Fibromyalgia is a neurologic disorder that causes chronic musculoskeletal pain throughout the body, with patients also being extremely sensitive to the pressure from touch on muscles and joints. While this chronic and often debilitating pain is the main symptom, some other symptoms most often experienced are extreme fatigue, problems with memory and cloudy thinking or difficulty concentrating; often reported as a “fibro fog”. Sleep issues are another common symptom, with sufferers waking in the night due to pain, or sleeping well yet awakening in the morning feeling unrefreshed. Many patients also experience periods of depression and anxiety.
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a common pain condition, with about 10 million people in the U.S. affected and an estimated 3-6 percent of the global population with the condition. Between 75-90 percent of fibromyalgia sufferers are women, but men and children of both sexes are affected as well, and in all ethnic groups. There is no known cure.
Many fibromyalgia patients also have migraines and other types of headaches: irritable or overactive bladder, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, anxiety and even temporomandibular joint disorders. Many people experience morning stiffness and tingling or numbness in the hands and feet. According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, there are up to 50 possible overlapping conditions.
Sometimes fibromyalgia is triggered by physical traumas such as surgery, infection or injury; other times psychological stress and trauma are the culprits, and symptoms can develop slowly over time. As it is often seen in families, there may be a genetic risk. In the field of rheumatology, it is thought that there may be genes that make some people more prone to fibromyalgia, as well as the other conditions that often accompany it. But they say that genes alone are not responsible. Regardless of how one ends up with the condition, many rheumatologists believe that the chronic pain is due to the central pain areas of the brain being affected, causing a higher sensitivity to, or perception of, pain. This has led some to recently refer to fibromyalgia as Central Pain Amplification disorder.
Using Cannabis for Fibromyalgia
There have been very few studies done on the use of cannabis for the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Most have been surveys of fibromyalgia sufferers who were using cannabis for their symptoms, compared to those who weren’t. There have been some studies done using drugs with synthesized forms of THC.
One study reported that 81.1% of the patients given cannabis for their fibromyalgia symptoms experienced at least moderate improvement in their condition, without serious side effects. The researchers concluded that medical cannabis could be a promising option for fibromyalgia patients.
In a German study using prescription THC, patients reported a significant reduction in pain and a higher quality of life.
There was a survey done by over seven different medical and health organizations, using legal members of medical cannabis dispensaries in Rhode Island, Maine and Vermont who suffered from chronic pain (including pain from fibromyalgia). The main medical benefits reported by the respondents was pain relief and better sleep.
Another survey done in Spain showed that the study’s participants experienced a significant reduction of pain and stiffness in addition to feeling more relaxed and with a feeling of improved well-being. The cannabis users also scored higher on a mental health test than non-cannabis users.
A sleep study was done on fibromyalgia patients using the synthesized form of THC known as nabilone. Quality of sleep was compared with one group using nabilone and another using the antidepressant amitriptyline, with the nabilone group experiencing better-quality sleep.
And of course, there are studies that show that cannabis helps decrease opiate use in patients with chronic pain, such as in a study performed in Michigan.
But these are all studies done using cannabis, which includes THC, or synthesized THC alone. What if you live in a state where you can’t get medical cannabis for any reason? One option would be to try to get your health care provider to prescribe synthesized THC. Those who prefer only natural relief might try CBD products, although for many people, CBD alone isn’t enough of a pain reliever. Still, there are patients who find at least some relief with non-psychoactive CBD, and there are a few studies to support this as well, such as one that was written about in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.
While it is true that much more study needs to be done, particularly in using the cannabis plant itself, the results of the studies done thus far point to hope for fibromyalgia sufferers.
Thinking of trying cannabis?
If you’re thinking of trying the therapeutic use of cannabis for fibromyalgia, you should first check whether fibromyalgia, or its symptoms, are qualifying medical condition in your state.
- Fibromyalgia Overview. Mayo Clinic Staff. 2017, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fibromyalgia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354780.
- Prevalence. National Fibromyalgia Association. 2018, http://www.fmaware.org/about-fibromyalgia/prevalence/
- Medicine, U.S. National Library of. Aug. 2018, Medline Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/fibromyalgia.html
- Overlapping Conditions. National Fibromyalgia Association. 2018. http://www.fmaware.org/about-fibromyalgia/overlapping-conditions/
- Fibromyalgia. Isabelle Amigues, M.D., M.S., RhMSUS. March 2019, American College of Rheumatology. https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Fibromyalgia
- Safety and Efficacy of Medical Cannabis in Fibromyalgia. Iftach Sagy, Lihi Bar-Lev Schleider, Mahmoud Abu-Shakra, and Victor Novack. 2019, U.S. National Library of Medicine | National Institues of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31195754
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta 9-THC) Treatment in Chronic Central Neuropathic Pain and Fibromyalgia Patients: Results of a Multicenter Survey. Janet Weber, 1 Marcus Schley, 2 Matthias Casutt, 1 Helmut Gerber, 1 Guido Schuepfer, 1 Roman Rukwied, 1, 2 , Wolfgang Schleinzer, 3 Michael Ueberall, 4 and Christoph Konrad. 2009, U.S. National Library of Medicine | National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2925209/
- Chronic Pain Patients’ Perspectives of Medical Cannabis. Brian J Piper, Monica L Beals, Alexander T Abess, Stephanie D Nichols, Maurice Martin, Catherine M. Cobb, and Rebecca M DeKeuster. 2017, U.S. National Library of Medicine | National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5845915/
- Cannabis Use in Patients with Fibromyalgia: Effect on Symptoms Relief and Health-Related Quality of Life. Jimena Fiz, Marta Durán, Dolors Capellà, Jordi Carbonell, Magí Farré. 2011, PLOS | ONE. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0018440
- The Effects of Nabilone on Sleep in Fibromyalgia: Results. Mark A. Ware, MBBS, MSc, MRCP; Mary-Ann Fitzcharles, MBBS, FRCPC; Lawrence Joseph, PhD§; Yoram Shir, MD*†. 2010, International Anesthesia Research Society, pp. 604-610. http://www.med.mcgill.ca/epidemiology/joseph/publications/Medical/ware2010.pdf
- Medical Cannabis Use Is Associated With Decreased Opiate Medication Use in a Retrospective Cross-Sectional Survey of Patients With Chronic Pain. Boehnke KF1, Litinas E2, Clauw DJ3. 2016, PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27001005/
- Cannabinoids suppress inflammatory and neuropathic pain by targeting α3 glycine receptors. Wei Xiong, Tanxing Cui, Kejun Cheng, Fei Yang, Shao-Rui Chen, Dan Willenbring, Yun Guan, Hui-Lin Pan, Ke Ren, Yan Xu, Li Zhang. 2012, Journal of Experimental Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3371734/