Survey: Alternative medicine is widespread among people with MS

June 30, 2020
Alternative-medicine-is-widespread-(1).jpegA new survey of more than 1,000 people with multiple sclerosis finds that an overwhelming majority use complementary and alternative medicine, with many using cannabis.

Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University conducted the survey of people in Oregon and Southwest Washington in 2018. The survey found patients are nine times more likely to talk with their neurologist about the use of alternative therapies than patients in a similar survey conducted in 2001, a sign of broader societal acceptance of treatments beyond conventional medications. 

In the years since the first survey, several conventional medications have become available to manage MS-related disease activity. Even so, patients appear to be more inclined to use alternatives such as dietary supplements, despite limited evidence of their effectiveness.

Key findings:
  • 81 percent used dietary supplements such as vitamins, minerals, and herbs; up from 65 percent in the same survey conducted almost two decades ago.
  •  39 percent used mind-body therapies such as mindfulness and massage, up from 14 percent in the earlier survey.
  •  81 percent used exercise to help manage their symptoms – an increase from 67 percent in 2001.

The use of cannabis was common among respondents in the new survey, with about 30 percent reporting that they've used it in a variety of forms. Although cannabis remains an illegal substance under federal law, voters in recent years legalized it in both Oregon and Washington state.

Even though traditional uses of alternative therapies such as botanical supplements dates back hundreds of years, scientific research generally has been limited. The researchers said it's a positive sign that patients are more open to discussing their use of alternatives with their neurologist because it's important to manage interactions with conventional medications. More research is needed so neurologists can tell patients what does and doesn't help their MS, the researchers said.

The results were published in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.

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