A few years after I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis I went to a doctor’s appointment for reasons unrelated to my MS. The nurse who took my medical history confided in me, behind closed doors, that she, too, had MS – and that she was treating it not with one of the handful of FDA-approved disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) that were then available but with bee-sting therapy.
Why the whispers? She didn’t want her colleagues – and especially not the doctors she worked with -- to know she had chosen this complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) method over one that was more widely accepted in the medical community.
I’ll be honest with you: I thought she was nuts. Having felt well served by the DMT I’d been using since I was diagnosed, I couldn’t understand why she had chosen an unproven and relatively little-tested form of therapy instead.
I’ll continue to be honest: My knee-jerk reaction when I hear about people with MS who choose not to use DMTs is still to wonder why. But I have met and communicated with many more people with MS now than I had ten years ago, and I’ve come to understand how varied our conditions, our needs, and our attitudes toward traditional medicine are. I also now realize that for the many people with MS for whom none of the FDA-approved therapies seem to help, seeking alternative treatments makes all the sense in the world.
As this set of guidelines issued by the American Academy of Neurologists demonstrates, it’s very hard to fully assess the value of most CAM therapies in treating MS because there’s not enough well-conducted, conclusive research out there to show what works and what doesn’t. The National MS Society provides funds to support CAM-related studies and will continue to do so until science arrives at a better understanding of what CAM can – and can’t – do for folks with MS.
As for my attitude, it’s evolved a bit since my state became one in which medical marijuana is legal. I plan to talk with my neurologist about the prospect of using marijuana to ease some of my symptoms. Of course, I would only use it in conjunction with, not instead of, my DMT.
I know that many people with MS have strong opinions about CAM. Let’s hear what you have to say!