May 12th is International Fibromyalgia Awareness Day, which aims to garner awareness for the debilitating illness and developing treatments that aim to improve patient’s quality of life. This year’s theme is “helping yourself while helping others” – so in that spirit, we would love to share our knowledge on the science behind an emerging treatment for FM with promising effects.
What is it?
Fibromyalgia (fibro: Fibrous tissue, myo: muscle, algia: pain) is associated with chronic generalized pain, though patients can also suffer from additional symptoms including: tiredness and chronic fatigue, morning stiffness, recurrent headaches and intolerance to exercise. Presence of fibromyalgia is also associated with increased incidence of depression and anxiety. It affects anywhere from 2-10% of the general population and is 2-5 times more prevalent than rheumatoid arthritis. Similar to arthritis, it primarily effects females.
Current treatments are based on symptomatic relief, and include over-the counter pain medication, antidepressants, massage therapy, dietary supplements and some alternative therapies such as acupuncture. All of which have modest results.
How can medicinal cannabis help? The science and the strain
An emerging treatment for fibromyalgia is cannabis-based therapy, specifically cannabis strains with CBD and THC. Cannabinoids mimic anandamide, a neurotransmitter that degrades over time, which regulates pain, hunger and mood. Cannabinoid receptors play a major role in modulating neurotransmitter release. CBD, or cannabidiol, responds to the bodies CB2 receptors, located in the peripheral tissues, influencing the bodies muscles, immune cells and organ systems. In a clinical study, participants treated with cannabis noted significant improvement from fibromyalgia symptoms including sleep disturbances, pain, stiffness, mood disorders and anxiety.
CBD oil, the non-psychoactive component of cannabis, is recommended for issues pertaining to muscle spasms and inflammation. THC, the psychoactive component that induces a high, should only be used for treatment if there is active pain from pre-existing conditions or other symptoms.
The adverse effects of cannabinoids should always be known before pursuing this treatment option. Cannabis products with THC may leave the user with increased hunger, dry mouth, redness of the eyes and in some people may lead to increased anxiety if the potency or dosing exceeds the user’s tolerance. Conversely, the effects include decreased pain perception from THC and muscle relaxation and decreased inflammation from CBD. Lack of energy and sleep difficulties can be addressed with the sub-species of cannabis used. The indica subspecies is preferable for sleep induction and maintenance while the sativa subspecies can provide a boost of energy in many fibromyalgia patients. The symptoms needing remedy will determine the amount, type, and frequency of the cannabis used for fibromyalgia. While there is some trial and error needed the positive effects cannabis has had for a countless number of people dealing with fibromyalgia cannot be understated.