Charity wants cannabis legalised as 'last resort' treatment for MS
Currently there is no cure for multiple sclerosis (MS), but there are a wide variety of treatments available.
Drug treatments are used to reduce the number and severity of relapses in some people, but the use of cannabis is strictly prohibited under UK law.
However, in a survey by the MS Society in 2014, one in five people with the illness said they had used cannabis to help with their symptoms.
They said it can help with muscle spasms or stiffness and pain. The relief comes from chemicals in cannabis called cannabinoids.
The main ones are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which gets you ‘high’, and cannabidiol (CBD), which doesn’t.
There is a medically approved cannabis-based treatment called Sativex, but it doesn’t work for everyone.
And in most parts of the UK it is not available on the NHS, because the good it does is seen as too small to justify its high cost.
Medical advisors at the MS Society believe that around one in ten people with MS who suffer pain or muscle spasticity might benefit from cannabis treatment, when other treatments for these symptoms have failed.
“We think cannabis should be legalised for medicinal use for people with MS to relieve their pain and muscle spasms when other treatments haven’t worked,” said Genevieve Edwards, the MS Society’s director of external affairs.
“The level of clinical evidence to support cannabis’s use for medicinal purposes is not conclusive.
"But there is sufficient evidence for our medical advisers to say that on the balance of probability, cannabis could benefit many people with MS experiencing pain and muscle spasms.”
But the society warns that smoking cannabis, especially if mixed with tobacco, can be harmful to people's health.
Experts say that the key to managing MS centres on diet, exercise and lifestyle.
Exercise is suggested as one of the key ways to manage MS symptoms, including fatigue, balance and walking problems.
Specific activities suggested by the MS Society include walking, swimming, gardening or housework.
Following a relapse, physiotherapy is also promoted, and healthy-eating is a big part of coping with the condition.