Fibromyalgia is a debilitating disorder that affects millions of Americans every year. In fact 3 to 6 million are reported to be affected with the majority being women. It is a mysterious condition and there was a time it was associated to “hysterical women” although it is taken more seriously today and many cures, or at least treatments, are being sought.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by severe muscle pain and tender areas on the body. Those affected might experience depression, headaches, insomnia, digestive issues and fatigue along with many other symptoms including relentless muscle pain and tenderness. For sufferers, it can become difficult to do daily tasks and activities and some may even find it too difficult to get out of bed. No one knows what causes this disorder and there is no official cure but a few kinds of prescription medications exist to treat the symptoms. These medications are strong with serious side effects and, according to recent studies, the majority of people find that they aren’t effective at treating the pain.
Comparisons with Treatments Currently on the Market
The National Pain Foundation and National Pain Report created an online survey to determine whether cannabis for fibromyalgia was a viable form of treatment. Over 1,300 participants were surveyed in order to get a sense of the effectiveness of the treatments currently on the market when compared with cannabis.
Eli Lilly’s Cymbalta (Duloxetine) is one of the drugs that is prescribed for fibromyalgia. Of those surveyed, 60 percent reported that this drug did not work for them. 8 percent said it was “very effective” and 32 percent said it helped a little. The results for all 3 prescription drugs were very similar. In the case of Pfizer’s Lyrica (Pregabalin), 61 percent said it didn’t work, 10 percent rated it as “very effective” and 29 percent said it helped a little. Lastly, there is Forest Laboratories’ Savella (Milnacipran) with 68 percent of people reporting that it did not work, 10 percent saying it was “very effective” and 22 percent saying it helped a little.
Survey Response to Using Cannabis for Fibromyalgia
While 70 percent of the people interviewed reported having never tried medical marijuana, the few that had used the plant shared interesting results when looking at the effectiveness of cannabis for fibromyalgia. 62 percent said it was “very effective” at treating their symptoms of fibromyalgia, 33 percent said it helped a little and only 5 percent said it did not help at all. These results are quite encouraging when factoring that these patients may not have been using cannabis especially designed for fibromyalgia and many of the respondents were still new to the idea of using cannabis for fibromyalgia.
Other Studies Examining Marijuana for Fibromyalgia
This is not the only study to show the effectiveness of cannabis for fibromyalgia. A study, conducted by Germany’s University of Heidelberg and published in the journal Current Medical Research and Opinion also turned up some significant results. 9 people with fibromyalgia were given daily doses of THC, ranging from 2.5 to 15 mg over a 3 month period. All of the subjects involved in the study reported a decrease in daily pain as well as electronically induced pain.
A study published in the Journal of Pain was also helpful at illuminating the benefits of cannabis for fibromyalgia. The double-blind, placebo controlled study evaluated the use of a synthetic cannabinoid called nabilone with 40 patients who have fibromyalgia. It was also found to improve symptoms in all patients. A 2010 study conducted at McGill University in Montreal also reported that small amounts of nabilone were helpful at improving sleep in patients with fibromyalgia.
A 2011 study conducted by researchers at the Institut de Recerca Hospital del Mar in Barcelona, Spain, found cannabis for fibromyalgia to be an extremely effective form of treatment. Not only was muscle stiffness and soreness greatly improved and relieved but all of the symptoms of fibromyalgia were somewhat treated by the cannabis, including better quality of sleep, improved mood, appetite and digestion. The study found that no one’s symptoms worsened after taking the cannabis. Mental health was significantly better in those who were given cannabis versus those who weren’t. The study observed that “significant relief of pain, stiffness, relaxation, somnolence, and perception of well-being, evaluated by VAS (visual analogue scales) before and 2 hours after cannabis self-administration was observed.”
Why Cannabis Could Be Helpful in Treating Fibromyalgia
There are many theories as to why the cannabis treatments were found to be so effective at treating the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Cannabis is known for its anti-inflammatory and pain killing properties. Cannabis and both compounds THC and CBD are known to be very effective at treating pain. However, there may be another factor involved. It could be the effect that cannabis has on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) that makes all the difference. The ECS is a system in the body designed to support homeostasis. This means it regulates mood, appetite, sleep, immunity, the nervous system and much more. The ECS is made up of CB1 and CB2 receptors that are located all through the body, in the organs and muscles. When the receptors are activated, they are able to regulate health in the body. Ordinarily, this would be done by chemicals produced in the body but age, illness, stress and other factors in life may prevent the body from producing the chemicals that would otherwise produce health in the ECS by activating the receptors. Both THC and CBD activate the CB1 and CB2 receptors, restoring health to the body where necessary.
More studies are needed to ascertain more details about exactly what compounds, strains and doses are most effective at treating fibromyalgia. Many of the studies already conducted point to various factors that prove the ability of cannabis to treat the symptoms of the disorder and the more facts we have about how the compounds in the plant work, the better the resources we have in finding and creating the most effective treatment. In the meantime, for those living in states where medical marijuana is legal, the news is more than good. Treatment is available and the symptoms of fibromyalgia don’t need to run havoc on a person’s life anymore.