BBC Radio 4′s weekly medical programme Case Notes just had a special on multiple sclerosis. The programme looks at what we know about the brain disorder and investigates the controversial use of cannabis as a treatment.
Some neurons in the brain have extended sections called axons that allow the neuron to transmit signals over distance.
The signals travel down the axon as electrical pulses, and as with electrical wires in the house, the signalling is more efficient when it is insulated from the outside world.
Axons are insulated by a layer of fatty covering called myelin.
In MS, the myelin starts to degrade and the neurons are eventually unable to send signals, becoming useless and withering.
It is not clear why this happens, but it might be because a problem with the immune system means the body starts attacking and destroying the myelin.
The destruction of myelin in the brain is not evenly spread out and doesn’t continue at a steady rate, meaning that people with the disorder may have difficulties with a whole variety of different brain functions.
This pattern might differ from person to person, and might progress at a different rate.
Movement, memory, attention, mood, perception and speech can all be affected (to name but a few), and the person is at a much higher risk for mental illness as a result.
Currently, there is no cure for MS but several treatments are known to slow the disorder or help with the symptoms.
These can include drugs that regulate the immune system and steroids to limit the damage.
However, many patients report that cannabis significantly helps with the symptoms.
While cannabis treatment is illegal in most countries, researchers are trying to understand what is it about cannabis that helps, and are working on developing medications based on cannabinoids.
The programme looks at these treatments, as well as looking at the science of MS, and how is it managed by the clinical team.
Link to Case Notes special on MS.