Fibromyalgia affects more than 10 million Americans, the majority of which are female, as much as 90 percent. Still, it’s a disease that defies scientific explanation. A typical diagnosis comes between the ages of 20 to 50 and follows the progressive onset of inexplicable and excruciating episodes of pain.
Can cannabis edibles help treat this mysterious condition?
From patient surveys, we already know those with fibromyalgia find cannabis provides relief of their painful symptoms, and it improves their well being. What do we know so far about the condition, and about the effectiveness of cannabis to treat it?
What is Fibromyalgia?
You’ll often find fibromyalgia described online alongside arthritis. But, this condition isn’t arthritis, and it might not even be related to the inflammatory causes of arthritis. Instead fibromyalgia is thought to be a central nervous system condition, although this is still only rough theory.
Symptoms can feel very similar to arthritis, which is why it’s often grouped with these inflammatory conditions. These symptoms include fatigue and chronic pain. The pain moves through the body and can rapidly move from one part to another, and change in intensity. Part of the mystery of fibromyalgia is it leaves no physical damage, no matter how bad the pain. Someone with fibromyalgia may not look sick on the outside, no matter what they are experiencing internally.
Current methods of treatment leave much to be desired. They don’t treat the condition, only the symptoms of the condition. Furthermore, there is no single medication that works, because the symptoms are so varied from patient to patient.
Patients are largely reliant on a knowledgeable physician to help find solutions for the worst symptoms. Medications usually target anything from pain, sleep disturbance, mood disorder, or fatigue.
Cannabis and the Central Nervous System: A New Target for Fibromyalgia Treatment?
If you are familiar with the physiological impacts of cannabis, you may know that it influences the mind and body through the endocannabinoid system. This system regulates mood, memory, inflammation, and the sensation of pain, among many other vital processes. The system does so through the release of endocannabinoids, which travel throughout the body to different receptors.
Of importance to the treatment of fibromyalgia are the CB1 receptors, located mainly within the central nervous system and brain. We already know from unrelated studies that THC, the intoxicating and potent pain-relieving cannabinoid, binds directly to the CB1 receptors. This direct connection leads to the many therapeutic properties we know associate with THC – including regulation of mood, pain relief, benefits to insomnia, and more.
According to Cannabis Use in Patients with Fibromyalgia: Effect on Symptoms Relief and Health-Related Quality of Life, published in 2011, fibromyalgia patients who used cannabis reported, “statistically significant (p<0.001) reduction of pain and stiffness, enhancement of relaxation, and an increase in somnolence and feeling of well being.” This was in comparison to a patient group who did not use cannabis.
And it’s true, from patient surveys we know many fibromyalgia patients already use cannabis, including both smoked and edible varieties, as a means to reduce painful flare-ups. Although, truthfully, researchers are having a tough time sorting out the mechanism of action behind this relief.
Considering we still don’t have a solid understanding of the condition itself, it’s easy to see why we might not know exactly how cannabis works to relieve it.
Why Cannabis Edibles?
Many patients prefer oral ingestion of cannabis over smoking because of the perceptions people have on the health effects of the latter. Edibles are thought to deliver the cannabinoids more healthily, without damage to sensitive lung tissues.
Edibles (often called ”medibles” by those who use them) deliver long-lasting relief. While inhaled cannabinoids have a speedy onset, the therapeutic effects only last up to four hours. Edibles, on the other hand, deliver relief from six to eight hours.
Eating rather than inhaling cannabis also means you can increase the potency without having to smoke or vape your medicine constantly. Depending on your tolerance (take it easy as you start), a single edible can deliver a high-potency dose.
At the moment, we have only a foggy understanding of what fibromyalgia is, which means we also don’t truly understand why so many patients find cannabis useful. We need to understand the disease better before we can understand the treatment.
Again, patient surveys strongly suggest relief from cannabis, but the science hasn’t caught up to the real-world therapeutic applications yet. If you choose to treat your fibromyalgia with cannabis edibles, do a little research beforehand. Start with small doses to determine tolerance and effectiveness, and increase slowly to keep the experience pleasant.