More MS news articles for March 1999

A summary of findings on the effects of medical marijuana

By Usha Lee McFarling

WASHINGTON -- Research indicates that the active ingredients of marijuana can be helpful in treating an array of medical conditions. Here is a summary of findings from recent studies of the medical use of marijuana:

Pain relief.

Three studies on cancer pain have shown that THC, an active component of marijuana, is as effective as codeine in reducing pain. The studies also showed that THC curbed nausea and enhanced feelings of well-being.

Marijuana compounds are most likely to help with problems of chronic pain caused by cancer, nerve damage or AIDS.

Studies on acute pain, surgical pain and migraine headaches have been less conclusive. Nausea in cancer patients.

Marijuana components can reduce the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, but clinical trials show they are not as effective as newly introduced antinausea drugs. For patients who do not respond to standard therapy, marijuana may be a good alternative.

Smoked marijuana is preferred by some patients because pills are difficult to keep down when nauseated and do not act as quickly.

Wasting in AIDS patients.

The standard treatment of appetite stimulants has not proven successful in patients who rapidly lose weight.

Marijuana is a promising treatment for wasting because it helps control nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety. For this reason, it may also prove useful to counter malnutrition in terminal cancer patients.

THC is not recommended to treat anorexia nervosa, because it could affect underlying psychiatric disorders such as depression that may contribute to the disease.

Multiple sclerosis.

There is some evidence that marijuana compounds can reduce spasticity, but more proof is needed.

THC might help patients with multiple sclerosis, who can suffer from intense and lengthy muscle spasms.

There is little evidence to suggest marijuana can aid movement disorders such as Huntington's chorea or Parkinson's disease.


Despite anecdotal reports that marijuana controls epileptic seizures, there is little evidence to support this.

Alzheimer's disease.

One study showed THC improved appetite and reduced disturbed behavior in patients, suggesting more studies should be done.


Marijuana and THC reduce the eyeball pressure that increases risk of glaucoma and blindness, but the effect lasts only a few hours and requires high doses. Other treatments, including topical drugs and surgery, are more effective.