Cannabis may ease pain from fibromyalgia, study says
As of January 1, 2020, cannabis will be legal in Illinois.
Although there are differing opinions as to whether this is a good thing or not, recent research is demonstrating a benefit for many with fibromyalgia, often with fewer side effects than traditional medications.
One problem with the legalization of cannabis is that there is limited research on its effectiveness and safety. This lack of information has been one of the sticking points for government officials in legalizing cannabis.
However, the main reason for the dearth of research is that federal laws were passed severely limiting cannabis research. As more states have legalized cannabis, research has been forthcoming.
One recent study demonstrated that cannabis can have a significant benefit in reducing the pain and improving the quality of life in people with fibromyalgia.
Indeed, severe fibromyalgia is one diagnosis (in Illinois) allowing for medical cannabis use.
Fibromyalgia is characterized by moderate to debilitating widespread pain. People diagnosed with fibromyalgia have a heightened response to pain -- even if mild.
Fatigue, insomnia, memory issues, irritable bowel, depression, anxiety, numbness/tinging, sensitivity to light, sound and foods often occurs. There are no specific anatomic reasons for fibromyalgia, but it is closely associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, physical and mental abuse and chronic fatigue.
In my opinion, it is not specifically a genetic or environmental issue. It may be a response to unrelenting, severe, chronic stress.
The treatment of fibromyalgia is frustrating in its ineffectiveness. Sleep, exercise, diet and stress reduction are essential.
Medications may help but rarely result in resolution of symptoms. Medications are limited by side effects that affect quality of life even if the pain improves.
Fibromyalgia affects about 5% of the population. Women are diagnosed with fibromyalgia significantly more often than men. Any therapy that is effective and safe is a godsend to those with fibromyalgia.
A 2019 medical study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine explored the safety and benefit of oral cannabis in the treatment of fibromyalgia. This study comprised 367 (80% women) who carried the diagnosis of moderate to severe fibromyalgia.
During the six months of the study, the average pain level was significantly reduced from severe 9/10 to moderate 5/10 with 81% of patients having a good response.
At the beginning of the study more than 80% described their quality of life as bad to very bad. After six months, most described their quality of life as good to very good.
Side effects of cannabis use were mild with dizziness, dry mouth and bowel issues the most common and in less than 10% of the participants.
The reason why we react to cannabis is because we make similar compounds in our brains. They are part of the endorphin group of compounds involved in reducing pain, enhancing mood and regulating the immune system.
With lifestyle changes and stress reduction, the judicial use of cannabis may be a reasonable option for those with moderate to severe fibromyalgia.
• Dr. Patrick Massey MD, Ph.D., is medical director of complementary and alternative medicine Alexian Brothers Hospital Network, president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, 1544 Nerge Road, Elk Grove Village.