RI Hospital Expert: Is Medical Marijuana Bad for MS Patients?

Thursday, March 31, 2011


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New research on marijuana use and cognitive decline has raised issues about its medical appropriateness for individuals with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a particularly timely topic given Rhode Island Department of Health's recent approval of three compassion centers for the state.

The study, supported by the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and which appeared this week in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, says that long-term marijuana use may hurt intellectual skills in MS patients.

Therapeutic use versus cognitive decline

"It's not surprising that this study is showing that," said Syed Rizvi, MD, Director of the Rhode Island Hospital MS Center. According to Rizvi, MS patients find marijuana use helpful for dealing with chronic pain, bladder dysfuntion and spasticity associated with the disease, and he works with patients currently on decision-making around marijuana use. According to the Multiple Sclerosis Society, there are between 1,700 and 2,000 MS patients in Rhode Island.

"When I'm talking to patients I always mention there is a risk of cognitive decline," Rizvi said. "There is a real possibility that even though it can make you feel better, it may damage your ability to function mentally as time goes on."

No longer necessary to "go to the streets" for marijuana

With the future opening of compassion centers, MS patients who would have not considered "going to the streets" for their marijuana might become more aggressive, Rizvi said. "It may open a Pandora's Box," he said. "I'm going to get many more calls asking for this."

"I think the implications are that [MS patients] have to be careful and not just use marijuana liberally on a regular basis," he said. "But everything comes down to quality of life, eventually. Most patients at this stage of the disease are not working, they're not using their cognitive abilities to that extent."


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