With around one in 20 people in the UK and an estimated three to six per cent of the world’s population diagnosed, fibromyalgia is one of the most common pain conditions in the world.
Anyone can develop fibromyalgia – it affects around seven times as many women as men but can develop in either gender at any age – though its wide-ranging symptoms can make it a difficult condition to diagnose.
Alongside chronic pain, those affected may suffer with extreme tiredness, muscle stiffness, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome and problems with mental processes such as memory and concentration – all of which can be attributed to a number of other ailments.
While the exact cause of the condition is unknown, it’s thought to be related to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain and changes in the way the central nervous system processes pain messages carried around the body. In many cases, it can be triggered by a physically or emotionally stressful event such as injury, giving birth or the death of a loved one.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for fibromyalgia and no remedy to get rid of pain entirely. Instead, patients search for methods to alleviate symptoms, with many opting for a combination of treatments.
One which is growing significantly in terms of both research and usage is cannabis.
The remedy has long been associated with pain relief and as evidence of its benefits mounts, many fibromyalgia patients are choosing to give products such as gels and capsules a try.
In 2019, a study of 367 patients found that pain intensity decreased when treated with CBD. This was supported by Chaves, Bittencourt and Pelegrini in 2020, with the team finding that phytocannabinoids can serve as an ‘affordable yet well-tolerated therapy’ for symptom relief and quality of life improvements.
As usage rises, professionals are coming round to the idea of CBD as a prescribed treatment in fibromyalgia, and in 2018 Carly Barton of Brighton became the UK’s first fibromyalgia patient to receive a prescription for medical cannabis. Prior to that, she, along with thousands of others, had been paying up to £2,500 for three months’ treatment.
Despite many sufferers being reluctant to exercise for fear of aggravating symptoms, it’s another effective way to alleviate pain. Aerobic, resistance and stretching exercises have all been known to relieve pain and stiffness, increase strength and improve mobility in patients, while relaxation exercises such as yoga and t’ai chi can help with difficulty sleeping.
Research has repeatedly backed up these claims and shown that regular aerobic exercise can improve pain, function and overall quality of life, with a 2017 study stating that “aerobic and muscle strengthening exercises are the most effective way of reducing pain and improving global wellbeing in people with fibromyalgia and that stretching and aerobic exercises increase health-related quality of life”.
While regular painkillers may provide some benefits to fibromyalgia symptoms, one of the most commonly prescribed medications for the condition is antidepressants. The medication is known to boost the levels of certain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that carry messages to and from the brain, and with low levels of neurotransmitters thought to be a factor in fibromyalgia, it’s believed that this boost may ease the widespread pain associated with the condition.
Many professionals also believe that talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling, are an effective way to manage symptoms and improve low mood associated with fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia relief: New review suggests cannabis may help symptoms
A new review of 313 studies into fibromyalgia relief for patients confirms it may help to relieve symptoms
A new review suggests that whole-plant cannabis may provide relief or improve different symptoms experienced by fibromyalgia patients.
Researchers examined scientific papers specific to either the use of cannabis or synthetic cannabinoids in fibromyalgia patients. They reported that cannabis or cannabinoids may help with various symptoms and are safe for use in treatment.
Researchers, affiliated with the California Institute of Behavioural Neurosciences and Psychology, published the literature review, titled, A systematic review of fibromyalgia and recent advancements in treatment: Is medicinal cannabis a new hope?
The authors noted: “The data suggest that the use of cannabinoids and cannabis carries limited side effects in the treatment of FM, and they can also improve some common and debilitating symptoms associated with FM, thus making them an adequate potential treatment option, when other treatment lines have been exhausted.”
They highlighted that the ongoing pandemic combined with an opioid crisis meant there was a need to discover alternative forms of pain relief.
“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; however, benefits need to be weighed against the harmful effects, and more research into this area should be conducted, for longer periods, to assess for long-term efficacy, adverse effects, and dependence.”
“The ratio of TCH: CBD also seems to be an important factor in the outcome, which needs further research. So more clinical trials with long-term follow-up and study on the dose-response relationship and dependence need to be done.”
Emigration: “If this is what I am going to be faced with access to medication, then I can’t have a long term plan in Ireland.”
In a new series, we speak to Irish cannabis patients about their decision to emigrate in search of easier, safer cannabis access.
In a new series, Cannabis Health News talks to people who have experienced emigration in search of safe, legal cannabis access. This is our second feature in the series.
In the previous article, we spoke to Alicia Maher about her decision to emigrate for access and her life in Spain. This week, we spoke to Aridenne Lynch about making the decision to leave and what awaits her in her new life abroad.
Emigration from Ireland moves up and down usually depending on the state of the economy. Between 1820 and 1970, heavy emigration took place and by the end of the 19th century, almost 40 percent of the Irish born population lived abroad. A quarter of those living in the US and one in ten in Britain.
Nothing has changed with similar patterns taking place in the 1980s and 00s due to different recessions. In recent years, this has slowed. The number of people emigrating from Ireland at 29,000 signalled an increase in 2019 compared to the 26,900 Irish who returned. It’s not always a recession that causes people to leave a country but recently there has been a wave of Irish cannabis patients choosing to leave the country.
The decision to emigrate is a small part of the battle when it comes to leaving. The most stressful part, as every person who has left, knows is the planning that needs to be done. No one knows this better than Adrienne who is moving with her young daughter to Spain for access to cannabis. Adrienne is a cannabis patient, advocate and activist. She is also the host of the cannabis podcast, Bitches of Eire which covers a range of cannabis topics.
She started smoking cannabis recreationally as a teenager but then it took on another meaning for her when her father became ill. “At one point in my teens, my dad was using it because he had cancer. He found it amazing for pain which changed my perspective on it. When my father died, it was the trauma that triggered my autoimmune condition and fibromyalgia. That was when my symptoms began.”
Cannabis for fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a collection of symptoms usually defined by widespread chronic pain. It has a broad spectrum of often debilitating symptoms including fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, and reduced physical function. The exact number of fibromyalgia patients in Ireland is not known, but it is estimated to affect approximately 2% of the population. It is thought to affect one in 20 people worldwide. Anyone can develop fibromyalgia, although the condition typically affects more women than men.
Adrienne felt a better connection with cannabis than alcohol but it wasn’t until her mid-twenties that she started to consider it medicinally. “I was really fed up with all the pharmaceutical medication. I couldn’t even hold a job down or keep a routine. It was stealing my life from me and every time I tried to get my life back, these pills were making me sicker.”
At this stage, Adrienne began to research cannabis and diet. She began to take cannabis daily while reducing her pharmaceutical medication over the next few years. It took a while for her to reduce the amount as she was living in places such as Uganda and lacked the stability of being in one place. Some of this detox took place on the road in America where she found being away from everything a lot easier. She now says it is her medicine and she would never look back.
The idea for moving to Spain came from living in a US state where cannabis was legal. She began to dread coming back to Ireland as the thought of reentering into prohibition worried her. She was originally going to stay in Ireland for longer with her husband but after their break up, she began to think about relocation.
“The idea of coming back to where it wouldn’t be legal was scary. Before I even went to America, I was talking about Spain or Holland as this was the only thing that worked for me. If this is what was I was going to be faced with all the time for the rest of my life for access to my medication then I can’t have a long term plan in Ireland.”
“When my husband left, I thought, this is an opportunity because my daughter is at the perfect age to move. I was absolutely fed up after the pandemic with trying to access my medication. Cannabis allows me to eat so I didn’t know if I was going to be able to eat from one day to another. Which is anxiety and fear in itself. I was fed up with living like that so I started planning in February to go.”
Adrienne is hoping to leave in the next few weeks. Along with cannabis access, another huge reason for her decision to emigrate to Spain, in particular, is the climate. “I have rheumatoid arthritis which is not a good mix with cold weather. Spain has the perfect climate and I have a draw to go to Malaga so I’m following it.”
Time to go
“It’s been a process and there is a reason not everyone does this. It’s not just the stress of trying to get moving companies or packing everything but then living in that limbo phase where everything is packed and you are waiting to go.”
She adds: “That’s the minimal side of it, then there is the emotional side of leaving your home. I’ve left before but I always knew I was coming back. I would go for a year or six months but this time, I’ve sold my house and it’s a permeant fixture. I’m setting up roots there and I’m going to be raising my daughter in Spain. This is a no coming back sort of scenario.”
“Ireland will always be my home. I love it dearly and I’m a very proud Irish woman but I’m ready for the next step.
One thing Adrienne found surprising is that others weren’t always thrilled about her decision to move. She cautions others thinking of emigration to consider this. “When you make the decision and you know in your heart its the right move to make, you are just so excited about it. You expect every single person to be just as excited as you but not everyone is ecstatic. You need to prepare yourself for that because people will try and rain on your parade. If it is the right thing for you then don’t let them knock you for a second.”
Cannabis access has a long way to go in Ireland. While there is the ministerial license and the non-functioning Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP), there is a long line of patients and cannabis consumers being left behind. Countless patients in this series and across forums recount the difficulties of individual situations with their medications that aren’t accounted for by law, customs or the Irish government.
Adrienne says the laws are a big problem when it comes to her potentially returning down the line. “The biggest driver for me is the law. I would have stuck it out longer but it’s not even just about cannabis. I’ve been fighting in the marriage equality referendum, the Repeal movement and it just seems never-ending.”
“I’m going to miss Ireland a lot but there are a number of reasons why I’m leaving and cannabis access is the biggest thing.”
Have you emigrated for access?
Over 70% of fibromyalgia patients are swapping opioids for CBD, says US study
Patients who used CBD were able to decrease use or stop taking other pain medications all together
More than 70 percent of fibromyalgia patients are using CBD as an alternative to opioid medications, a new study has found.
Research carried out by the University of Michigan‘s school of medicine has identified that large numbers of people suffering from the condition are substituting opioids for cannabis-derived products, which have fewer side effects and less potential for abuse.
Results showed that 70 percent of participants who used CBD substituted it for opioids or other pain medications. These participants reported that they either decreased use or stopped taking these medications as a result.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition which is extremely difficult to treat, with patients often relying on strong pain killers which can lead to adverse side effects.
But many are now finding relief in CBD.
The anti-inflammatory properties of CBD are thought to help reduce pain levels, which can interfere with sleep disturbance, fatigue and cognitive impairment.
CBD (cannabidiol) is the second most common cannabinoid in the cannabis plant and has been marketed for everything from mood stabilisation to pain relief, without the intoxicating effects produced by THC.
Previous research shows that some people substitute medical cannabis (often with high concentrations of THC) for opioids and other pain medications, reporting that cannabis provides better pain relief with fewer side effects. However, there is far less data on CBD use.
Kevin Boehnke, a research investigator from the Department of Anaesthesiology, Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Centre at the University of Michigan, said: “CBD is less harmful than THC, as it is non-intoxicating and has less potential for abuse.
“If people can find the same relief without THC’s side effects, CBD may represent a useful as a harm reduction strategy.”
Boehnke and his team surveyed people 878 people with fibromyalgia about their use of CBD for the treatment of chronic pain.
“Fibromyalgia is not easy to treat, often involving several medications with significant side effects and modest benefits,” Boehnke explained.
“I was not expecting that level of substitution, noting that the rate is quite similar to the substitution rate reported in the medical cannabis literature.
“People who said they used CBD products that also contained THC had higher odds of substitution and reported greater symptom relief.
“Yet, finding the products containing only CBD also provided pain relief and were substituted for pain medications is promising and merits future study.”
The team also noted that much of the widespread use of CBD is occurring without physician guidance and in the absence of relevant clinical trials.
“Even with that lack of evidence, people are using CBD, substituting it for medication and saying it’s less harmful and more effective,” he said.
Boehnke stressed the need for more controlled research into how CBD may provide these benefits, as well as whether these benefits may be due to the placebo effect.
He added: “Clinically, opening up lines of discussion around CBD use for chronic pain is imperative, for medication safety reasons as well as for enhancing the therapeutic alliance and improving patient care.”
The use of CBD products in many cases of fibromyalgia can be safe and effective, and an alternative option to opioid analgesics and stronger pain killers which can be addictive with more side effects.
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