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Is Cannabis the Holy Grail for Fibromyalgia Pain?

Emily Robertson

Studies show cannabis is more effective at relieving fibromyalgia pain than opioids or Cymbalta.

Fibromyalgia is a highly misunderstood and underfunded disorder that affects mostly women (only ten percent of diagnosed patients are men). We are nowhere near finding a cure and symptoms are difficult to treat. These symptoms include: widespread muscle pain and stiffness, fatigue, sleep problems, brain fog, and depression/anxiety that ranges from moderate to severe. Fibromyalgia typically co-exists with other painful conditions including: IBS, migraines, interstitial cystitis, and temporomandibular joint disorders.

Young Woman Clutching her neck in pain

Fibromyalgia patients experience inexplicable widespread pain. Image Credit: PathDoc 

For people who suffer with fibromyalgia, it is an all-consuming and potentially disabling condition. At this point, research has yet to uncover the trigger for the condition, although it likely has links to a disruption in the central nervous system and an endocannabinoid deficiency. This would explain why cannabis was effective as a treatment. Many experts believe that the pain is coming from misdirected nerve firing.

Empty Bed at Night with Heating Pad on it

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In aggregate studies — published in the The American Journal of Medicine (2010) — of patients, using initial intake interviews, it is likely that fibromyalgia has both a genetic component and an environmental trigger. These can include: giving birth, operation trauma, severe injury, systemic infection, and severe emotional stresses (abuse or PTSD). It is also possible there are other triggers.

Fibromyalgia Word Cloud

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Treatments for Fibromyalgia Pain

Right now, the course of treatment proving to be most effective is a combination of lifestyle changes, medication, and counseling. So changing to a healthier diet and getting more exercise paired with medication and counseling is helping.

The three pharmaceuticals typically used when trying to manage fibromyalgia are: Cymbalta (Duloxetine), Savella (Milnacipran), and Lyrica (Pregabalin). While these can provide efficacy in managing symptoms, more than fifty percent of patients report no relief. In addition, typical painkillers are not effective on fibromyalgia pain due to reduced binding ability of the opiate receptor in the brain of those suffering from fibromyalgia.

Image Credit: FGC

The Evidence Against Cannabis as a Pain Management Tool

A review of studies in 2016 discovered that minimal evidence was available to recommend any cannabis-based treatments for managing the symptoms of rheumatic diseases, such as fibromyalgia.

After this an Australian study — published in The Lancet (2018) failed to find evidence that consuming cannabis helped to reduce pain. The study also suggested that cannabis was unable to reduce the need for opioids among people with a range of conditions. However, this study, as with many others, focused on people who consume cannabis recreationally rather than medical use. Additionally, there is lots of evidence to show that medical cannabis does reduce opioid reliance in pain sufferers. Research also shows that cannabis is effective at treating many different kinds of pain.

Cannabis as a Treatment Option

Research shows that cannabis is an effective pain killer and works through different receptors than opioids.  A survey conducted by the National Pain Foundation (2014) found that sixty two percent of participants who took cannabis to treat their fibromyalgia found it “very effective” in alleviating symptoms. Compare this to the mere eight to ten percent who claimed that the pharmaceutical prescription counterparts were “very effective”; and a dramatic contrast from the sixty percent of patients who said their prescriptions are totally ineffective.

Cannabis bud versus pills on white background

Image Credit: El Flapas

The method of cannabis consumption is important for fibromyalgia patients. Start with a vape in the morning to get out of bed, followed by edibles or oil. The reason for this is that vaping will bring immediate and short acting relief while you are waiting for the oil/edible is kicking in. The latter will bring relief for four to six hours. Some patients also find that edibles before bed are effective in allowing a good night’s sleep. Take your medicine about forty five minutes before you hit the hay.

Throughout the day, micro-dosing for breakthrough pain can be an effective way to hold the pain back while still avoiding the feeling of being “high.”

Cookies beside cannabis leaf and edibles sign

Image Credit: Shutterstock

A year and a half ago, a company called Cannabis Science also developed a cannabis patch that releases cannabinoids over a prolonged period of time in order to deliver effective dosage for several hours. If you suffer fibromyalgia, have you tried cannabis and would you? It could be the treatment option you’ve been waiting for.

Emily Robertson

Emily Robertson has been writing freelance and contract work since 2011. She has written on a variety of topics, including travel writing of North America and the growing legalized cannabis industry across the globe. Robertson has a master’s degree in literature and gender studies, and brings this through in her writing by always trying to explore different perspectives. Born and raised in southwestern Ontario, Robertson moved to Glasgow, Scotland in 2016 to undergo her doctorate in Scottish Literature. She lives in the West End with her dog, Henley.

1 Comment
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    I’d love to try it for my Fibro but it’s still illegal here in Australia 🙁

    March 11, 2019 at 10:51 pm Reply

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