Although best known as a recreational drug, marijuana has been used medicinally for thousands of years.
In the United States, the use of marijuana (also known as cannabis) is illegal under federal law. However, many states have passed laws to decriminalize its use for the treatment of specific medical conditions.
As a result, more and more people are considering it as a treatment for pain, nausea, and other symptoms, including those associated with fibromyalgia.
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Can marijuana help with fibromyalgia?
Studies in the area of marijuana use for the treatment of fibromyalgia are lacking. The findings among the existing literature are mixed.
Research into the use of marijuana for treating fibromyalgia has produced mixed findings so far.
Some research indicates that the use of cannabis is associated with beneficial effects on some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
On the other hand, a 2016 review of studies found insufficient evidence to recommend any marijuana-based treatments for the management of symptoms in people with rheumatic diseases, such as fibromyalgia.
It should also be kept in mind that marijuana is a plant that is grown, not carefully synthesized in a laboratory. Therefore, the amounts of potentially beneficial compounds present vary from one batch of plants to another. Symptom relief may also vary as a result.
However, marijuana has been found to be beneficial for treating chronic pain, nausea, and muscle spasms and nerve pain associated with multiple sclerosis (MS). It may emerge that cannabis is effective in easing these same symptoms in those with fibromyalgia.
Those interested in marijuana as a treatment for pain symptoms should check their state's laws in relation to the use of cannabis. They should also consult their doctor for further advice and treatment. Marijuana should only be used under the care of a health professional.
What conditions can marijuana be used for?
Marijuana is used for a wide number of conditions, although research has only found it to be beneficial for a few. Currently, there is good scientific evidence for its use in treating chronic pain and MS symptoms, including nerve pain and muscle spasms.
Although some initial studies appear promising, more research is needed into the use of marijuana to treat:
- Appetite loss
- Neuromuscular disorders
- Side effects of chemotherapy
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Brain injury
- Nerve cell conditions such as Huntington's disease
Currently, dronabinol and nabilone are used to treat the nausea caused by chemotherapy and to increase appetite in patients with AIDS.
Risks and side effects of marijuana use
Possible side effects associated with marijuana use include:
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Increased heart rate
- Breathing problems
- Impaired reaction times
- Issues with concentration and memory
- Mental illness in those predisposed to it
- Interactions with other drugs
The FDA have approved medications that contain synthetic versions of THC, an ingredient of marijuana that decreases pain levels.
Medical marijuana is sometimes suggested as a potential treatment for those with fibromyalgia because it contains compounds that may offer relief from pain and nausea. Two ingredients, THC and cannabidiol (CBD), are the most commonly studied.
THC is similar to cannabinoid chemicals that occur naturally in the body. It works by stimulating cannabinoid receptors in the brain. This activates the brain's reward system and decreases pain levels. It also influences the areas of the brain associated with memory and coordination.
Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive and does not bind to cannabinoid receptors. Therefore, it does not produce the "high" associated with THC.
Synthetic marijuana drugs
When the term medical marijuana is used, it refers to using the whole, unprocessed cannabis plant (or its extracts) to treat illness. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not approved medical marijuana as a safe or effective drug for any condition.
However, the administration has approved medications containing synthetic versions of THC, such as dronabinol and nabilone.
Clinical trials are currently being conducted on drugs that contain CBD, some of which are already approved in other countries.
Medical treatments and lifestyle changes
Fibromyalgia is associated with a wide variety of symptoms, so it is unlikely that a single treatment will work for all. Treatments also vary in effectiveness from patient to patient.
For most people, a combination of medication and lifestyle changes is most beneficial.
Several drugs are aimed at relieving symptoms of fibromyalgia. These include pain relievers (either over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers may be recommended) or antidepressants, which can alleviate the pain, fatigue, and depression experienced by many with fibromyalgia.
Massage therapy may help alleviate the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
The symptoms of fibromyalgia may be managed through one or more of the following lifestyle modifications:
- Exercise. Consistent gentle exercises such as walking, swimming, and pilates may help to decrease pain symptoms.
- Stress reduction. Reducing both the physical and emotional symptoms of stress is important in the management of this condition. Meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and breathing exercises are among the techniques recommended.
- Massage. The National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association state that massage therapy can improve chronic pain and fibromyalgia symptoms.
- Acupuncture. Some research indicates that tailored acupuncture can ease symptoms in some people.
- Sleep. People should aim to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. This will help to ease fatigue, one of the main symptoms of fibromyalgia. Those who struggle to get enough sleep should discuss the issue with their doctor.
- Behavior modification therapy. Working with a therapist to learn new coping skills and define and set limits can improve quality of life and self-esteem in those with fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes a severe and constant pain throughout the body. It also causes fatigue and issues with memory and mood. It is thought that the condition affects the way the body processes pain signals, leading to greater-than-normal sensations of pain.
Fibromyalgia is classed as a rheumatic condition: one that causes joint and soft tissue pain. Other types of rheumatic diseases include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.
The American College of Rheumatology estimate that between 2 and 4 percent of people have fibromyalgia. The vast majority of whom are women.
The exact cause of fibromyalgia is not known, although several factors are thought to play a role. These can include:
- Genetics: Fibromyalgia tends to run in families.
- Illness or infection: People with other rheumatic diseases are more likely to develop fibromyalgia. Infection can also trigger its onset.
- Physical trauma: A car accident, surgery, or other physical stressor can bring on symptoms.
- Psychological distress: Post-traumatic stress disorder has been linked to fibromyalgia.
For some people, there appears to be no single event to cause the onset of symptoms.