Certain forms of medical marijuana may help alleviate some of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a new set of guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology.

Dr. Vijayshree Yadav, a professor at the Oregon Health & Science University and lead author of the guidelines, said that the research team also looked at magnetic therapy, bee sting therapy, reflexology, omega-3 fatty acids, and other common MS treatments classified as complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) therapies. 

"Using different CAM therapies is common in 33 to 80 percent of people with MS, particularly those who are female, have higher education levels and report poorer health," he explained in a press release. "People with MS should let their doctors know what types of these therapies they are taking, or thinking about taking."

The findings, which are published in the journal Neurology, show that oral cannabis sprays and medical marijuana pills are both associated with lower incidence of spasticity, pain related to spasticity, and frequent urination among MS patients. Two of these drugs, dronabinol and nabilone, have already been approved by the FDA to treat nausea and vomiting from cancer chemotherapy. Dronabinol is also used to treat appetite loss in patients with AIDS.

Still, the authors caution that most CAM therapies come with at least some safety concerns, as they are typically not researched with the same rigor as conventional drugs. For example, most studies don’t last longer than six to 15 weeks, so the long-term effects of medical marijuana pills and oral cannabis sprays are not known. Side effects like seizures, dizziness, and depression have also been reported.

MS and Alternative Therapy

MS is defined as an inflammatory disease characterized by a gradual erosion of myelin — a protective sheath that shelters your nerves. The resulting damage is associated with a range of neurological problems, including numbness, blurred vision, tremor, and slurred speech. People living with the chronic disease may also develop muscle spasms, paralysis, and epilepsy.

The new guidelines add to the growing number of CAM therapies proven effective against some MS symptoms. Another example is a 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University in which researchers show that vitamin D can block nerve damage associated with the condition.