By: Lily Jane
If you feel pain all over your body, coupled with fatigue, insomnia, and emotional/mental distress, there’s a strong possibility that you are one of the four million American adults (conservative estimate) suffering from fibromyalgia.
Although the cause of the condition is still unknown, there are ways to treat and manage the condition so you still enjoy a good standard of living. Using marijuana to treat fibromyalgia could be the best decision you ever make because it is possibly the perfect option. Read on to find out why.
What Are Common Fibromyalgia Symptoms & How Do They Affect My Life?
Fibromyalgia is sometimes called ‘invisible misery’ because its effects are not apparent from the outside. ‘Fibro’ is Latin for ‘fibrous tissue’, ‘myo’ is the Greek for muscle, and ‘algia’ is the Greek for ‘pain’. It is classified as a rheumatic disease akin to arthritis because it affects soft fibrous tissue such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and also impairs joints. However, it is NOT the same as arthritis because it doesn’t damage joints and muscles.
Instead, fibromyalgia messes with your body’s pain centers which causes muscle pain and stiffness, insomnia, fatigue, migraine, and problems with concentration and memory. You may also suffer from face or jaw pain, digestive problems, and a numb or tingling sensation in your feet and hands.
One of the big problems with fibromyalgia is that the ‘invisible’ symptoms make it hard to convince anyone that you have the condition. Indeed, up until recently, doctors thought the illness was psychosomatic. In reality, the condition can strike at any time although at least 80% of fibromyalgia sufferers are women. If you have the illness, you are twice as likely to be hospitalized as someone without the condition.
What Are the Traditional Fibromyalgia Treatment Options?
As the condition wasn’t taken seriously until recently, treatment options are not as ingrained as for other medical issues. In fact, the first drug approved by the FDA for fibromyalgia, pregabalin, was only available in 2004. Its supposedly works by calming nerves but side effects include serious sleepiness and dizziness.
The FDA has approved two more drugs for fibromyalgia: milnacipran, which is an antidepressant, and duloxetine, designed for depression and anxiety. Although these drugs offer occasional relief to some, the side effects, and lack of long-term efficacy, is a problem. Other ways to combat the disease include stress-reducing activities such as tai chi, meditation and yoga. Massages are also excellent because they reduce stress, improve range of motion, and relax muscles.
Given the ineffectiveness of traditional medication however, fibromyalgia patients are turning to alternative medicine, and may have found the best solution of all.
Why is Cannabis Such a Great Treatment for Fibromyalgia?
The cause of fibromyalgia is hotly debated but one theory suggests that it is related to Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD) which of course brings the endocannabinoid system (ECS) into focus. The ECS is all about maintaining balance in the body, a process known as homeostasis. When there is an imbalance in the system, you suffer from an array of issues as your sleep, mood, muscle spasticity and other aspects of your body are affected. The symptoms associated with an ECS that’s out of alignment are very similar to what happens to people with fibromyalgia.
The quickest and easiest way to describe marijuana’s effect on the ECS is that it helps fix the imbalances which in turn alleviates the negative symptoms. The ECS plays such a pivotal role in many of the body’s major systems that when it malfunctions, the impact is extremely noticeable. When you use cannabis, its cannabinoids supplement the ECS, removing the deficiency, and this process helps relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Back in 2001, Dr. Ethan Russo, the physician who posited the ‘fibromyalgia is caused by CECD)’ theory, said that the condition, along with IBS and migraine, was caused by ECS deficiency. In the medical review he wrote at the time, Russo said that “additional studies have provided a firmer foundation for the theory” and pointed to clinical data which said cannabinoid treatment helped improve sleep and decrease pain among other benefits.
Where is the Scientific Evidence?
As well as the enormous amount of anecdotal evidence which supports the use of marijuana for fibromyalgia, there are some intriguing medical studies. In 2014, the National Pain Foundation surveyed over 1,300 patients; about 30% (around 390) of whom had used marijuana in the past. In the study, the effectiveness of weed for reducing pain was compared to Savella, Cymbalta, and Lyrica, the names of FDA approved drugs.
Marijuana won by a landslide, to put it mildly. The FDA drugs were practically useless as for all three drugs, over 60% of users said they offered no relief at all. None of the three drugs scored higher than 10% for effectiveness. Weed on the other hand, was a revelation as an incredible 62% of users said it helped a lot while only 5% said it didn’t help at all.
Final Thoughts on Cannabis and Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is described as a ‘life sentence’ by sufferers because the pain it causes forces many people to become hermits. It is incredibly difficult to have a productive life with the disease and the FDA-approved treatments are all but worthless despite their cost. In contrast, preliminary studies into marijuana’s effects on the condition are significantly more positive. IF the condition is caused by a deficiency in the ECS, the efficacy of weed in treating the illness makes perfect sense.
Incidentally, experts don’t recommend smoking marijuana for fibromyalgia. Edibles made from cannabutter are arguably the best delivery method. It is a convenient way to consume cannabis because you should be able to keep track of how much you ate. It takes a little longer for edibles to kick in than when you smoke, but on the plus side, the effects should last longer. Oils and tinctures are also good options because they are also easy to measure, simple to take, and get to work faster than edibles.