Somewhere between three and six million people in the United States suffer from fibromyalgia, a chronic pain syndrome that doctors scarcely understand and struggle to effectively treat. But for years, many fibromyalgia patients have shared their stories and experiences treating their symptoms with cannabis.
Yet while patients frequently self-report using cannabis to manage their fibromyalgia, there are only a few clinical studies that have assessed whether cannabis can be an effective treatment for the disease. The studies that do exist, however, all present positive results. And a new investigation into the characteristics, safety and effectiveness of medical cannabis therapy for fibromyalgia just added more evidence to the pile. According to the authors of that study, a team of medical researchers in Israel, cannabis may be a suitable treatment option for fibromyalgia.
Marijuana Helped Reduce Pain for 81 Percent of Fibromyalgia Patients
“Safety and Efficacy of Medical Cannabis in Fibromyalgia,” a study published this month in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, assessed 367 fibromyalgia patients’ use of cannabis over a six-month period. Of those patients, 301 were women, and at the end of the six-month assessment period, 261 patients participated in a survey. (Some patients stopped their medical cannabis treatments.) That survey aimed to gather data about how well cannabis managed pain symptoms associated with fibromyalgia. It also asked patients about any side effects associated with their medical cannabis treatments.
The results reveal just how effective cannabis can be as a treatment option for fibromyalgia. According to the study, patients began the six-month trial with a baseline pain intensity of 9.0 on a scale of zero to 10. At the end of the six-month assessment period, median pain intensity reduced to 5.0. Furthermore, 194 patients (81.1 percent) experienced at least some improvement in their condition without any serious side effects.
Overall, researchers found that patients were most likely to report reductions in pain and other quality of life improvements following their six-month medical cannabis therapy. Cannabis therapy also helped fibromyalgia patients replace or reduce their use of prescription opioids. The study reports that 22 percent of patients “stopped or reduced their dosage of opioids.” Furthermore, 20 percent of patients reduced their use of benzodiazepines.
Medical Cannabis “Safe and Effective” Fibromyalgia Treatment
In addition to the data on the effectiveness of medical cannabis, researchers also gathered data on the side effects associated with using cannabis to treat fibromyalgia symptoms. Of the fibromyalgia patients who completed the six-month study, less than 8 percent experienced adverse side effects.
According to the data, the most common adverse effect was mild and included dizziness, which 7.9 percent of patients reported. In other words, some of the study participants found the psychoactive effects of THC a little too disorienting. The two other most common side effects were dry mouth, affecting 6.7 percent, and gastrointestinal symptoms, affecting 5.4 percent. Compare that to the side effects of opioid painkillers, like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle spasms and of course, dependency and addiction, which can be fatal.
Weighing both the success of the cannabis treatments and their lack of significant side effects, researchers concluded that “medical cannabis appears to be a safe and effective alternative for the treatment of fibromyalgia symptoms.” And that’s good news for the many patients for whom standard fibromyalgia medications aren’t working.
“Considering the low rates of addiction and serious adverse effects (especially compared to opioids), cannabis therapy should be considered to ease the symptom burden among those fibromyalgia patients who are not responding to standard care,” the authors wrote.
The study’s findings add to the existing literature on medical cannabis and fibromyalgia. A 2006 study by German researchers found oral cannabis treatments ranging from 2.5 to 15 mg THC significantly reduced pain symptoms for nine patients over a three-month period. And in 2011, a study in Spain compared the benefits of cannabis treatments to fibromyalgia patients who didn’t consume cannabis. That study found that cannabis not only alleviated pain but helped to reduce nearly every symptom associated with fibromyalgia, from stiffness to drowsiness.