Fibromyalgia is notoriously difficult to treat and only 35 per cent – 40 per cent of people with the chronic pain condition get relief from the available medications. Although there are strong opinions surrounding its use, some patients are trying marijuana – legally or illegally – and finding it can help fibromyalgia pain.
Our bodies naturally make pain relievers called endorphins, but they also make other substances that can trigger pain relief in the so-called endocannabinoid system. This system seems to play a key role in many processes in the body, including modulating how we feel pain. Marijuana contains cannabinoids very similar to those that occur in the body naturally.
Fibromyalgia patients typically experience body wide pain, but they must often take multiple drugs for other symptoms, which can include difficulty sleeping, restless legs syndrome, depression, and anxiety. However, marijuana may treat multiple symptoms, and some patients are seeing results.
But there are two problems with herbal cannabis. Critics say it is a complex natural substance that contains about 60 different compounds with potentially medicinal effects, some of which may interact with one another. The other problem is that the amount of these various compounds may vary by batch, as marijuana is not synthesized but grown.
Some experts believe that synthetic medicines based on individual compounds in cannabis may one day help fibromyalgia patients.
A recent study published by Dr Mark Ware, an assistant professor in family medicine and anesthesia at McGill University in Montreal, and the executive director of the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids, showed that one such compound, nabilone (Cesamet), helped fibromyalgia patients sleep better. It was more effective than amitriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant often prescribed to fibromyalgia patients to ease pain and improve sleep. And a study published a couple of years ago found nabilone helped lessen pain and anxiety in fibromyalgia patients.
Trials involving other compounds are also under way.
These are early days, but maybe within a few years, medicines based upon individual cannabis compounds may be readily available to help relieve the symptoms of this chronic condition.