Although researchers have identified medications that relieve symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), none are entirely effective and some persons with multiple sclerosis (PwMS) use alternatives. Our study compared cannabis use among PwMS (N = 135) and persons diagnosed with arthritis (N = 582) or cancer (N = 622) who were age 60 and older, enrolled in the State of Illinois Medical Cannabis Program, and invited to complete a survey fielded between June and September, 2019. We used logistic regression to identify significant differences in self-reported effects of cannabis on psychological wellbeing, quality of life, and three behavioral outcomes, and we also considered effects of past year opioid use relative to these outcomes. We found that the majority of individuals from all groups used cannabis to address pain and improve quality of sleep. While PwMS reported lower baseline levels across all five outcomes, we found that the reported effects of cannabis were largely comparable across the groups. We also found that cannabis benefitted persons with sleep and digestive issues regardless of condition, whereas persons who used opioids in addition to cannabis were less likely to experience an improvement in any of the outcomes. This comparative evaluation suggests that cannabis' effects are not specific to MS, arthritis, or cancer as much as they impact processes common among these distinct conditions. We also found evidence that cannabis may be a viable alternative to opioids for those with these conditions and experiencing pain.
Keywords: cannabis; multiple sclerosis; older adults; opioids.