Spasms and Cannabidiol

Spasms – Medical Marijuana Research Overview

23 September, 2015

Muscle spasms are when a muscle tightens and contracts involuntarily, causing pain and potentially serious joint mobility issues. Studies have shown marijuana effectively reduces the frequency and intensity of spasms, including in patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Overview of Spasms

Spasms are when your muscles are stiff and experience involuntary contractions. Spasms, or cramps, are most commonly caused by long periods of physical labor or dehydration, but they can also be associated with serious conditions, like multiple sclerosis. Their intensity can range from somewhat uncomfortable tightness to extremely painful and uncontrollable contractions. Spasticity can occur throughout all limbs, but is most common in the legs.

For those with multiple sclerosis, spasms can be stimulated by sudden movements, temperature changes, humidity and from wearing tight clothing.

Muscle spasms will interfere with regular motor function and can cause distressing symptoms. If left untreated, spasms can lead to soft tissue shortening, which in turn can cause frozen or disabling contractures in the hip, knee, ankle, shoulder and elbow joints.

Spasms are most commonly treated with medications and physical and occupational therapy.

Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Spasms

Along with pain, muscle spasm is the most common reason that medical cannabis is recommended and prescribed by medical professionals (Borgelt, Franson, Nussbaum & Wang, 2013). Studies have demonstrated that medical cannabis offers significant improvements in muscle spasticity, both in mice trials and in human subjects (Borgelt, Franson, Nussbaum & Wang, 2013) (Baker, et al., 2000.

The two major cannabinoids found in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), are responsible for cannabis’ effectiveness at muscle spasm relief. There’s strong evidence that suggests that cannabinoid-induced reductions in muscle tremors and spasticity are due to the activation of the cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, of the endocannabinoid system (Pertwee, 2002). THC and CBD have demonstrated that they both activate the CB1 and CB2 receptors and their actions on the two receptors regulates the excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters necessary to curtail spasms (Syed, McKeage & Scott, 2014) (Smith, 2002).

For those whose spasms and spasms are related to multiple sclerosis, cannabis has demonstrated it can offer relief (Thaera, et al., 2009). In what was the largest multinational clinical trial of its kind, multiple sclerosis patients suffering from spasms were treated with cannabis containing THC and CBD. After 12 weeks, the patients experienced significantly reduced spasticity severity compared with patients receiving the placebo. While the trial lasted 12 weeks, patients reported significant improvements in spasticity after just four weeks (Syed, McKeage & Scott, 2014). The same patients also reported significant improvement in quality-of-life measures over the 16 weeks (Vermersch, 2011). In another study, approximately two-thirds of patients reported improvements in spasticity after 50 weeks of treatment with cannabis containing THC and CBD (Fernandez, 2014).

Cannabis has even shown to be effectively lower the frequency and intensity of spasms in multiple sclerosis patients whose spasms had been previously unrelieved by traditional anti-spasticity therapy. After 15 weeks of treatment, patients saw a significant reduction in spasticity. Improvements were seen within the first four weeks (Collin, et al., 2010).

States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Spasms

Currently, 17 states have approved medical marijuana for the treatment of spasms. These states include: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington.

If muscle spasms are caused by multiple sclerosis, Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Vermont have approved medical marijuana for treatment purposes.

A number of other states will consider allowing medical marijuana to be used for the treatment of spasms not related to multiple sclerosis with recommendation by a physician. These states include: Connecticut (other medical conditions may be approved by the Department of Consumer Protection) and Massachusetts (other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician).

In Washington D.C., any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment.

Recent Studies on Cannabis’ effect on Spasms


Baker, D., Pryce, G., Croxford, J.L., Brown, P., Pertwee, R.G., Huffman, J.W., and Layward, L. (2000, March 2). Cannabinoids control spasticity and tremor in a multiple sclerosis model. Nature, 404(6773), 84-7.

Borgelt, L.M., Franson, K.L., Nussbaum, A.M., and Wang, G.S. (2013, February). The pharmacologic and clinical effects of medical cannabis. Pharmacotherapy, 33(2), 195-209.

Collin, C., Ehler, E., Waberzinek, G., Alsindi, Z., Davies, P., Powell, K., Notcutt, W., O’Leary, C., Ratcliffe, S., Novakova, I., Zapletalova, O., Pikova, J., and Ambler, Z. (2010, June). A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of Sativex, in subjects with symptoms of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis. Neurological Research, 32(5), 451-9.

Fernandez, O. (2014). Advanced in the management of multiple sclerosis spasticity: recent clinical trials. European Neurology, 72. Retrieved from

Pertwee, R.G. (2002, August). Cannabinoids and multiple sclerosis. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 95(2), 165-74.

Smith, P.F., (2002, June). Cannabinoids in the treatment of pain and spasticity in multiple sclerosis. Current Opinion in Investigational Drugs, 3(6), 859-64.

Spasticity. (n.d.). National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Retrieved from

Syed, Y.Y., McKeage, K., and Scott, L.J. (2014, April). Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol-cannabidiol (Sativex): a review of its use in patients with moderate to severe spasticity due to multiple sclerosis. Drugs, 74(5), 563-78.

Thaera, G.M., Welik, K.E., Carter, J.L., Demaerschalk, B.M., and Wingerchuk, D.M. (2009, November). Do cannabinoids reduce multiple sclerosis-related spasticity? Neurologist, 15(6), 369-71.
Vermersch, P. (2011, April). Sativex (tetrahydrocannabinol + cannabidiol), an endocannabinoid system modulator: basic features and main clinical data. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 11(4), 15-9.

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