With 26 states plus the District of Columbia now allowing medical marijuana use, according to a recent North American Research Committee on Multiple Sclerosis (NARCOMS) survey, many people with multiple sclerosis are considering the herb as a therapeutic option. NARCOMS is a research program that allows people with Multiple Sclerosis to expedite MS research by volunteering information about their experience with the disease.
Results of the NARCOMS survey, which was led by Stacey S. Cofield, PhD — an associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health Department of Biostatistics — were presented at the American Academy of Neurology 2015 Annual Meeting that was held April 18-25 at the Walter T. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC.
Dr. Cofield, whose primary research focus is on design and analysis of longitudinal studies for Multiple Sclerosis and Rheumatoid Arthritis, also serves as Deputy Director of the CombiRx Statistical and Data Management Center and the NARCOMS Coordinating Center. She discussed results of the confidential survey in a Platform Presentation on Friday May 29 during the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC) that was held May 27 – 30 at the JW Marriot Hotel in Indianapolis, Indiana.
To view a video of a Q&A session with Dr. Cofield at the conference, click here.
At the Washington AAN meeting, Dr. Cofield and colleagues presented data from 5,665 participants in the survey that had responded at the time. Some 63 percent had used marijuana before their MS diagnosis, and 16 percent said they are currently using it to relieve MS symptoms.
The study, entitled “Marijuana Usage and Disability in MS in the NARCOMS Registry,” was published in the journal Neurology and coauthored by Dr. Cofield with Amber Salter, Tuula Tyry, Christina Crowe, Sandre McNeal, Gary Cutter, Robert Fox, and Ruth-Ann Marrie, who note that several clinical trials have suggested that cannabinoids ameliorate symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). In the United States, regulations regarding medical marijuana are changing, making access to it easier.
The study, was designed to assess attitudes and behaviors related to marijuana use overall in the multiple sclerosis patient population, parsing the results according to both clinical and socio-demographic characteristics. The study was initiated in 2014, when 12,260 active NARCOMS’ active survey respondents were encouraged to complete an online, anonymous survey, capturing demographic and clinical characteristics including disability status (Patient Determined Disease Steps [PDDS], Performance Scales, NARCOMS tremor and depression scales), attitudes and behaviors regarding marijuana use.
According to the study, the survey questionnaire was kept intentionally short, with only about 25 questions and requiring only a few minutes to complete. To ensure confidentiality, the survey was anonymous and separate from the NARCOMS website and database. In the study context, marijuana use refers to smoking, ingesting any controlled substance derived from marijuana or synthetic marijuana.
Of 5,665 self-selected study respondents, the study authors note that 78.3 percent were female with a mean age of about 55 years and MS relapsing from onset in 90.2 percent of respondents with largely mild to moderate disability. Sixty-three percent of respondents had used marijuana before their MS diagnosis (mean age at diagnosis was 37 years), and 52.9 percent have considered its use for MS (20.1 percent have discussed this with a doctor). Twenty-five point five percent have used it for MS, and 16.0 percent were currently using it at the time of their survey submission. Ninety-one point five percent think marijuana should be legal (58.4 percent with prescription), with the preferred delivery methods being oral in standardized dosage pills (47 percent), topical (28 percent), in an oil (22 percent) or smoking (also 22 percent).
Just under 50 percent of participants reported living in a state or district where using medical marijuana is legal to some extent, and were asked about past and present use of marijuana in any form, including smoking it or using it in an oil or spray.
Current and ex-tobacco and marijuana smokers were more likely to favor legalization of marijuana, with respondents favoring legalization typically afflicted with more spasticity and more severe depression.
Compared with non-users, current users have lower incomes, are more likely to smoke tobacco, drink more alcohol, and report greater disability in all domains.
The survey’s provisional overall conclusion is that most NARCOMS respondents favor legal access to marijuana for medical use, while 16 percent currently use marijuana for their MS. Some 82 percent of survey participants affirmed that they would consider using marijuana if it were legal in their state, and whether they have actually used it or not, more than a third had spoken to their doctor about using marijuana.
“The results show that a large percentage of patients with MS are interested in the issue of marijuana,” Dr. Cofield told MedScape. which cites her observing that most people who have tried marijuana said it helped with some aspect of their symptoms, such as to control pain or spasms or to improve mobility, noting that only about five percent said marijuana didn’t help them in any respect, and concluding:”This can advance the conversation and perhaps assist with people who would be willing to enroll in clinical trials.”
University of Alabama at Birmingham
University of Alabama at Birmingham