Pubdate: Sun, 29 Oct 2006
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2006 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Alexandra Paul
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)


A well-known herb was touted as a way to ease the painful muscle 
spasms of multiple sclerosis at a conference on the neurological 
disease Saturday.

Toke, anyone?

MS is one of the medical conditions for which Ottawa allows people to 
smoke marijuana.

Winnipeg naturopathic doctor Sean Ceaser listed it as a complementary 
therapy, along with diet restrictions and exercise, at the Multiple 
Sclerosis Society's annual daylong conference for doctors and 
patients. About 250 people came to the Winnipeg Convention Centre to 
hear speakers from the U.S. and Canada discuss the latest findings.

Some 3,000 Manitobans are believed to suffer from the progressive 
condition of the central nervous system that has no known cause or cure.

Doctors have long known the disease is linked to the immune system 
and to environmental triggers. Allergic reactions to wheat and diary 
products or a vitamin D deficiency from lack of sunlight are thought 
to trigger the disease. MS destroys the lining of nerve cells, 
robbing people of the ability to control their movements.

Marijuana, the illegal street drug that can get you arrested and 
jailed, remains a medicine people with MS hate to admit they use.

Cannabis -- the formal name for marijuana -- along with various other 
medicinal herbs and nutritional supplements like vitamins K, D, B-12 
and omega-three fish oils, are attracting patients nevertheless, Ceaser said.

The Charleswood health practitioner cited THC, the active ingredient 
in cannabis, as a nerve-affecting element that soothes spasms, eases 
pain and promotes sleep. Doctors can help patients get federal 
approval to use it.

Conference spokeswoman Gwenda Nemerofsky confirmed there are people 
in Manitoba who have applied to Health Canada for legal permits to 
use marijuana as medicine.

"But most will not come forward," she said.

Some take it by prescription in forms like nasal spray. Others roll 
it up in cigarette papers and smoke it. Some even grow it.

The conference focused on the social and emotional devastation that 
can accompany a diagnosis of MS and ways, including pot, that 
patients can cope better. Among the other findings Saturday was 
research that indicates MS strikes the same proportion of people in 
the rest of Canada as in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The Prairie 
provinces were previously believed to be hot spots for the condition.

Winnipegger Erica Maxwell, 27, was diagnosed with MS six years ago, 
shortly after she gave birth.

She said she was eager to learn about natural therapies she can use 
to augment conventional treatment.

The condition has slowed Maxwell down. She has to nap every day and 
go to bed early. Her husband and their son, 6, pick up the slack at 
home, from laundry to housecleaning. Stress makes symptoms worse.

Dr. Michael Schapiro, an expert in MS from the Minneapolis Clinic for 
Neurology, said his mother had the disease, so he understands how 
hard it is for patients and their families to live with it.

But the American doctor is not keen on marijuana as a solution, 
especially if it's smoked.

Studies show smoking pot can block symptoms like muscle tremors, the 
doctor said. And prolonged toking can kill off brain cells in the 
same way alcohol abuse does. It can also cause respiratory diseases, 
like tobacco-smoking does.

"It's not just a casual thing," Schapiro said.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman