Fibromyalgia is a chronic health problem that affects roughly 2% of the American population. Up to 90% of those affected by the disorder are women, but men and children constitute a smaller percentage of those who suffer from the condition. Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread chronic musculoskeletal pain and mechanical hyperalgesia that can greatly affect the quality of life of those affected. It is also common for people with fibromyalgia to have other symptoms as well, including tingling sensation or numbness in hands and feet, fatigue, joint stiffness, sleep disruption, and difficulty concentrating (“fibro fog”), among others. Cannabinoids contained in cannabis, particularly cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), have been demonstrated in various studies as anti-nociceptive and anti-hyperalgesic agents that may help in managing the symptoms of fibromyalgia, thereby, improving the physical function and quality of life of sufferers.
There is no definite clinical cause of fibromyalgia, but the general scientific and medical view is that it is caused by disruptions in the central nervous system that affects how the body senses pain. Fibromyalgia is very difficult to treat and a cure is nowhere in sight. Current medications are seemingly ineffective in treating fibromyalgia and alleviating it symptoms in a satisfactory way. As such, many patients are left suffering with debilitating pain and very few options in terms of medication and self-care. Furthermore, researchers and seasoned doctors, in a bid to find a solution to fibromyalgia, are seriously investigating cannabis as a potential treatment option.
Cannabis has long been known for its pain relieving properties, but very little studies have been done evaluating how it affects chronic pain, particularly as it relates to fibromyalgia. Still, there is data suggesting that the body’s endocannabinoid system (body’s pain-regulating system) responds to different cannabinoid such as THC and CBD. The central nervous system, bone tissues, and immune cells all have cannabinoid receptors, and based on research, CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors responds differently to CBD and THC. While the psychoactive THC binds to either receptors, CBD indirectly stimulates endogenous cannabinoid signaling by suppressing the fatty acid amide hydroxylase (FAAH) preventing the activation of CB1 receptors. This stimulation and suppression is believed to be responsible for the pain relieving effects of CBD, especially when ingested.
Cannabis Research and Fibromyalgia
The cannabis plant is a Schedule 1 prohibited controlled substance, which is the single biggest obstacle preventing research into the medical value of cannabis. However, researchers have pushed the envelope in search of solutions to common health problems such as fibromyalgia. Available research reveals that cannabis may not only be effective in reducing g pain, but it could alleviate many fibromyalgia symptoms. In one study of 56 fibromyalgia patients (28 marijuana users and 28 nonusers), who were administered marijuana (smoking (54%), oral (46%) and combined (43%)), after 2 hours, patients reported a significant reduction of pain and stiffness, enhanced feeling of relaxation, and an increase in somnolence (sleepiness) and perception of well being.
Another study examined the efficacy of orally administered delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in 9 fibromyalgia patients whose pain was electrically induced. Each patient received a daily dose of 2.5-15 mg of delta-9-THC, which was increased weekly by 2.5 gram barring reports of adverse side effect. The study revealed that electrically induced pain diminished considerably following 10-15mg dosage of delta-9-THC being administered to fibromyalgia patients. As a monotherapy, delta-9-THC appears to be an effective cannabinoid in the treatment of fibromyalgia when administered at a precise dosage range.
In a study published by the Journal of Pain, in a randomized, double blinded placebo controlled trial, subjects suffering from fibromyalgia were administered the synthetic cannabinoid Nabilone; 40 of the subjects reported decreased pain, and improvement in their fibromyalgia symptoms. This led investigators to conclude that Nabilone, the synthetic compound that mimics THC, may be beneficial for pain management for fibromyalgia patients.
It is clear that much research that specifically addresses cannabis and fibromyalgia is still needed. There is not enough data to arrive at a concrete conclusion on the potential benefits that CBD and THC might provide as a therapeutic treatment for fibromyalgia directly. Still, the limited studies that are available are meaningful to not only researchers and doctors who believe that certain cannabis compounds may provide an alternative treatment, but to patients who are desperate for answers and treatment that works. Where pharmaceutical medicines have failed many patients, CBD or THC, or a combination of both may be the answer. More research is warranted and could go a long way in finding an effective treatment for this chronic, debilitating disease.