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Prof Anthony Feinstein: Cannabis use in MS Patients

Prof. Anthony Feinstein-HD-2

Prof Feinstein discusses his research into cannabis on cognition in people with MS. The question he is investigating is: Does cannabis that is used to treat MS symptoms impact further on cognition in this population where 40-60% of patients have some level of cognitive dysfunction?

Cannabis is often used to treat pain, spasticity, insomnia or anxiety. Prof Feinstein estimates that 18-20% of MS patients use cannabis bought off the street or at a cannabis clinic on a regular basis. His subjects are smoking, eating or vaporizing this type of cannabis, not the pharmaceutical grade type.

His early results indicate that smoking or vaporizing cannabis can slow down the brain’s processing speed, make memory difficulties worse, or aggravate executive function problems. Prof Feinstein reinforced that his research has been performed in only 200 people over 4 studies, so any interpretation of results must be done with caution at this point. But it is important to be aware that impacts on cognition may be one of the side effects, which can have a substantial impact on people with MS who already suffer with cognitive dysfunction. This dysfunction can further impair daily activities, such as functioning poorly at work, sexual dysfunction and relationship issues.

In closing, Prof Feinstein states that it is essential that we gain a full understanding of cannabis as there may be benefits for treating pain and spasticity, but impacts on cognitive dysfunction may be enhanced when using ‘street-grade cannabis’.

The interview was recorded at the annual ECTRIMS meeting from 14-17 September 2016 in London, United Kingdom.

Professor Anthony Feinstein, Psychiatry Department, University of Toronto, Canada