Cannabinoids in the treatment of pain and spasticity in multiple sclerosis
There is a large amount of evidence to support the view that the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta9-THC), and cannabinoids in general, can reduce muscle spasticity and pain under some circumstances. Cannabinoid (CB1) receptors in the CNS appear to mediate both of these effects and endogenous cannabinoids may fulfil these functions to some extent under normal circumstances. However, in the context of multiple sclerosis (MS), it is still questionable whether cannabinoids are superior to existing, conventional medicationsfor the treatment of spasticity and pain. In the case of spasticity, there are too few controlled clinical trials to draw any reliable conclusion at this stage. In the case of pain, most of the available trials suggest that cannabinoids are not superior to existing treatments; however, few trials have examined chronic pain syndromes that are relevant to MS. Whether or not cannabinoids do have therapeutic potential in the treatment of MS, a further issue will be whether synthetic cannabinoids should be used in preference to cannabisitself. Smoking cannabis is associated with significant risks of lung cancer and other respiratory dysfunction. Furthermore, delta9-THC, as a broad-spectrum cannabinoid receptor agonist, will activate both CB1 and CB2 receptors. Synthetic cannabinoids, which target specific cannabinoid receptor subtypes in specific parts of the CNS, are likely to be of more therapeutic use than delta9-THC itself. If rapid absorption is necessary, such synthetic drugs could be delivered via aerosol formulations.