis, including the potential benefits, safety concerns, and optimal dosage.
Verywell / Michela Buttignol
Immune System and Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease. That means that the symptoms of the disease occur because the immune system is attacking healthy cells in the way that it’s supposed to attack viruses and other pathogens.
In MS, the immune system targets the myelin sheath, a protective coating that wraps around nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain. When the immune system attacks this barrier, it causes inflammation and damage, which can impair the nerve signaling that facilitates movement, breathing, thinking, and more.
The severity of MS symptoms varies, depending on the location of the attack and the extent of the damage to the myelin sheath, but they most often include fatigue, muscle weakness or stiffness, and cognitive dysfunction.
Cannabinoids and the Immune System
Cannabinoids are a group of compounds found in the cannabis plant. The two main cannabinoids are THC (the psychoactive ingredients in marijuana) and CBD (which does not have a psychoactive component).
The body processes cannabinoids via cannabinoid receptors, which are found in the brain and in immune cells. This is all part of the endocannabinoid system, which regulates inflammation, immune function, motor control, pain, and other bodily functions commonly affected by MS.
This connection helps explain why CBD can be beneficial for MS. Cannabinoids have been shown to reduce inflammation and regulate immune response. CBD does this without mind-altering properties, making it appealing to people looking for relief from MS symptoms without the “high” of marijuana.
Benefits of CBD for MS
In a recent meta-analysis, researchers concluded that cannabinoids, including CBD, are “probably effective” at alleviating certain symptoms of MS, including pain and abnormal muscle tightness (spasticity), but “probably not effective” for treating muscle tremors or incontinence.
Additional research supported using CBD for MS. Here are some key findings:
- A 2018 scientific review found that CBD supplementation reduced pain, fatigue, inflammation, depression, and spasticity in people with MS, while improving mobility. The authors concluded that recommending CBD supplementation for people with MS would be advisable.
- A 2014 scientific review found that Sativex (nabiximols), a CBD nasal spray, can help reduce pain, spasticity, and frequent urination in patients with MS.
- Two different 2021 medical reviews found that in animal models, CBD helps regulate the immune system, reducing the autoimmune response that causes MS symptoms. More research is needed, but in the future this may mean that cannabis-derived medications and CBD could be used to treat the progression of MS, not just the symptoms.
Are There Any Side Effects?
CBD is generally considered safe, and it does not have mind-altering properties. A dose of up to 300 mg daily of CBD is safe for up to six months. Higher doses are safe for a shorter amount of time.
However, like any other supplements or medication, CBD may have side effects in some individuals. These may include:
- Low blood pressure
- Damage to the liver
In addition, CBD may interact with many other prescription drugs. It’s best to speak with your healthcare provider before supplementing with CBD, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Most doctors who treat MS are familiar with CBD, since at least 20% of MS patients are currently using CBD.
CBD is legal for consumption in the United States, but cannabis products that contain THC are illegal at the federal level. Be sure to understand the legal and professional implications of using CBD, especially if you are regularly screened for drug use.
Keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration does not oversee or regulate any CBD supplements, so it’s important to purchase CBD products from a reputable source.
How to Use CBD for MS
CBD is available in many different forms, including topicals, tinctures, edibles, and nasal sprays.
You’ll also have to decide whether you want to take a full or broad-spectrum CBD, which contains other cannabinoids, or a CBD isolate, which contains just cannabidiol. Limited research suggests there may be a benefit to the “entourage effect”: It’s believed that having other cannabinoids present may make CBD more effective.
Consulting your healthcare provider can help you decide where to start with CBD supplementation. They can offer insight as to what has worked for other patients and guide you toward an appropriate dose of CBD.
How to Buy CBD for MS
It’s important to deal with reputable dispensaries when purchasing CBD for MS. Here’s what you should consider when buying CBD to treat MS:
- The legal status of CBD in your state, including whether you need a medical cannabis card
- The possible impact of taking CBD on your professional licenses or other areas in your life
- Your goals in taking CBD, and the symptoms you would most like to address
- Whether you would like a CBD isolate or a full-spectrum product that contains other cannabinoids
- Whether the retailer is licensed in your state
- Where the product was sourced (grown)
- Whether the product has a COA, or certificate of analysis, which shows the chemical composition of a substance
A Word from Verywell
MS can have a huge impact on your quality of life, which is why so many people look for relief from MS symptoms. The research around CBD and MS is very promising: It shows that some people experience reduced pain and spasticity when they use CBD supplements.
In the future, CBD-derived medication may even be used to control the progression of the disease by reducing inflammation.
Unfortunately, use of CBD for MS is still in its infancy, and there’s a clear need for more research. For now, it’s best to talk with your doctor and trusted peers when deciding whether CBD is right for you. Don’t be shy about speaking up: Research has shown that up to 60% of MS patients are currently using cannabis and 90% would consider it.
You shouldn’t feel any shame or hesitation about investigating this treatment option. However, it’s important to understand any legal and professional implications for where you live, especially if you use a product containing THC.
Although there is a lot of promise for CBD to treat MS, there is no FDA-approved treatment. Using it in combination with more traditional medically sanctioned treatment is likely a good course of action.
Frequently Asked Questions
Research indicates that CBD likely helps with muscle spasticity in people with MS. A UK-based study found that physicians did not measure a large improvement in spasticity in people taking CBD versus a supplement. However, the people taking CBD reported a reduction in spasticity compared with those taking a placebo. Because of that, the Multiple Sclerosis Society says that CBD is likely effective for spasticity.
CBD is generally considered safe, and some research shows that it likely helps treat pain and spasticity caused by MS. However, CBD is not FDA approved for treating MS or its symptoms. You should speak with your healthcare provider about using CBD to treat MS.
Much of the research on using CBD for MS pain has been done using oral supplements and nasal sprays. Some people also report benefits from smoking CBD flowers or cannabis. It’s best to speak with your healthcare provider and consider the legal standing of CBD and cannabis in your state as you decide how best to use CBD to treat MS pain.
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Fine PG, Rosenfeld MJ. The endocannabinoid system, cannabinoids, and pain. Rambam Maimonides Med J. 2013;4(4):e0022. doi:10.5041/RMMJ.10129
Rice J, Cameron M. Cannabinoids for treatment of MS symptoms: state of the evidence. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2018;18(8):50. doi:10.1007/s11910-018-0859-x
Rodríguez Mesa XM, Moreno Vergara AF, Contreras Bolaños LA, Guevara Moriones N, Mejía Piñeros AL, Santander González SP. Therapeutic prospects of cannabinoids in the immunomodulation of prevalent autoimmune diseases. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2021;6(3):196-210. doi:10.1089/can.2020.0183
Rudroff T, Honce JM. Cannabis and multiple sclerosis—the way forward. Front Neurol. 2017;8:299. doi:10.3389/fneur.2017.00299
By Kelly Burch
Kelly Burch is has written about health topics for more than a decade. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and more.
The Best CBD Oils for MS (Multiple Sclerosis)
This article may contain links to some of our affiliate partners. These are brands we trust and brands we feel represent the highest quality standards. When clicking links, we may earn commissions to help support our site. Learn more by reading our full disclaimer.
Multiple sclerosis is a complex disorder, and researchers cannot pinpoint an exact cause. However, the effects of cannabis and CBD could be valuable to patients seeking relief from various symptoms.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine acknowledges cannabidiol (CBD) as having the potential to relieve “spasticity in adult patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).” However, due to the condition’s varying nature and random flare-ups, MS is still a frustrating disease to treat. Indeed, multiple sclerosis affects no two people in the same way.
Although dozens of prescription medications are available, conventional drugs vary in efficacy. This is largely why the topic of CBD oil for multiple sclerosis is advancing into the limelight.
This article will discuss how MS attacks nerve fibers and disrupts neurological pathways. It also discusses how cannabidiol (CBD) can influence these pathways. While one should not consider CBD oil for multiple sclerosis a cure, it may provide an alternative form of relief.
DID YOU KNOW? Multiple sclerosis is a rare disease that only affects about 1 in 275 American adults.
What Is Multiple Sclerosis?
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society defines MS as an “immune-mediated” condition. The body’s immune system attacks the central nervous system (which comprises the brain and spinal cord).
After nerve fiber damage, scar tissue begins to form. This scar tissue can interrupt neurological communication between the brain and other body parts. Neural communication is vital for many functions in humans, including motor skills and behavior.
The severity of symptoms that people living with multiple sclerosis experience depends on the location of nerve fiber damage. It also depends on how many fibers are damaged. In milder cases, MS symptoms can be as moderate as mood swings or muscle spasms. In more severe cases, sufferers may have paralysis and/or a complete inability to control bodily functions.
As for prevalence, multiple sclerosis is a relatively rare disease. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society says that approximately 900,000 Americans live with the condition. Research suggests that up to 2.8 million people have the condition worldwide.
While researchers are in the dark about what triggers MS, we know some things about it. For instance, we know that women of northern European descent between the ages of 20 and 55 are most at risk.
MS Risk Factors
Genetics and family history play an important part in the onset of MS. We also know that exposure to environmental agents can increase risk. The good news is that not all sufferers experience overly-debilitating symptoms. Many maintain relatively normal day-to-day lives.
Also, contrary to popular belief, multiple sclerosis is not necessarily a terminal disease. In some instances, the disease is degenerative (meaning it worsens over time) and ends in death. However, the average lifespan of individuals with multiple sclerosis is marginally shorter than the average US adult lifespan.
Conventional (Non-Cannabis) MS Treatment Methods
Multiple sclerosis exists in four different stages, or “disease courses.” Conventional treatments and prescriptions depend on which particular stage a patient is in. In order of increasing severity, the four courses of MS are:
- Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS)
- Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS)
- Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS)
- Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS).
Given multiple sclerosis’s “come and go” nature, patients can go months or even years without a diagnosis. However, in the event of diagnosis, prescription meds are typically the treatment of choice. Prescription MS medications include interferons like Avonex and Betaseron and immunomodulators like Copaxone.
Interferons work by lowering the number of white blood cells in the body. This limits the sources of attack on CNS nerve fibers. However, since white blood cells make up the immune system and protect against disease, these drugs can be dangerous. They can even produce side effects similar to those of chemotherapy.
MS Drugs – Side Effects
Immunomodulators like Copaxone generally present fewer severe side effects than interferons. However, these drugs are not always effective for patients. Functionally, they act as “sacrificial myelin” during MS flare-ups. This is when synthetically-produced amino acids take the brunt of the immune response rather than the myelin protective coatings of the nerve fibers themselves.
Ultimately, most MS sufferers are generally unconcerned about the kind of treatment they take or where it comes from. The only thing that matters to them is whether or not the medication is effective and to what extent it allows them to live a normal life. Those who seek alternatives like CBD oil generally do so for one of the following reasons:
- Their prescription meds are ineffective
- Their prescribed medical regimen results in severe or regular side effects
- Prescription medications are too expensive
Important Information on CBD & Multiple Sclerosis
One thing we didn’t necessarily clarify is the difference in function between CBD and THC. THC, of course, is the archetypal marijuana component. It’s what’s responsible for getting us high and has been the driving force behind generations of legal condemnation and “lazy stoner” typecasts.
On the other hand, CBD has none of these intoxicating properties. It won’t cause a high any more than an ibuprofen tablet will. Rather, the molecule functions as an “endocannabinoid supplement.”
Our bodies are filled with natural cannabinoid receptors that work with natural endocannabinoids. If there is an absence or deficiency in producing these endocannabinoids, the receptors can’t function properly.
The central nervous system is the body region most densely populated with cannabinoid receptors – the same region where multiple sclerosis attacks nerve fibers.
MS and a Possible Endocannabinoid Deficiency
Could multiple sclerosis potentially be a disease hinged on a basic endocannabinoid deficiency? No one can answer that question without years of research. That said, anecdotal evidence suggests an uncanny relationship between the two components.
More research is needed to understand any potential dynamic between MS and endocannabinoid deficiency.
For the time being, at least, it seems that people living with multiple sclerosis will continue to rely on self-treatment methods. Unless they live in a state with MMJ, they will have to resort to non-conventional approaches to obtain alternative medications like CBD oil.
Cannabis & CBD Oil Benefits for MS – What Does the Research Say?
Believe it or not, dozens of academic and research publications have been released in recent years concerning the use of cannabinoids as a potential MS treatment. Here, we point out five of the most relevant studies to date.
“There is a wide acceptance of cannabis [use] within the MS community: up to 60% of PwMS victims currently use cannabis, and up to 90% would consider using it if it were legal and more scientific evidence was available.”
Sativex is a cannabis-based, FDA-approved medication for the “adjunctive treatment of neuropathic pain in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).”
“CBD provides long-lasting protection against the effects of inflammation in a viral model of multiple sclerosis.”
“…nearly every participant in a 1997 survey of 112 regular marijuana users with multiple sclerosis [stated] that the drug lessened both pain and spasticity.”
A review of studies from 1970 to 2013 looked into the potential benefits of complementary and alternative medicine in MS. The researchers suggested that “clinicians might offer oral cannabis extract for spasticity symptoms and pain.”
CBD Treatment for MS: Are There Any Side Effects?
CBD is generally recognized as being safe for consumption. Unlike THC, it is non-intoxicating, and there is little risk of developing an addiction.
Nonetheless, there are some potential side effects to watch out for, including:
- Dry mouth
- Reduced appetite
CBD is not FDA-approved, and the marketplace is poorly regulated. Therefore, one of the biggest risks is purchasing a low-grade product containing contaminants. It is important only to buy products with third-party lab reports outlining what’s inside.
Also, CBD can interact with certain medications. Therefore, any MS patients currently using prescription or over-the-counter drugs should consult with a physician before using CBD.
How to Take CBD Oil for MS
There is a wide variety of CBD products available. Here are the most common, along with information on how to consume them:
- CBD Oil: Place a few drops beneath the tongue, and hold them there for 60-90 seconds before swallowing.
- CBD Topicals: Rub the topical onto the affected area.
- CBD Vape Juice: It is possible to buy disposable vaporizers with pre-filled CBD juice cartridges. Alternatively, one can add the liquid to the vape device’s tank. The vaporizer heats the liquid, creating a vapor that the user inhales.
- CBD Edibles: The most common options include gummies and chocolate. Using edibles is as easy as chewing and swallowing!
- CBD Capsules: Swallow these capsules with some water. They are ideal for anyone who doesn’t like the taste or texture of CBD oil.
- CBD Flower: This is smokable dried hemp flower.
Typically, smoking and vaping provide the most rapid effects, but there are health concerns with both. CBD oil is the most popular and takes effect relatively quickly. CBD edibles and capsules are easy to use but can take a while to have a noticeable impact. Finally, CBD topicals are useful for anyone looking to tackle pain in a specific body area.
Final Thoughts on CBD Oil for Multiple Sclerosis
The research above indicates that CBD has potential promise for people living with multiple sclerosis. It is less expensive than pharmaceutical drugs, has fewer side effects, and could help alleviate many MS symptoms. However, detailed clinical trials involving humans are necessary to learn more about CBD for MS, including safety, efficacy, dosage, and more.
Nonetheless, many MS patients are unwilling to wait and want to try CBD as soon as possible. Fortunately, CBD products are tolerated in most states as long as they come from hemp and have a maximum THC content of 0.3%. Below, we have included details of what we believe are among the best CBD brands in the industry.
A note on CBD for Multiple Sclerosis by Dr. Mosab Deen:
“In essence, it is vital to understand that CBD may not only relieve symptoms of multiple sclerosis, without inflated pharmaceutical prices or their unhealthy side effects but may be the secret cure to preventive neurodegeneration through the endocannabinoid pathway that MS patients suffer from.”
More People with MS Turning to Cannabis for Help with Pain, Sleep
A new survey shows high usage rates of cannabinoids like CBD for multiple sclerosis, but most patients are figuring out these new products on their own.
More than 40% of those with multiple sclerosis said they’ve used cannabis products in the past year, according to recently published results from a national survey on pain in people with MS.
And those who turned to products with some combination of compounds derived from the cannabis plant (CBD, or cannabidiol, and THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol) were most likely to try them for help with chronic pain and sleep—two symptoms that are common and often go together in this chronic neurological disease.
It represents an increase from previous studies of CBD/THC use in MS, as more states legalize marijuana use recreationally and/or medically. However, there’s a wide gap between the proportion of people with MS who have used a cannabinoid in the past year (42%) and the proportion who have spoken with their physician about it (only 18%). Furthermore, fewer than 1% of cannabinoid users received information from their provider about the type of cannabinoid product recommended for their symptoms.
“Reasons for the disconnect between respondent use and provider guidance in our sample requires further study, but reinforces a longstanding concern that research focused on the use of cannabinoids for MS symptoms has not caught up with consumer use of these products,” says lead author Tiffany Braley, M.D., M.S., an associate professor of neurology and an MS specialist at Michigan Medicine.
The study included survey responses from more than 1,000 people with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis from across the nation.
When it comes to selecting a cannabinoid product, survey respondents who had a preference tended to use CBD products, which don’t have the same psychoactive effects of THC and tend to be easy to find online or in stores in many different forms.
Senior author Anna Kratz, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, said “patients are looking for guidance from their providers to make informed choices about whether cannabis compounds should be used at all, and if so, which formulations would be most beneficial.”
However, providers still don’t have a lot of good evidence to help them advise patients who plan to explore a cannabinoid for their chronic MS symptoms. It’s frustrating, Braley says, because symptoms like chronic pain and some sleep disturbances in MS can be challenging to treat with existing options, and new, safe, more personalized approaches would be welcomed. “However, provider guidance for patients must be informed by research focused on the benefits and harms of both CBD and THC, and potential mechanisms that underlie the effects of cannabinoids on MS symptoms.” she says.
Braley adds many publications about cannabis in MS, including this one, have had populations that skew female-identifying and white, highlighting a need for more diverse perspectives from racial and ethnic minorities that have been historically underrepresented in MS research.
Paper cited: ” Cannabinoid use among Americans with MS: Current trends and gaps in knowledge.” Multiple Sclerosis Journal – Experimental, Translational and Clinical. DOI: 10.1177/2055217320959816