Medical Marijuana in the Treatment of Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder that causes sufferers to feel both pain and a heightened response to pressure. It is also sometimes referred to as “fibromyalgia syndrome” due to the fact that it has a variety of symptoms other than pain and pressure, such as stiff joints, fatigue, trouble sleeping, and numbness.

Fibromyalgia has no known cure, partly due to its multifaceted nature. Only its symptoms can be managed to varying degrees, and some sufferers report relief by using marijuana. Much of the research into the effect of marijuana on fibromyalgia is quite recent, but already very compelling.

Some Early Promise

A preliminary 2006 study was only carried out with 9 patients, but its results warranted consideration. The patients were given orally administered THC that increased weekly in dosage. Researchers noted that 5 of the patients withdrew, leaving only 4 to complete the study. However, the patients that did complete the study reportedly experienced “significant benefit” from the THC.

More Positive Results

A 2007 study followed up the above findings by administering nabilone, a synthetic form of THC, over the course of 4 weeks to a group of 40 patients. The study was tightly controlled and consisted of a placebo group, making the findings that much more credible. Researchers concluded that nabilone did in fact improve the symptoms of fibromyalgia, and suggested that it may be useful in pain management.

In 2008, another study came out which supported these findings. Researchers looked not only at the possible effects of cannabis on fibromyalgia, but also on related conditions such as migraines and irritable bowel syndrome.

This study did not involve any clinical trials of its own, but rather carried out a review of available literature. Researchers suggested that such treatment-resistant conditions could be a result of an endocannabinoid deficiency, and could be treated by the cannabinoids found in marijuana.

Marijuana Helping Patients Sleep

Fibromyalgia patients not only have to deal with fatigue, but also with trouble falling asleep to ease this fatigue. As cannabis has long been noted to help with sleep disorders, researchers in a 2010 study decided to see if it could also relieve sleeplessness caused by fibromyalgia. They followed 31 participants for two weeks and compared the effect of nabilone (THC) to amitriptyline, an antidepressant drug.

Researchers found that THC was very effective in improving patients’ sleeping problems, and that it was in fact superior to the other drug when administered at bedtime. They did not find any effects, either positive or negative, on quality of life.

Cannabis and Quality of Life

However, a 2011 study did find a positive correlation between cannabis use and quality of life for fibromyalgia patients. It also further confirmed what other studies had found about its ability to relieve pain. Researchers followed 28 fibromyalgia patients who used marijuana, and 28 who did not. Patients who used marijuana reported increased feelings of well-being and relaxation than patients who did not.