Most people know Montel Williams as a talk show host, a job he formerly held. But over the past several years, he’s put down the microphone and left the stage in exchange for a proverbial bullhorn and a larger platform: he’s one of marijuana’s staunchest advocates and proudly so. For him, the fight isn’t only about justice and fairness; it’s a personal endeavor – Williams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999 and turned to cannabis to help him manage symptoms. He’s been a supporter ever since.

What is MS?

Unfortunately, Williams isn’t alone in his illness; worldwide, over two million people have MS.

According to the National MS Society, multiple sclerosis is an immune process where the body’s immune system has an abnormal response and attacks the central nervous system

The cause of this attack is unknown, but isn’t exactly like the ones seen in diseases such as lupus. For this reason, MS is considered an “immune-mediated” illness rather than an autoimmune disease.

The immune system attacks myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds nerve fibers (though it attacks the nerve fibers as well). The attacked myelin forms scar tissue called sclerosis. This scar tissue is what causes symptoms (and is where MS gets its name).

multiple sclerosis awareness ribbon, Montel Williams multiple sclerosis advocate No one knows the exact cause of MS, but certain genetics play a role: people of Scottish ancestry, for instance, have a higher incidence than the general public. But MS is found in all races and in people all over the globe. It’s also found in all ages, though most people are diagnosed in young adulthood.

Like many diseases, not all cases of MS are the same – in fact, they’re more like snowflakes with no two being exactly alike. Some people have a relatively mild form with occasional flare ups; others experience life-altering debilitation.

Why Cannabis is Effective

Cannabis is a multi-talented herb, but one of its biggest talents is the reason it’s so conducive to health: it decreases inflammation. Because inflammation plays a major role in MS, it makes sense that marijuana would grow to become a sufferer’s ally.

Certain cannabinoids in cannabis help to deactivate the immune system, which halts its attack on the central nervous system; in short, it forces the body to leave the brain alone. And this helps keep symptoms at bay.

Medically, people with MS use cannabis to reduce stiffness, ease pain, improve digestion, relieve insomnia, and improve mood

Cannabinoids in pot are also known to promote neurogenesis, which is the creation of new brain cells. Your tobacco cigarette can’t do that, but your joint can!

Cannabis Guidelines for MS

Montel Williams isn’t the only one who thinks people with MS should use cannabis – the American Academy of Neurology agrees with him. In 2014, they released the following conclusions:

Oral cannabis extract and synthetic THC are probably effective for reducing patient-reported symptoms of spasticity and pain.

Sativex oral spray (a cannabis extract) is probably effective for improving patient-reported symptoms of spasticity, pain, and urinary frequency

The academy was, however, quick to refrain from painting cannabis as a cure-all, noting that they weren’t convinced of its use for control of tremor or bladder incontinence.

And Now Back to Montel Williams

Since his diagnosis, Williams has not only founded a nonprofit focusing on MS research and education, but he’s also traveled the globe in an effort to propel legalization forward. Oh, he recently launched his own medical cannabis company too: LenitivLabs.Headshot of Montel Williams, Montel Williams multiple sclerosis advocate

LenitivLabs focuses on products capable of delivering cannabis through a variety of routes, thus speeding up how quickly the body can absorb the needed cannabinoids. The first line of products will be available in California early this year before moving onto other legal states.

The name of the company comes from the word “lenitive,” a fifteenth century term used to describe a medicine that relives pain, stress, or discomfort. And the lab takes this namesake seriously: it provides patients with the highest quality of product, consistent dosing, and no harmful additives.

Williams, per International Business Times, decided to get involved in the creation part of the cannabis world because of his own symptoms. He was quoted as saying,

“I experience neuropathic pain 24 hours a day because of my MS. My physicians recommended cannabis as part of my treatment seventeen years ago and I’ve used it ever since. Only someone suffering from a debilitating disease can understand cannabis’s therapeutic value.”

He brings up a good point for people who are anti-pot, no matter if its medicinal or not: if cannabis helps someone in pain, or someone who can’t eat, or someone who hasn’t slept for days, who is anyone to tell the sufferer they have no right to use it?

Other Cannabis Celebrities

Of course, Williams isn’t the only celebrity to throw his hat of hash into the ring. Whoopi Goldberg developed a line of edibles after suffering through awful years of menstruation (seriously…if we’re only really fertile for twenty years, must we menstruate for forty?). Melissa Etheridge has a private reserved wine infused with cannabis and Willie Nelson (natch) has a line of cannabis strains named Willie’s Reserve.

Medical Cannabis Laws

Twenty-eight US states (as well as DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam) allow use of medical marijuana, making it more legal nationwide than illegal. And, with each election, more states jump off the ballots and onto the bandwagon – this year, Arkansas, North Dakota, and Florida did.

Even Donald Trump, who hasn’t solidified his stance on pot because he’s too busy tweeting, is pro-medical marijuana despite the fact that his nominee for Attorney General is a big ol’ party pooper. This hopefully bodes well for the medical marijuana industry as we keep going forward instead of taking steps back. People like Montel Williams, and everyone else affected by these types of diseases, are depending on it.

Jenn Keeler

About the author: Jenn Keeler is a freelance writer and illustrator specializing in humorous lifestyle articles. She is one of the few people on earth actually using an English degree. Her heart belongs to the Denver Broncos and her husband. In that order.