Spasms – Medical Marijuana Research Overview

Muscle spasms are when a muscle tightens and contracts involuntarily, causing pain and potentially serious joint mobility issues. Studies have shown cannabis 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 professionals2. Studies have demonstrated that medical cannabis offers significant improvements in muscle spasticity, both in mice trials and in human subjects1,2.

The two major cannabinoids found in cannabis are thought to be 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 interaction with the cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, of the endocannabinoid system. By interacting with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, cannabinoids help regulate the excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters necessary to curtail spasms4.

For those whose spasms and spasms are related to multiple sclerosis, cannabis has demonstrated it can offer relief. Patients also reported significant improvement in quality-of-life measures like improvements in sleep quality and reduced pain15.

States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Spasms

Currently, 18 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 IslandUtah, and Washington. Pennsylvania permits marijuana for the treatment of any spastic movement disorder.

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, PennsylvaniaUtah, Vermont and West Virginia have approved medical marijuana for treatment purposes. Connecticut also has approved medical marijuana for spasticity associated with fibromyalgia.

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


  1. 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. Retrieved from
  2. 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. Retrieved from
  3. Corey-Bloom, J., Wolfson, T., Gamst, A., Jin, S., Marcotte, T.D., Bentley, H., and Gouaux, B. (2012). Smoked cannabis for spasticity in multiple sclerosis: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal, 184(10), 1143–1150. Retrieved from
  4. Pertwee, R.G. (2002, August). Cannabinoids and multiple sclerosis. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 95(2), 165-74. Retrieved from
  5. Spasticity. (n.d.). National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Retrieved from
  6. 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. Retrieved from
  7. Zajicek, J., Fox, P., Sanders, H., Wright, D., Vickery, J., Nunn, A., Thompson, A., and UK MS Research Group. (2003, November 8). Cannabinoids for treatment of spasticity and other symptoms related to multiple sclerosis (CAMS study): multicentre randomised placebo-controlled trial. The Lancet, 362(9395), 1517-26. Retrieved from


  • September 23, 2015
  • Eve Ripley