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Living with fibromyalgia – will 2022 be the year you try cannabis medicine?

Is chronic pain, interrupted sleep and other debilitating symptoms affecting your ability to live well?



Fibromyalgia: Middle-aged woman walking in city park
Around one in 20 people in the UK, and three to six per cent of the world's population, live with fibromyalgia

Is chronic pain, interrupted sleep and other debilitating symptoms affecting your ability to live well? It could be the time to try something different.

The New Year brings with it fresh – and usually short lived – intentions about healthy living.

For many, however, chronic pain is a barrier to a more active lifestyle.

A far more urgent priority than gym memberships and new-age diet plans, may be finding new treatment options to enable better life quality and independence.

Around one in 20 people in the UK, and three to six per cent of the world’s population, live with fibromyalgia – making it one of the most common pain conditions globally.

Fibromyalgia: A banner advert for the medical cannabis clinic

As well as chronic pain, other symptoms include irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, muscle stiffness, extreme tiredness and problems with memory and concentration.

Its specific cause is not defined, although it is understood to be linked to abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain and changes in the way the central nervous system processes pain messages.

Often, it is triggered by traumatic events such as injury, giving birth or bereavement. Around seven times as many women as men are affected, and it can develop at any age.

With no single conventional medicine to treat the condition, nerve pain treatments and antidepressants may be applied; although they often come with debilitating side-effects.

Could medical cannabis help?

In growing numbers, however, people with fibromyalgia are turning to cannabis medicine, which is becoming increasingly well evidenced as an effective treatment.

The anti-inflammatory properties of cannabidiol (CBD) are believed to help reduce pain, which can interfere with sleep problems, fatigue and cognitive impairment.

A survey by the National Fibromyalgia Association in 2020, found that over a third of women with the pelvic pain common in fibromyalgia patients, used CBD for pain relief, better sleep and to treat anxiety.

A US study, meanwhile, discovered that more than 70 per cent of fibromyalgia patients were using CBD as an alternative to opioid medications.

Recently University of Michigan research surveyed 878 people with fibromyalgia, with almost three quarters reporting that CBD had enabled them to either decrease or stop their use of opioids and other pain medications.

Other such studies – and anecdotes from the many patients interviewed by Cannabis Health this year – highlight an ongoing shift towards cannabis medicines among fibromyalgia patients.

The turn of the year is a time of new-found resolve to make life better in the months ahead, perhaps by trying a new weapon against chronic pain. 

We are also living in an age where more of us are taking control over our own health and wellbeing options, against a backdrop of self-testing and digital health.

What does the evidence say?

For people with fibromyalgia, there is certainly a growing body of evidence to encourage them to consider cannabis as a new treatment avenue.

Earlier this year, a study published in the journal, Pain Research and Management, reported a reduction in pain related to fibromyalgia and other inflammatory rheumatic diseases, following medical cannabis use. The majority (82 per cent) of the 319 patients surveyed had fibromyalgia. The study found a mean pain level reduction of 77 per cent.

A separate review of scientific papers found that whole plant cannabis may provide relief of various symptoms experienced by fibromyalgia patients.

Researchers analysed 313 studies and noted: “The data suggest that the use of cannabinoids and cannabis carries limited side-effects in the treatment of fibromyalgia and they can also improve some common and debilitating symptoms associated with [it], thus making them an adequate potential treatment option, when other treatment lines have been exhausted.”

This study also noted that the ratio of THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, and CBD, also seems to be an important factor in the treatment outcome. It therefore called for further studies on this area.

Older research examined the impact of cannabis on 56 patients with fibromyalgia. Participants were split between those who did and did not use cannabis. After two hours of using cannabis they reported reduced pain or stiffness and felt sleepy. Mental health scores also improved.

Further evidence may arise from a new study starting in early 2022 led by Southern Cross University in Australia. Researchers will assess the safety, tolerability and efficacy of medicinal cannabis in relieving pain and other symptoms in patients with fibromyalgia.

Those looking to try cannabis products to better manage their fibromyalgia in 2022, may find the range of options daunting, with an array of products and delivery methods.

Many people start off by trying more readily-available products, such as CBD, before they explore the possibility of a prescription for whole-plant cannabis.

Vaping is among the quickest ways to get a dose of CBD into the system, while oil administered via a dropper is absorbed through the tissue in the mouth, under the tongue.

Other options include edibles, or gummies, which deliver a slower method of CBD absorption, although are perhaps more discreet and taste better. Another option is a CBD patch, which enables CBD to be absorbed throughout the day in a controlled dose.

While patients must consider which option best suits their needs, and should always consult a GP regarding a change to their medication, the general mantra in approaching CBD for the first time is ‘start low and go slow’.

The range of CBD brands may seem overwhelming at first, and a visit to a reputable CBD store with an in-house expert may also be advisable.

Further information, including testimonies from people with fibromyalgia who have embraced CBD and cannabis medicine, can be read in our dedicated fibromyalgia section here.

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Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister titles, Cannabis Wealth and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag


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