As the legality of cannabis in the United States slowly evolves, more people are turning to cannabidiol (CBD) for its potential health benefits — without the high feeling that comes with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Some people with chronic illnesses, like multiple sclerosis (MS), use CBD to help reduce their symptoms. While the research is still inconclusive, CBD shows some promise as a helpful tool for alleviating chronic pain and discomfort related to various conditions.
Below, we’ll look specifically at how CBD may help people manage their MS symptoms. We’ll also talk about how to take CBD, how to shop for it, and a few products for you to consider.
CBD is an extract from the cannabis plant that’s markedly different from THC, because it doesn’t produce that “high” feeling usually associated with cannabis.
There are many cannabinoids in cannabis, but CBD and THC are the two you’ve probably heard of the most.
The research on CBD is still emerging, but there’s promising evidence that it may have therapeutic benefits, such as alleviating pain, anxiety, and insomnia.
There are three types of CBD.
CBD isolate is pure CBD. It doesn’t contain THC or any other cannabinoids from the cannabis plant. Because it’s so highly refined, there’s a risk that isolate products may contain solvents from the extraction process.
That’s why it’s essential to look for products that come with a certificate of analysis (COA). Third-party testing checks for ingredients left behind during the purification process.
The two other forms of CBD are broad-spectrum and full-spectrum. Broad-spectrum doesn’t contain THC but does contain other cannabinoids. Full-spectrum CBD has minute amounts of THC and may work better than other forms of CBD due to the “entourage effect.”
Right now, there’s only one CBD drug on the market that’s been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA): Epidiolex, which is prescribed for rare forms of epilepsy.
Some people use CBD to help manage chronic pain as an alternative to habit-forming drugs, such as opioids. Currently, there’s not enough research to verify CBD’s pain-relieving benefits. But what we know so far is encouraging.
Some symptoms of MS that CBD may help with are:
A 2018 review suggested that CBD is an effective pain management tool with few side effects. The studies looked at pain resulting from:
Researchers have also looked at CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects. An 2015 animal study suggested that arthritic rats receiving 6.2 mg of CBD per day had less swelling and pain than those not receiving any CBD.
The results are interesting, but studies on humans are necessary to confirm the findings.
Some studies have also looked specifically at whether CBD might help people with MS manage their symptoms. However, most of the research examines the effects of THC and CBD together in the form of an oromucosal spray called Sativex.
According to a 2014 summary of literature, Sativex is likely an effective treatment option for MS-related symptoms, such as spasticity, urinary infrequency, and pain.
A 2018 study that looked into the effect of Sativex on the driving ability of people with MS found that people taking the spray didn’t have an increase in vehicle accidents. People also reported having improved driving abilities, possibly because of reduced spasticity.
Another study from 2018 explained that cannabis products with a 1-to-1 CBD-to-THC ratio may reduce muscle spasticity and pain in people with MS. Cannabis may also reduce inflammation related fatigue, which may, in turn, improve mobility in those with MS.
The National MS Society advocates for the legalization of cannabis at the state level and seeks to remove federal barriers to researching medical cannabis. However, they point out that there’s no research on the safety of cannabis use, specifically in people with MS.
CBD is available in several forms, including:
Oils and tinctures. These liquids are ingested orally by placing drops under the tongue. Both options are a good choice for those who have trouble swallowing pills.Creams and lotions. Topical CBD products are best for muscle and joint pain. They can be used to treat certain skin conditions. Topicals aren’t appropriate for whole-body issues, like insomnia. Capsules and gummies. For those with whole-body issues, they may want to use pills. Not everyone feels comfortable swallowing capsules and pills, though. CBD in this form can also take some time to produce effects. Gummies are ideal for those who don’t like the idea of taking a pill or capsule. Vaping. Experts don’t suggest taking CBD this way because of potential adverse health effects.
Here are a few questions to ask when shopping for CBD.
Which type of CBD is this?
To get the full benefits of the entourage effect, choose a full-spectrum product. If you want to avoid THC altogether, opt for CBD isolate or broad-spectrum CBD.
Keep in mind that any CBD products may contain trace amounts of THC, which could show up on a drug test.
Does the company test its products in a third-party lab?
The FDA doesn’t test or guarantee the safety of over-the-counter CBD products. The FDA can send warning letters to companies making health claims that they shouldn’t, but that’s about it.
That’s why a quality product should come with a COA that confirms it’s free of contaminants and contains the CBD (and THC) that’s noted on the label.
What’s in this CBD product?
Look for products that say they contain hemp, hemp extract, or hemp oil. Products that say they contain hemp seed or hemp seed oil do not contain CBD.
It’s also a good idea to check where the company sources their ingredients. Ideally, look for products that contain organic, U.S.-grown hemp.
Still not sure which CBD to purchase? Below, we list a few recommendations.
We chose these products based on the criteria we think are good indicators of safety, quality, and transparency.
Each product in this article:
is made by a company that provides proof of third-party testing by an ISO 17025-compliant labis made with U.S.-grown hempcontains no more than 0.3 percent THC, according to the COApasses tests for pesticides, heavy metals, and molds, according to the COA
As a part of our selection process, we also considered:
the company’s certifications and manufacturing processesproduct potencyoverall ingredientsindicators of user trust and brand reputation, such as:customer reviewsif the company has been subject to an FDA warning letterif the company makes any unsupported health claims
$ = under $30$$ = $30–$50$$$ = over $50
Lazarus Naturals High Potency CBD Tincture
Price: $–$$$CBD type: full-spectrum CBD potency: 750 mg per 15-mL bottle, 3,000 mg per 60-mL bottle, or 6,000 mg per 120-mL bottleCOA: available on the product page
This highly potent full-spectrum CBD product is one of the most popular in the Lazarus Naturals lineup. Several reviewers mention that they like to use it at bedtime. A dropper allows for easy dose control.
The unflavored tincture has an earthy taste that might not please everyone. The upside? It’s free of additives. The formula is also vegan and gluten-free.
Use code “Healthline10” for 10% off your first order. One time use only.
Joy Organics Premium CBD Gummies
Price: $$CBD type: broad-spectrumCBD potency: 10 mg per serving Count: 30COA: available online
These tasty broad-spectrum CBD gummies come in two flavors: strawberry lemonade and green apple.
The company offers carbon-neutral shipping and has a convenient rewards program for repeat shoppers. The gummies are also vegan and sweetened with organic cane sugar.
Use code “healthcbd” for 15% off.
Medterra CBD Capsules
Price: $$CBD type: isolateCBD potency: 25 or 50 mg per capsuleCount: 30COA: available online
The CBD in these capsules comes from organic, non-GMO hemp. The capsules also contain CBD isolate, which is ideal if you’re looking to stay away from THC.
The company is certified by the U.S. Hemp Authority, and they have a 30-day money-back guarantee, making it a good choice for CBD newbies.
Use code “health15” for 15% off.
CBD is considered generally safe, but there’s still a potential risk of side effects. Some people may experience adverse effects, including:
diarrheafatigueweight changesappetite changes
Always talk with your doctor before trying CBD. This is particularly important if you’re currently taking any medications. CBD may interact with certain drugs.
More research into CBD for MS symptom management is needed to further understand how CBD may play a role in the lives of people with MS.
As of now, research suggests that CBD alone may help with insomnia and chronic pain, including nerve pain. Since people with MS may experience these symptoms, it’s possible that CBD may help them manage their condition.
Steph Coelho is a freelance writer with chronic migraine who has a particular interest in health and wellness. When she’s not click-clacking away on her keyboard, she’s probably nose-deep in a good book.