Anecdotally, fibromyalgia sufferers report that marijuana helps with the chronic pain associated with the condition. But what does science say? A research study from Spain indicated that cannabis can ease the most prominent symptoms of fibromyalgia including pain and stiffness. Marijuana also showed promise promoting relaxation, rest and an overall sense of wellbeing.
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Although fibromyalgia has been studied for over a century, the journal Current Pain and Headache Reports states that in the past this disease was conflated with rheumatism. The public has really only begun to appreciate the scope and public health costs of fibromyalgia over the past 20 years.
Roughly 3% of Canadians suffer from the disease and 80–90% of those affected are women. Others at risk for developing fibromyalgia include folks with sleep conditions, arthritis or lupus. The most common symptoms of fibromyalgia are:
- Diffused as well as pinpoint muscle and joint pain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Incapacitating fatigue
- Chronic headaches
- Restless leg syndrome
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Low pain threshold
What Are the Traditional Fibromyalgia Treatments?
Fibromyalgia has proven very difficult to treat. According to a study from the Tufts University School of Medicine, only 35% of fibromyalgia patients are able to obtain relief with traditional medication. Additionally, pharmaceuticals like Lyrica, Symbalta and Savella often have serious side effects such as:
- Blurred vision
- Weight gain
Can Marijuana Help With Fibromyalgia Symptoms?
Along with the Spanish study, which did show that cannabis helped with fibromyalgia pain, a National Pain Foundation study out of the U.S. looked at more than 1,300 fibromyalgia patients. The study concluded that 62% of fibromyalgia patients found medical cannabis to be effective in relieving their symptoms. The respondents also noted that other treatments such as acupuncture, massage and physical exercise also aided in easing fibromyalgia symptoms.
Scientists now conclude that people with fibromyalgia should look to their endocannabinoid system (ECS) to treat the condition. The ECS is a network of receptors throughout the body that interact with compounds, or cannabinoids, found in the cannabis plant. It seems that the ECS in fibromyalgia patients doesn’t provide enough of a feedback loop to decrease or stop pain signals. Perhaps a result of increased sensitivity, a defect in neurotransmitter release or the blockage of pathways that the body employs to inhibit pain signals is highly problematic. It’s hypothesized that the cannabinoids in medical marijuana can reset or block this to decrease the symptoms.
For fibromyalgia sufferers, oral tablets tend to be the preferred marijuana delivery method as they achieve timed release for longer-lasting effects. But some patients prefer inhaled cannabis such as vaping or smoking because this tends to provide more rapid pain relief as the medicine enters the blood stream more directly. What all those concerned are starting to agree upon, though, is that marijuana can be an effective fibromyalgia treatment without the side effects of pharmaceuticals traditionally used to treat the condition.
Photo credit: Mislav Marohnić