Can medical cannabis help with the symptoms of fibromyalgia? Find out more below. 

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread pain, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and cognitive problems. It affects about 2-4% of the adult population and is more common in women than men. Fibromyalgia is considered a central sensitization syndrome, meaning that the pain and other symptoms are due to abnormal processing of sensory information by the central nervous system.

In addition to the characteristic symptoms, people with fibromyalgia may also experience headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, anxiety, and other comorbid conditions. The severity of symptoms can vary widely and can be triggered or worsened by physical or emotional stressors.

What causes Fibromyalgia?

The exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but it is believed to be a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. There is evidence of abnormal pain processing and changes in the levels of neurotransmitters involved in pain regulation, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Additionally, there may be dysfunction in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which regulates the body’s response to stress.

Risk factors for developing fibromyalgia include family history, female gender, and certain infections or traumatic events.

  • Gender: Fibromyalgia is more common in women than men, with an estimated 75-90% of cases occurring in women.
  • Age: Although fibromyalgia can occur at any age, it is more common in middle-aged and older adults.
  • Genetics: Some evidence suggests that fibromyalgia may have a genetic component, meaning that it may run in families. However, the exact genes involved have not been identified.
  • Trauma or injury: Physical or emotional trauma, such as a car accident or a traumatic event, has been linked to an increased risk of developing fibromyalgia.
  • Infections: Certain infections, such as Lyme disease or viral infections like hepatitis C or HIV, have been associated with an increased risk of developing fibromyalgia.
  • Chronic stress: Prolonged stress and exposure to stressful life events have been linked to an increased risk of developing fibromyalgia.
  • Other health conditions: Fibromyalgia has been associated with several other health conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Having one or more of these risk factors does not necessarily mean that someone will develop fibromyalgia. Additionally, there may be other risk factors that have not yet been identified. Overall, the exact causes of fibromyalgia remain unclear, and more research is needed to understand the condition and its risk factors better.

How Common is it?

Fibromyalgia is a relatively common condition, although estimates of its prevalence vary depending on the population studied and the diagnostic criteria used. According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, fibromyalgia affects an estimated 10 million people in the United States alone.

Fibromyalgia is more common in women than men, with an estimated 75-90% of cases occurring in women. It can occur at any age but is most commonly diagnosed in middle-aged and older adults.

Globally, fibromyalgia is estimated to affect 2-8% of the population, depending on the country and population studied. It is more common in developed countries, and cultural and environmental factors may contribute to its prevalence.

Because fibromyalgia can be challenging to diagnose and there is no definitive test for it, the actual prevalence of the condition may be higher than current estimates suggest. Additionally, many people with fibromyalgia may go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years, further complicating efforts to assess its prevalence accurately.

Are there Signs & Symptoms?

The hallmark symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread pain lasting at least three months and affecting all four body quadrants. The pain is often described as a dull ache or burning sensation and can be accompanied by stiffness and tenderness in the muscles and joints. Fatigue and sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or non-restorative sleep, are also common.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Cognitive problems, such as difficulty with concentration, memory, and attention
  • Headaches
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Sensitivity to noise, light, or touch
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet

Diagnosis & Treatment Options

Diagnosing fibromyalgia can be challenging because no specific laboratory tests or imaging studies can confirm the diagnosis. Instead, doctors rely on a combination of patient history, physical examination, and exclusion of other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

The American College of Rheumatology has established criteria for the diagnosis of fibromyalgia, which include a history of widespread pain and tenderness in at least 11 of 18 specific tender points on the body.

Treatment for fibromyalgia typically involves a combination of medication, lifestyle changes, and complementary therapies. Medicines that may be used include antidepressants, anticonvulsants, muscle relaxants, and pain relievers. Lifestyle changes include regular exercise, stress reduction techniques, and improving sleep hygiene. Complementary therapies that may be helpful include acupuncture, massage, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Medical Marijuana & Chronic Pain Management

Medical marijuana has been used for centuries to treat various conditions, including chronic pain. Cannabis contains compounds called cannabinoids, which interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system to produce multiple therapeutic effects, including pain relief.

Research suggests that cannabinoids, particularly tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), may effectively manage chronic pain. These compounds work by interacting with cannabinoid receptors in the brain and peripheral nervous system, which can help to reduce inflammation and pain perception.

Medical marijuana is often used as an alternative to opioids for chronic pain management. It can be effective for many people with fewer side effects and a lower risk of addiction. Some studies have also suggested that medical marijuana may be more effective than opioids for treating certain types of pain, such as neuropathic pain.

Can medical cannabis help Fibromyalgia? 

Some evidence suggests that medical cannabis may help manage some of the fibromyalgia symptoms, particularly pain and sleep disturbances. Cannabis contains compounds called cannabinoids, which interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system to produce various effects, including pain relief and relaxation.

However, more research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits and risks of medical cannabis for fibromyalgia. Additionally, medical cannabis is not legal in all states and countries, and there may be legal and regulatory barriers to accessing it.

It is essential for anyone considering using medical cannabis for fibromyalgia to talk to their doctor about the potential benefits and risks, as well as any legal and regulatory considerations.

Last Updated: July 25, 2023

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