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For Chronic Pain Sufferers, Cannabis "May Be a Source of Hope"

A look at new research on the benefits of weed for those with fibromyalgia.

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When it comes to the health benefits of cannabis, better pain management always ranks high on the list. It’s the reason many people turned to medical cannabis in the first place (often as a replacement for opioids). But it’s of special importance to those with fibromyalgia.

Chronic pain is one of the unfortunate characteristics of fibromyalgia, a condition that also causes fatigue, memory problems, and difficulties sleeping. Patients suffer from the condition without any well-defined, underlying organic disease, and the exact cause of fibromyalgia remains unknown. 

A new literature review of 22 scientific papers conducted by the California Institute of Behavioral Neurosciences and Psychology investigated the use of cannabis or synthetic cannabinoids with fibromyalgia patients. They report that the studies “suggest that medical cannabis is a safe and effective treatment for fibromyalgia pain,” although there are some limitations.

Related: Harvard Study Shows Medical Cannabis May Help with Chronic Pain

Fibromyalgia impacts between 5 and 7 percent of the population

Millions of people worldwide suffer from fibromyalgia.  In the United States and Europe, about 4 percent of the population has fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), according to the study. About twice as many women as men suffer from the syndrome. FMS can develop at any age, and often happens in connection with rheumatic diseases.

Because so many studies have found that cannabis provides effective treatment for pain - and promotes better sleep - it’s often mentioned as a possible medication for FMS patients. A handful of studies have looked at the issue through the years. They include:

  • A 2008 study involving 40 fibromyalgia patients that found the synthetic cannabinoid nabilone had significant pain-relieving effects
  • A 2011 study involving 28 patients who used cannabis for fibromyalgia and found that 43 percent reported strong pain relief and 43 percent reported mild pain relief
  • In that same 2011 study, 81 percent of participants reported that cannabis provided strong relief from fibromyalgia-related sleep issues

The recent review, however, took a comprehensive look at a wide range of studies over the years.

Related: Explaining the Benefits of Cannabis to Your Grandma

For FMS suffers, cannabis can provide relief with limited side effects.

Essentially, the researchers found that previous studies make a strong case for further research into the treatment of fibromyalgia pain with weed. The aim of the study was to explore the potential for cannabis use, and the researchers concluded that potential is high.

They wrote, “Ultimately, we believe that the use of cannabis and cannabinoids for pain relief in fibromyalgia has shown great potential and may be a source of hope for those suffering from chronic pain associated with this condition, and for the physicians treating them.”

However, they also wrote that the benefits must be weighed against any potential harmful effects, calling for more research conducted for longer periods to assess the long-term efficacy of cannabis for chronic pain. 

Authors concluded cannabis carries “limited side effects” and “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.”

Interest certainly remains high among those with fibromyalgia. A survey in Canada found that 

24 percent of fibromyalgia patients reported a history of cannabis use. Of those, 61 percent classified themselves as current marijuana users and many reported substantial symptom relief.

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