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Adrenocorticotropic Hormone

Marijuana and MS, a true story


This past week has been an exciting one for medical news on the marijuana front.  The Canadian Medical Association Journal published the results of a small study on the effects of marijuana for people who suffer from Multiple Sclerosis.  Overall, the study shows that there is some benefit for patients. However, there are several drawbacks to the study. Its small sample size, 30 patients, as well as the inability to fully “blind” the patients.  A blind study relies on patients not knowing if they are getting actual treatment or a placebo.  Because of the “high” gained from cannabis use, most patients correctly guessed when they were given the real thing.  Drawbacks aside, this is a very important study because it moves forward the idea that cannabis has legitimate medical use.  For the most part, evidence in favor of marijuana use has been strictly anecdotal.  While those stories can help sway public opinion, it does little to change the minds of the medical and political community. They want incontrovertible evidence, methodically gathered and rigorously tested. This is understandable, but it does nobody any good when these studies have difficulty obtaining funding and patients because Federal laws prohibiting its (schedule 1 substances have no medical value, and that is cannabis’ official classification) use and study are hard to overcome.  Despite this, the anecdotes abound, especially in our networked era. As the stories spread, people who suffer will hear them and try marijuana for themselves.  Hopefully it helps them and then they become one more reason to change a law and undertake another study.

Claire Hodges is one patient who has MS and opted to try marijuana, despite the legal and medical uncertainties.  Claire had no symptoms until her late 20’s.  At this point, stress from her job mounted and her symptoms started to manifest slowly and steadily.  This was in the early 1980’s and detection techniques were not as advanced as they are now.  So, Claire was unaware of her disease because of several misdiagnoses.  Having traveled through Bangladesh, doctors initially thought she suffered from a rare form of malaria.  But it took them over another year to isolate the disease. It was not until after she started showing classic brain tumor symptoms (and had a brain scan) that neurologists were able to diagnose her with Multiple Sclerosis.

There is no cure for MS, only treatments. Some of those are more effective than others, all with varying side effects. Claire’s doctors first steered her to steroid therapy ACTH, Acthar (Adrenocorticotropic Hormone) which stimulates the adrenal cortex gland to secrete cortisol, corticosterone and aldosterone.  She was suffering heavily at this point, unable to walk, and still believes that the effects of ACTH were far worse than the disease.  It caused acute acne breakouts, weight gain, and irrationality and paranoia (steroid psychosis).  She discontinued the ACTH regimen, and after having two children the disease progressed and her symptoms continued to grow worse. As the disease effected her more heavily she began suffering even more. She experienced muscle spasticity and pain, incontinence and other bladder issues followed, as well as vision degradation, poor balance, fatigue and more. As she succumbed to more troubles, doctors could only treat the symptoms by offering more prescriptions.  She tried Valium and Temazepam for sleeping and muscle pains. Also, as her body became susceptible to infection she was on numerous courses of antibiotics treatment.  She found the narcotics to be less than effective and their side effects only served to increase her gloom and depression.

Finally, after exhausting orthodox treatments, Claire looked in to other ways of medicating.  Other friends with MS recommended she try cannabis to help with her discomfort.  Initially she was uncomfortable with trying it out, so she asked her doctors.  None of them were able to give her any promises to its effectiveness, but did calm her fears and said moderate use would most likely not be dangerous.  That had to be better than all the dangerous pharmaceuticals she had tried before.  Using her network of friends, Claire was forced to illegally obtain marijuana and tried it out.  “The physical effects were almost immediate and extremely liberating.  I felt as though a heavy weight had been lifted from me.  The tension and discomfort in my spine and bladder melted away.  I was comfortable with my body for the first time in years, and I slept soundly that night.  The next day I was happy, knowing that there was something that would help me with my MS.”  Since then, Claire has been medicating with cannabis regularly, and has been able to rely much less on pharmaceuticals.  She grew her own medicine for some time, but stopped because of the fear of being caught with it.  So she must continue to purchase her medication illegally unless she moves to a state with a compassionate use laws and proper dispensary system.

Claire’s testimony, and others like her, help to open the minds of otherwise skeptical people.  If it can help her, than it can help other people. These stories are what we need to change the minds of politicians.  They need to be convinced that there is strength in compassion, not found in zero tolerance laws.  Claire is a strong human being. In spite of her affliction, she has not given up on life; she fights to stay active and productive for herself and her family.  Her cause is the cause against superstition and old prejudices, the cause for progress.

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