Medical cannabis is associated with an improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms and quality of life, according to new UK data.
In what is thought to be a first for the UK, a new study has assessed the effects seen in fibromyalgia patients after being prescribed medical cannabis.
The study, which included patients being treated at Sapphire Medical Clinics, comprised of 306 patients enrolled in the UK Medical Cannabis Registry.
According to those behind the research, significant reductions in fibromyalgia specific symptoms were observed in patients as early as one month and continued to the end of the six month study period.
In addition to showing a reduction in fibromyalgia symptom severity, the research found a 17 per cent reduction in overall opiate use by patients.
The full findings will be presented in full at the forthcoming International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS) Symposium, taking place from 25-30 June.
Delving deeper into fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia affects around three million people in the UK and is often a cause of ‘invisible’ disability.
It affects women more often than men, with a typical onset between 35 and 50 years of age, however it can present earlier.
The chronic condition causes pain in the muscles and tissues such as the tendons and ligaments causing tenderness in the upper chest and back, as well as neck, arms, and legs.
Symptoms commonly experienced include anxiety, debilitating fatigue, chronic pain, sensitivity to light, sound, temperature and touch, as well as cognitive symptoms relating to short term memory or difficulty finding a word – often called ‘fibro fog’. These can be exacerbated by stress, cold weather and physical activity with patients reporting fatigue and extreme tiredness which is not relieved by rest.
Until now, there has been no recognised, formal diagnostic process for health care professionals. This may have caused fibromyalgia patients to become “stuck in the symptom” undergoing extensive medical investigations without an official label – navigating between pain management, rheumatology, and psychology experts.
As a result, many people receive an incorrect diagnosis and only receive the true diagnosis after years of searching for an answer. The Royal College of Physicians, however, has recently released new guidelines to support clinicians in the diagnosis of fibromyalgia syndrome.
Consultant rheumatologist at Sapphire Medical Clinics, Dr Wendy Holden, says: “Seeking an official diagnosis is important for patients and can be incredibly empowering by enabling them to validate their condition. An accurate and early diagnosis is vital to ensure symptoms such as anxiety, sleep, and cognitive function can be managed, mobility can be maintained – to avoid the risk of disability. Sadly though, many patients experience a late diagnosis after years of pain, finding themselves in devastating circumstances, unable to work and facing poverty.”
Patients often experience a long treatment “journey”, trying multiple medications to get on top of a set of complex symptoms. Fibromyalgia sufferers may undergo courses of analgesics, anti-depressants, complicated medical regimes and in some instances pain management programmes.
In addition to being a ‘treatment-resistant‘ condition, people with fibromyalgia often can’t tolerate certain medications as their bodies are more sensitive to their effects. When these first-line therapies fail to provide adequate symptom control, medical cannabis can be considered.
“Finding the right treatment regime for fibromyalgia is a huge problem – and 50 per cent of the patients I see at Sapphire Medical Clinics suffer from the condition,” Dr Holden adds.
“This study is the first of its kind into the outcomes of UK patients prescribed CBMPs for fibromyalgia – and results are very promising. One of the ways we can help patients in the future is to invest in this type of research to better understand the condition and the impact of emerging treatment options. From my experience, the results of the study mirror what I am seeing in patients sat in front of me during their follow up appointments.”