Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain, aches, fatigue, poor sleep, and problems with cognition. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this challenging, painful condition. It is estimated to affect around 3 to 6 percent of the world’s population. Since there is no cure for fibromyalgia, people suffering from it must work to manage their symptoms in order to get through their day-to-day life.
One of the most challenging elements of managing fibromyalgia symptoms is that the existing treatment options are simply not effective for many fibromyalgia patients. Drugs commonly used to treat pain, including NSAIDs, and opioids have not been found to be effective for treating fibromyalgia pain symptoms. Then, there are three prescription drugs that are FDA approved to treat fibromyalgia: duloxetine (Cymbalta), pregabalin (Lyrica), and milnacipran (Savella). However, research studies have shown that these medications don’t have noticeable benefits for fibromyalgia symptoms in most cases.
There’s a clear lack of medications that work for fibromyalgia pain. But there’s a new research study that may have exciting news for fibromyalgia patients. A recently published 2019 study found that marijuana may effectively help fibromyalgia symptoms, including hard-to-treat fibromyalgia pain. Wondering how marijuana may help those struggling with fibromyalgia? Below, we’re taking a closer look at the symptoms of fibromyalgia and how the latest research suggests that cannabis could effectively ease these symptoms.
Fibromyalgia Symptoms and Causes
Before we go over the latest marijuana and fibromyalgia research, we’ll give a brief primer on the symptoms of fibromyalgia in order to better describe what cannabis may treat.
Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread pain, but also usually includes a variety of other symptoms. A person with fibromyalgia may experience:
- Widespread musculoskeletal pain
- Severe fatigue
- Tiredness upon waking up
- Sleep disturbances
- Cognitive difficulties (often called “fibro fog”)
Fibromyalgia patients also frequently have certain co-existing conditions, including:
- Interstitial cystitis
- Painful bladder syndrome
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
- Irritable bowel syndrome
The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. So scientists don’t yet know why fibromyalgia symptoms occur or why people with fibromyalgia tend to have a certain set of co-existing conditions. Researchers theorize that fibromyalgia changes the way the body processes pain signals, amplifying painful sensations. However, there are currently no proven theories as to why or how this may happen.
New Study Suggests Marijuana is Effective for Fibromyalgia
In 2019, researchers at the Luigi Sacco University Hospital in Milan, Italy, started a six-month research trial. The team recruited 102 fibromyalgia patients and gave each patient two cannabis oils with different cannabinoid ratios. In the morning, patients were told to take balanced cannabis oil with equal amounts of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In the evening, patients were instructed to take high-THC cannabis oil.
Over the course of six months, patients took their two cannabis oils and had the severity of their fibromyalgia symptoms monitored using official medical scales. Patients were also told that they could choose to reduce or stop taking any of their existing analgesic therapies (painkillers) during the study if they wanted. 66 patients made it to the end of this six-month marijuana use study. Most of the studies’ dropouts were lost for unreported reasons. While a few left because they switched medical centers. Two of them left due to the cost of the treatment. Six left due to adverse effects, and 3 left due to a lack of benefits.
The medical scales used in this study measured how marijuana affected five symptoms of fibromyalgia: sleep quality, fatigue, pain, anxiety, and depression. In four out of five of these categories, patients reported either moderate or significant improvements in their symptoms.
Positive outcomes of the study included:
- 44% of patients reported a significant improvement in sleep quality
- 47% of patients stopped using other analgesics (pain) treatments due to the effectiveness of the study treatment
- 49% of patients experienced moderate improvements in anxiety
- 50% of patients experienced moderate improvements in depression
- 33% of patients experienced a rise in their overall fibromyalgia impact score
There was one fibromyalgia symptom that seemed to worsen for some patients over the course of the study. The study scored fatigue on the Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy (FACIT) Fatigue scale. Just over half of the participants in the study had a higher FACIT score at the end of the study than they did at the beginning. Indicating that the cannabis oils used may have a side effect of increasing fatigue.
Despite some rise in fatigue, the findings of this clinical study suggest that marijuana could be an effective treatment option for fibromyalgia. Having improvements in four out of five symptom categories is notably better than many other fibromyalgia treatment options. Researchers who worked on the Medical Cannabis Therapy (MCT) study wrote about the promising elements of their study in its conclusion, saying:
“This observational study shows that adjunctive MCT offers a possible clinical advantage in FM [fibromyalgia] patients, especially in those with sleep dysfunctions. … The retention rate and changes in concomitant analgesic therapy reflect MCT efficacy of the improved quality of life of patients. Further studies are needed to confirm these data, identify MCT-responsive sub-groups of FM patients, and establish the most appropriate posology and duration of the therapy.”
CBD for Fibromyalgia
The study that we looked at above only used cannabis oils that contained both THC and CBD. Unfortunately for those who prefer CBD products over cannabis products, there haven’t been any studies done on how cannabidiol affects fibromyalgia when it’s used on its own. So, as of right now, we don’t have any data on exactly how CBD may or may not help fibromyalgia symptoms.
It’s worth noting that there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that CBD may help with fibromyalgia symptoms. Many people with fibromyalgia have said that they’ve experienced positive results when using CBD oils, tinctures, edibles, or creams regularly. Most commonly, people with fibromyalgia report that CBD helps with their insomnia, muscle tension, pain, and anxiety. But since we don’t have any studies on CBD for fibromyalgia to look at to see objective results, for now, the jury is still out on how CBD may affect fibromyalgia symptoms.
Fibromyalgia and Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Disease
Studies have been done on medical marijuana treatments for fibromyalgia in part because of a longstanding hypothesis about what causes fibromyalgia. Scientists have theorized that some people may have an endocannabinoid system deficiency, where their body doesn’t produce enough endocannabinoids or endocannabinoid receptors to meet the basic needs of their system. This theorized deficiency has been dubbed Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Disease and it’s been speculated that it could cause a wide variety of issues. Notably, scientists have suggested that Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Disease could be responsible for fibromyalgia and a number of conditions that tend to co-exist with fibromyalgia, such as migraines and IBS.
We don’t yet know if Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Disease exists or if it’s what causes fibromyalgia. However, it’s definitely interesting that cannabinoid intake and fibromyalgia have had very promising results.
Final Thoughts on Marijuana and Fibromyalgia
Cannabis has been used as an herbal remedy for pain for thousands of years. More research is being done on how marijuana interacts with pain sensation. So we’re gaining a better understanding of the potential analgesic uses of marijuana. Studies like the one we featured here are so encouraging since they suggest that those who haven’t been able to find pain relief from traditional over-the-counter and prescription medications could potentially find relief elsewhere. We hope that future cannabis studies are able to discover the full relationship between how cannabis affects pain levels and that this information can bring relief to those struggling with chronic pain.