Pubdate: Thu, 30 Aug 2007
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 The Georgia Straight
Author: Travis Lupick
Note: David Suzuki's The Nature of Things show may be viewed at
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal - Canada)


For Brenda Worthington, the most frustrating aspect of multiple 
sclerosis is its unpredictability. "There is no schedule to MS," 
Worthington told the Georgia Straight. "It's like a demon that just decides."

Worthington experiences trigeminal neuralgia, a symptom of MS that 
manifests on the right side of her face. "It was brutally painful," 
she said by phone. "A very stabbing, electrical pain, which can last 
for less than a second or up to 10 minutes..It would come and go 
without any warning."

Worthington was operational manager for a floor-coverings wholesaler 
when she was diagnosed with MS in 1979. She is one of between 55,000 
and 75,000 Canadians who suffer from it. According to the MS Society 
of Canada, where Worthington volunteers, women are more than three 
times as likely as men to carry the disease.

The society describes MS as an attack on the protective myelin 
coverings of the central nervous system in the brain and spinal cord. 
Although the causes of MS are not completely understood, most 
researchers believe it to be an autoimmune disease, meaning the 
body's immune system has turned on itself and is actually causing the damage.

According to Dr. Helen Tremlett, an assistant professor in UBC's 
neurology department, primary treatments for MS manipulate or control 
the immune system to stop it from attacking the nervous system. A 
small number of medications called immunomodulatory drugs are the 
first line of response.

"These drugs are rather disappointing, only being partly effective," 
Tremlett said, speaking to the Straight from an MS research facility 
at UBC. Plus, there is a "not-so-pleasant range of side effects".

Kim Maffin, a contract manager who has MS and is married to 
broadcaster Tod Maffin, told the Straight that immunomodulatory 
medications do not necessarily deal with the symptoms associated with 
the disease. Maffin, who blogs on MS at, 
discovered she had the disease in 2004. She visited the doctor for 
double vision, a telltale sign of MS, and was quickly diagnosed.

"Right now, about 75 percent of my body is numb," she said from her 
home in Vancouver. "And with that, when the numbness is really bad, I 
get sort of a burning-pain sensation."

She added that there is "a whole bucket of symptoms" associated with 
the disease. "If you did an interview with a dozen people with MS, 
you will never find two of us the same."

Maffin said that a lot of people with MS rely on marijuana as a 
complementary therapy. She recalled an episode of David Suzuki's The 
Nature of Things in which a joint was passed around a circle of 
people with MS at Vancouver's Compassion Club. One man's tremors were 
so bad that he could not even hold the joint to take his first toke. 
Someone helped, lifting the joint to his lips. "And within literally 
three seconds, the tremors were gone," Maffin said. "It is profound."

Tremlett said that anecdotal evidence from people with MS suggests 
that marijuana is helpful, but clinical trials have not proven its 
effectiveness. She said there is a "potential mechanism", which could 
account for the positive responses. Tremlett explained that there are 
cannabinoid receptors found on pain pathways in the brain and spinal 
cord. It is believed that because pain is mediated through those 
pathways, cannabis is able to offer relief.

In 2005, a drug called Sativex was approved in Canada for the 
treatment of MS-related pain. It consists of various extracts from 
the marijuana plant and is administered via a mouth spray. "And so 
it's in replacement of people smoking an illegal substance," Maffin said.

Tremlett noted, however, that although Sativex has been approved for 
prescription use, the clinical evidence for its effectiveness has 
also been "pretty minimal".

But for some members of Vancouver's MS community, the benefits of 
Sativex cannot be measured in clinical trials. For those who might 
prefer the world not know about marijuana use, Sativex can serve as a 
socially acceptable substitute, without the pop-culture stigmas.

While she stated that she has never smoked marijuana, Maffin knows 
many people with MS who have. Sativex allows individuals to 
experiment with a potentially helpful therapy without a potentially 
embarrassing controversy, she said.

Medical marijuana is by no means the only alternative treatment for 
MS. Worthington provided a seemingly endless list of complementary 
therapies. "I've done bee pollen, bee stings, emu oil, acupuncture, 
and I'm in an adaptive yoga class right now," she said, noting that 
yoga is suprisingly effective in controlling symptoms.

For Worthington, one yoga class a week has improved her life. "As far 
as, say, doing transfers from a wheelchair to some other chair or to 
the washroom, it's just made a difference," she said.

Such complementary treatments are all about breaking the negative 
cycles of MS, Tremlett said. "If you can get the person out of that 
vicious circle of not feeling very good, losing their general 
fitness, not sleeping well.that's a big issue."

She noted the importance of giving people the ability to deal with 
their pain better. "It's not that simple, but that is often why 
people need this multifactorial approach where you don't just throw 
drugs at the problem," Tremlett continued. "That you deal with 
lifestyle issues perhaps before you move on to drug treatment."

Worthington's latest top pick for dealing with MS is diet-related: 
"increasing vitamin D and the use of omega-3 oils". She eats salmon 
at least twice a week and takes daily supplements of both salmon oil 
and vitamin D. Worthington swears that this diet has helped with 
fatigue and mobility.

So what is the best therapy for MS? "It's the general things that 
every doctor tells every human being on the planet," Maffin said. "My 
neurologist, when I was diagnosed, told me that the best treatment 
that I could give myself was to make myself the healthiest person I can."

She said more attacks are inevitable, despite avoiding the usual 
triggers. "Don't be overweight, don't have high blood pressure, and 
don't have high cholesterol," she said.

In consultation with her doctors, Worthington has never relied on 
conventional treatments for MS. "It was never appropriate and they 
never asked me," she said. And so Worthington's time with MS has 
consisted of one experiment after another, making complementary 
therapies the norm. Treatment depends on the symptom, she said, 
adding, "We all have our own symptoms." 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake