Natalie talks to Cannabis Health about living with fibromyalgia and how cannabis has helped her with pain relief.
Fibromyalgia can be a debilitating condition leaving patients with chronic pain, fatigue and increased sensitivity. Other side effects can include poor sleep, cognitive issues and headaches. It is thought to affect around 1.5-2 million people in the UK.
Natalie was diagnosed with fibromyalgia when she was in her first year of teaching. She had been experiencing some of the symptoms since she was in her early teens but doctors told her it was growing pains.
“Since I was about 12, I had a lot of pain that came and went with a lot of fatigue,” she explains.
“The doctor’s put it down to growing pains. When I was I was in my first year of teaching, one day I woke up and couldn’t do anything. I was incredibly tired and in so much pain.
“I felt that way for months and I was really struggling. I got my formal diagnosis from a rheumatologist. I had a lot of blood and strength tests to make sure I didn’t have arthritis or lupus because of the similar symptoms.”
Life with fibromyalgia
Once Natalie had her diagnosis, her life began to change. She quit her teaching job as it became too much to cope with when her symptoms were bad. She took on jobs where she could choose her own hours or work part-time.
“I ended up working as a children’s entertainer because it was good money,” she says.
“I could do it over a few days a week and make an acceptable amount of money to cover my bills. I did retail work alongside it.”
When it came to socialising, to stop herself from feeling isolated, Natalie turned to online communities to meet people and make friends.
“I’m not amazing at socialising, so I’ve always found it a struggle. I didn’t stay in touch with a lot of people from university or school because I also have mental health problems that held me back. This isolated me a lot so I did turn to online communities where I met a few people who I’m still friends with now,” says Natalie.
It wasn’t until she joined online fibromyalgia communities that someone suggested that cannabis may have benefits.
“I never really knew about its benefits, although I knew it would relax you,” she admits.
“People in my fibromyalgia groups said they used medical cannabis and found it helpful. It’s only really been the last few years where I’ve used it properly as a medicine.”
Cannabis may help with the pain experienced by fibromyalgia patients. A recent study on patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia and other inflammatory rheumatic diseases reported a reduction in pain levels following medical cannabis use. The study surveyed 319 patients about their use of medical cannabis products. Those with fibromyalgia reported a mean pain level reduction of 77 per cent while 78 per cent also reported sleep quality improvement.
Although Natalie has family members who use medical cannabis in legal states in the US, she hadn’t considered using it herself. Despite being open to the idea of a prescription, she says there was very little mentioned to her about pursuing it by her doctors.
“It’s weird because it’s almost like a whisper network. I would never have known about the private medical thing because it’s not really mentioned and the health sector doesn’t talk about it. They don’t actively tell you about prescriptions,” she says.
Natalie has found that cannabis helps her most with the pain.
“A lot of the time, I get shoulder or lower back pain. If other people knew my pain level, they would have a different idea of what pain is, but I guess I’m used to it,” she says.
““Due to the way I work, I don’t use it until the evening. At the end of the day, I’ll use cannabis and I find my pain is completely gone. Sometimes, if I’m struggling then I’ll have a nice bath, have my cannabis and that’s the perfect combination.”
Natalie is guarded about her cannabis use because of the stigma but also due to her job. She is open with some of her friends but not her family. She chose to use only her first name to avoid being identified.
“My parents are from a different generation and they are quite conservative too. It’s very different for them so they don’t understand how it would help. My clients obviously don’t know, as some wouldn’t like it. [But] I have clients in the Netherlands who don’t drink but will go for a joint but it’s different for me,” she says.
“People still struggle to admit to taking medication because of the attitude. I’ve tried Tramadol, Xanax and all sorts of things that have more impact on how you feel, physically and mentally compared to cannabis. But that’s acceptable because it’s prescribed by a big pharmaceutical company.”
Natalie feels that there is a lot to be changed in terms of education, so that people know the benefit of cannabis when it comes to conditions like fibromyalgia. She also highlighted that there should be more awareness of the options out there when it comes to accessing a prescription.
“More people should be aware of the benefits of what it can do, rather than it being a niche internet topic or having a weird stigma around it,” she adds.
“Medical professionals need to be more aware of how it can help and the different avenues that people can go down to get prescriptions.”