Can Medical Cannabis Help Fibromyalgia Patients Manage Chronic Pain?

One of the most frequently cited reasons people use medical cannabis is to better manage pain. From managing chronic pain to dealing with pain after surgery or injury, medical cannabis has proven effective for many people in mitigating pain. That is an aspect of medical cannabis that is of interest to those with fibromyalgia.

Chronic pain is one of the unfortunate characteristics of fibromyalgia, a condition that also causes fatigue, memory problems and difficulties sleeping. Patients suffer from the condition without any well-defined, underlying organic disease, and the exact cause of the condition remains unknown.

A recent review of trials and studies published in Biomedicines found evidence that supports the effectiveness of using “cannabinoid therapeutics” for short-term pain reduction in people with fibromyalgia. “Although current evidence is limited, medical cannabis appears to be a safe alternative for treating fibromyalgia,” the researchers wrote.

What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness in specific areas of the body. It affects millions of people worldwide. Finding effective pain management strategies is a significant challenge.

Unlike other forms of chronic pain, fibromyalgia doesn’t have an identifiable cause or injury. Instead, it’s believed to be a result of the nervous system becoming overly sensitive, amplifying pain signals throughout the body. This makes it a complex condition that requires a multifaceted approach to treatment.

In the United States and Europe, about 4% of the population has fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). About twice as many women as men suffer from the syndrome. FMS can develop at any age, and often happens in connection with rheumatic diseases.

Because so many studies have found that cannabis provides effective treatment for pain – and promotes better sleep – it’s often mentioned as a possible medication for FMS patients. A handful of studies have looked at the issue through the years. They include:

  • A 2008 study involving 40 fibromyalgia patients that found the synthetic cannabinoid nabilone had significant pain-relieving effects
  • A 2011 study involving 28 patients who used cannabis for fibromyalgia and found that  43% reported strong pain relief and 43% reported mild pain relief
  • In that same 2011 study, 81% of participants reported that cannabis provided strong relief from fibromyalgia-related sleep issues

New Study Looks at Medical Cannabis For Fibromyalgia

The new review, done by researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, found that while evidence remains limited on the effectiveness of using medical cannabis for fibromyalgia patients, studies have found that it has benefitted patients.

Researchers reviewed the results of four randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and five observational studies. In all, these trials and studies involved 564 patients. “Of the RCTs, only one demonstrated that cannabinoids did not have a different effect than placebo on pain responses,” the researchers wrote.

Their findings echoed those from a 2021 review of 22 scientific papers conducted by the California Institute of Behavioral Neurosciences and Psychology that investigated the use of cannabis or synthetic cannabinoids in fibromyalgia patients. The report found that studies “suggest that medical cannabis is a safe and effective treatment for fibromyalgia pain,” although there are some limitations.

In the 2021 review, researchers found previous studies make a strong case for further research into the treatment of fibromyalgia pain with weed. “Ultimately, we believe that the use of cannabis and cannabinoids for pain relief in fibromyalgia has shown great potential and maybe a source of hope for those suffering from chronic pain associated with this condition, and for the physicians treating them,” they wrote.

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