By Emily Ledger
Cannabis has been used medicinally to help manage pain for thousands of years – before prohibition began. However, the illegal status of cannabis in developed nations around the world – which coincided with the heights of scientific development and research – has meant that there is little clinical evidence of how medical cannabis can help with a whole range of conditions, including Fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is the second most common rheumatological It is estimated that 3-6% of the world’s population suffers from Fibromyalgia – a chronic condition characterised by prolonged pain, soreness, and fatigue. In fact, it affects around 10 million people in the US alone. Yet treatment for the condition remains fairly unreliable, with many patients being prescribed highly addictive opiates.
There have been a number of studies assessing the efficacy of cannabis in treating chronic pain. However, few of these studies focused specifically on Fibromyalgia. Yet, a new study, published in Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology, has yielded results that may support the use of medical cannabis in Fibromyalgia.
Researchers from the Luigi Sacco University Hospital in Milan, Italy, recruited 102 Fibromyalgia patients for their study into the efficacy of medical cannabis. The participants received two cannabis oils (one high-THC and one balanced) and monitored for a period of six months.
As well as monitoring patients’ Fibromyalgia severity, using a number of official medical scales, patients were also given the option to reduce or stop their existing analgesic therapies. 66 patients continued with the trial for the full six month period. Dropouts were reportedly down to numerous factors, including adverse effects (6), lack of benefit (3), and continued treatment at another centre (10). Others were lost for unreported reasons.
The study assessed the impact of medical cannabis on various symptoms of Fibromyalgia: Fatigue, sleep quality, anxiety, depression, and pain.
Results showed significant clinical improvement in some of these symptoms. For example, 44 % of patients reported a significant improvement in sleep quality and Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire Revised (FIQR) scores improved in 33% of patients. In addition, patients also showed moderate improvements in anxiety (42.4%) and depression (50%).
In relation to pain as a result of Fibromyalgia, the study showed that 31 of the 66 (47%) participants reduced or ceased their other analgesic treatments.
However, results also showed worsening of some symptoms. This was mainly seen in fatigue scores as identified by the Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy (FACIT) Fatigue score. Researchers write that 54.5% of patients experienced clinical worsening of this symptom.
The majority of people who suffer from Fibromyalgia are women (75-90%). This was reflected in the study, with 91% of participants being female. Researchers also noted that a majority of participants were also moderately overweight (40.9%) or obese (13.6%). This surprisingly seemed to play a significant role in clinical improvement.
The report claims that BMI score was the only co-variate which explained an improvement of 30% or more in the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire score.
Findings from the study show that medical cannabis could be a relatively effective treatment option for Fibromyalgia. Researchers who work on the study have also backed the findings:
“MCT [Medical Cannabis Treatment] has proved to be a much safer adjunct than opioid treatment, which is associated with a high risk/benefit ratio and is not effective in treating FM [fibromyalgia] (24); furthermore, MCT does not have any substantial addictive properties in terms of dose escalation or withdrawal syndrome (25-26).”