For people suffering from fibromyalgia, everyday tasks can be a great struggle. Often referred to as the “invisible misery” due to its symptoms not being so outwardly apparent, fibromyalgia interferes with the body’s pain centers and leads to muscle pain and stiffness, fatigue, insomnia, migraines, and difficulty with concentration and memory loss. Treatment of fibromyalgia generally involves the prescription of pharmaceutical medications. While these medications may occasionally alleviate some of the symptoms, their side effects can be particularly troubling and they are generally not safe or efficient for long-term use. Given the lack of safe and reliable traditional medications, it is no surprise that fibromyalgia patients are seeking out alternative treatment plans with medical cannabis quickly becoming the most popular. Medical cannabis, also known as medical marijuana, is preferred due to its ability to address the symptoms of fibromyalgia without the negative side effects and risks associated with taking pharmaceutical medications. While the cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown, recent studies are suggesting that those suffering from fibromyalgia may be dealing with an underlying clinical endocannabinoid deficiency. The good news is that recent studies are showing that in addition to relieving the painful symptoms, medical cannabis use can also directly address any underlying endocannabinoid deficiency that may be causing fibromyalgia.
Five million adults are estimated to suffer from fibromyalgia. Other sources suggest the true number being twice that. According to the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC), women are 7 times more likely than men to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia. For a long time, fibromyalgia was viewed as a psychosomatic condition and to this day it remains misdiagnosed and misunderstood. As recently as only a decade ago, many medical doctors did not take fibromyalgia seriously and treatment options were not as available or as established as for other conditions. Pregabalin, the first drug approved by the FDA for treating fibromyalgia was not available until 2004. Since then, the FDA has approved two more medications for treating fibromyalgia: milnacipran, an antidepressant, and duloxetine which is designed for treating depression, anxiety, and nerve pain. Other common treatments range from over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories such as naproxen, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen to more serious opiate pain medications such as oxycodone and morphine and anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax (alprazolam) and other benzodiazepines and sedatives. Additionally, doctors are prescribing antidepressants including SSRIs and anticonvulsants such as Neurontin (gabapentin). These prescription medications can have quite serious side effects such as liver failure, addiction, memory loss, dizziness, depression, and high blood pressure.
While prescription medications and painkillers may temporarily ease the pain that comes with fibromyalgia, they cannot address the underlying cause of it or some of the other symptoms. Medical cannabis, in contrast, can serve as a multi-purpose medicine capable of addressing other fibromyalgia symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and sleep issues. It reduces headaches, muscle spasms, inflammation, and stress which is known to worsen and trigger flare-ups. A study in 2018 published in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology studied fibromyalgia patients being treated with medical cannabis. After a period of about 11 months, the medical researchers discovered that approximately half of the patients using medical cannabis had ceased taking their prescription medications. The study concluded that, “Medical cannabis treatment had a significant favorable effect on patients with fibromyalgia, with few adverse effects.” Another study published in 2018 stated that out of 383 fibromyalgia patients, 84% reported using medical cannabis to treat their symptoms and 94% of those patients experienced pain relief. According to George Habib and Iris Avisar, the study’s co-authors, “Nearly 85 percent of the patients either completely stopped taking any other pain medications or reduced the dosage of other meds. This reflects the advantage of cannabis over other meds in alleviating pain in addition to its favorable effects on sleep and mood.” In both studies, the patients experienced improvement in their symptoms with minimal side effects and more than half stopped taking their prescribed pharmaceutical medications.
For patients struggling with the pain of fibromyalgia, alleviating that pain may be the most pressing concern, but concentrating on potential root causes is fundamentally imperative. According to Dr. Ethan Russo, the Director of Research and Development at the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute, fibromyalgia patients may have an underlying endocannabinoid deficiency. The endocannabinoid system is a communications network that facilitates the communication between the brain and the central nervous system and is involved in regulating many of the body’s primary physiological processes. It also plays a key part in maintaining the body’s immune system and an overall sense of homeostasis. When the endocannabinoid system is not functioning properly the body’s health begins to suffer. This lack of internal balance can lead to a wide range of health issues and negative symptoms such as those experienced by people with fibromyalgia. In 2016 Dr. Russo wrote, “If endocannabinoid function were decreased, it follows that a lowered pain threshold would be operative, along with derangements of digestion, mood, and sleep among the almost universal physiological systems subserved by the endocannabinoid system.” When medical cannabis is ingested, it’s chemical properties supplement the body’s own endocannabinoid system, alleviating the deficiency and allowing the body to return to a state of homeostasis. In correcting this deficiency with the use of medical cannabis, patients may be able to manage their pain while simultaneously addressing its possible origin.
Fibromyalgia is a painful and debilitating condition to live with. Often described as a “life sentence”, for those dealing with fibromyalgia the symptoms can often lead them to a life of pain and solitude. Leading a productive life can becoming increasingly difficult and the treatments approved by the FDA offer little relief and come with side effects that all too often make the situation worse. In comparison, research on medical cannabis have been increasingly more positive. Studies are showing that medical cannabis treats the symptoms of fibromyalgia without the risk of chemical dependence or other negative side effects stemming from the use of pharmaceutical medications. If fibromyalgia is caused by a deficiency of the endocannabinoid system, then supplementing with the cannabinoids from medical cannabis is the perfect solution. Before deciding on a medical cannabis treatment plan for fibromyalgia, it is advised that each patient speak with a qualified medical cannabis practitioner in order to ensure the proper strain, dosage, and method of ingestion for each patient’s needs and to ensure maximum effectiveness. The outlook on treating fibromyalgia with cannabis is very encouraging, and with the correct medical cannabis protocol, fibromyalgia patients may find themselves pain-free with a new lease on life.