Fibromyalgia is an intractable condition defined by chronic, widespread pain and debilitation. But a recent study published in Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology demonstrated that cannabis can be used effectively to remedy these problems, at least by some patients.
Generally cannabis research is rife with methodological difficulties, thanks to anachronistic regulations that deem marijuana more dangerous than fentanyl or oxycontin. But this study by Italian scientists stands out, producing research that is applicable to people who are trying to use medical cannabis to treat fibromyalgia.
The term “medical marijuana” refers to the use of either the whole, unprocessed cannabis plant or its extracts to treat illness.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not approved the use of the whole plant for any condition.
These conditions involve seizures that do not improve after taking other medications. To purchase CBD products for these conditions, a prescription is necessary.
Synthetic THC is also present in treatments that have FDA approval for nausea and vomiting, as well as some kinds of anorexia.
In some countries, Sativex, or nabiximol, is available on prescription as an oral spray for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) whose symptoms have not responded to other treatments. It contains CBD and THC and treats pain and muscle spasms. Sativex is not available in the U.S.
Scientists are continuing to conduct research and clinical trials to find out whether medical marijuana is safe and effective for a range of conditions.
Marijuana may helpTrusted Source alleviate some symptoms of fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by chronic pain, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and memory problems.
However, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the safety and effectiveness of marijuana in treating symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Read on to learn what the research says. We’ll also explore other lifestyle changes and therapies you can try to help ease pain and other symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Does It Work?
Marijuana comes from plants in the Cannabis genus. It contains two main active ingredients (or compounds): tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
- THC is the psychoactive compound that gives the high sensation. It can be smoked and is available in other forms, such as edibles, oils, and capsules.
- CBD is a nonpsychoactive compound, meaning it doesn’t produce the “high” associated with THC. It’s sold in gels, gummies, oils, supplements, extracts, and more.
You can find marijuana products that contain just CBD or THC, or a combination of both.
Many people with fibromyalgia use marijuana products to treat their symptoms. The Handbook of Cannabis and Related Pathologies, published in 2017, indicates that marijuana and related products may be effective in treating some symptoms of fibromyalgia.
However, researchers agree that more studies are needed to understand the role of marijuana and its active components in treating fibromyalgia.
In particular, few studies have examined the effectiveness of THC versus CBD for symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Medical marijuana for fibromyalgia pain
In 2017, the National Academies Press (NAP) published a comprehensive review of the health effects of cannabis, including therapeutic effects. According to the review, substantial evidence suggests cannabis is effective in treating chronic pain in adults.
Few studies have focused exclusively on pain associated with fibromyalgia.
In a 2011 studyTrusted Source, 28 participants who used cannabis for fibromyalgia ranked its perceived benefits for each symptom. Among them, approximately 43 percent reported strong pain relief and 43 percent reported mild pain relief. The remaining 7 percent reported no difference in their pain symptoms.
In contrast, a 2018 study of 25 people with fibromyalgia compared the pain-relieving effects of four types of marijuana, each of which had different THC and CBD contents. One of the four types of marijuana was a placebo which contained neither THC nor CBD.
After the placebo treatment, 44 percent of participants reported a 30 percent reduction in pain, while 24 percent reported a 50 percent reduction in pain. The study’s main findings indicate that compared to the placebo, marijuana didn’t have a significant effect on participant pain rankings.
More research is required to understand whether medical marijuana really is an effective treatment for pain associated with fibromyalgia.
Medical marijuana for fibromyalgia sleep problems
The 2018 review from NAP referenced in the previous section concluded that there’s a moderate amount of evidence that cannabis-related products can help improve sleep in people with fibromyalgia in the short term.
In the 2011 studyTrusted Source cited in the previous section, 81 percent of participants who used marijuana to treat fibromyalgia reported that it provided strong relief from sleep issues.
Finally, a 2010 study investigated the effects of nabilone, a synthetic drug with effects similar to those of marijuana. The researchers found that nabilone helped improve sleep among people with fibromyalgia.
Medical marijuana for other fibromyalgia symptoms
Research examining the effectiveness of marijuana in treating other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia is limited.
According to the Handbook of Cannabis and Related Pathologies, most of the evidence assessing marijuana’s effectiveness in treating muscle stiffness, mood problems, anxiety, and headaches associated with fibromyalgia comes from surveys and observational studies.
More clinical studies are needed to come to any conclusions.
When is marijuana suitable?
People use marijuana for a wide range of conditions, although research has only confirmed its benefits for a few.
Currently, good scientific evidence confirms the benefits of its use in treating chronic pain, including nerve pain and muscle spasms.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, research is underway to find out if compounds in marijuana might help with the following:
- appetite loss and anorexia
- conditions that affect the immune system, including HIV
- multiple sclerosis
- substance use disorders
- mental health conditions
Mouse studies have indicated that purified extracts of marijuana may slow the growth of cancer cells in one kind of brain tumor. A combination of CBD and THC extracts helped kill cancer cells in mice during radiation treatment.
More research is necessary to confirm these uses.
Risks and cautions
People who wish to try marijuana as a treatment for pain symptoms for fibromyalgia should check their state’s laws in relation to the use of cannabis.
Since the FDA have not approved marijuana and most of its related products, consumers should take care when obtaining and using a product, as no regulations control the quality or contents of the products.
People grow marijuana as a plant. They do not synthesize it carefully in a laboratory. Therefore, the amounts of potentially beneficial compounds vary from one batch of plants to another. The effectiveness of symptom relief may also vary as a result.
People should consult their doctor for advice about using any alternative or complementary therapy, including marijuana, because it may not be safe and effective for everyone. For example, the ingredients in marijuana could interact with other medications.
Marijuana products may have fungus or mold that can do serious harm to the lungs and overall health. Manufacturers and vendors might add other drugs. People using marijuana face a risk of contamination as a result.
A healthcare provider may be able to recommend a reputable source or product.
Possible side effects
Some of the potential adverse effects with marijuana use include:
- dependence, when a person needs to use more to gain the same effect
- withdrawal symptoms
- increased heart rate
- breathing problems
- impaired reaction times
- issues with concentration, learning, and memory
- mental illness in those with a predisposition to it
- interactions with other drugs
These effects increase with long-term use. However, the use of some individual substances — such as CBD — may not carry all these risks.
Clinical trials did not find any signs of dependency, for example, in people using the CBD-based Epidiolex.
Therapies that receive FDA approval may well be safe, due to the long and rigorous process of clinical trials. Pay close attention to the patient information leaflet, however, as all drugs can have side effects.
Medical marijuana may help alleviate symptoms of fibromyalgia in some people. However, the safety and effectiveness of marijuana in treating symptoms remain unclear.
If you’re thinking about using marijuana to treat your fibromyalgia symptoms, you should find out more about the laws in your area.
If marijuana isn’t legal where you live, don’t try to obtain it illegally.
Always consult a doctor before using marijuana to treat fibromyalgia symptoms.