Can Medical Cannabis Alleviate Fibromyalgia Symptoms?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Cannabis may help alleviate some symptoms of fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by chronic pain, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and memory problems.

However, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the safety and effectiveness of cannabis in treating symptoms of fibromyalgia.

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Read on to learn what the research says.

We’ll also explore other lifestyle changes and therapies you can try to help ease pain and other symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Does it work?

Cannabis comes from plants in the Cannabis genus. It contains two main active ingredients (or compounds): tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

  • THC is the psychoactive compound that gives the high sensation. It can be smoked and is available in other forms, such as edibles, oils, and capsules.
  • CBD is a nonpsychoactive compound, meaning it doesn’t produce the “high” associated with THC. It’s sold in gels, gummies, oils, supplements, extracts, and more.

You can find cannabis products that contain just CBD or THC, or a combination of both.

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Many people with fibromyalgia use marijuana products to treat their symptoms.

However, researchers agree that more studies are needed to understand the role of cannabis and its active components in treating fibromyalgia.

In particular, few studies have examined the effectiveness of THC versus CBD for symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Here’s a summary of the research for common fibromyalgia symptoms:

Medical cannabis for fibromyalgia pain
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Few studies have focused exclusively on pain associated with fibromyalgia.

A 2007 study of 40 patients with fibromyalgia comparing the effects of the synthetic cannabinoid nabilone with a placebo found the nabilone treatment to have significant pain-relieving effects.

In a 2011 study, 28 participants who used cannabis for fibromyalgia ranked its perceived benefits for each symptom.

Among them, approximately 43 percent reported strong pain relief and 43 percent reported mild pain relief. The remaining 7 percent reported no difference in their pain symptoms.

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A 2018 study of 20 people with fibromyalgia compared the pain-relieving effects of four types of cannabis, each of which had different THC and CBD contents.

One of the four types of cannabis was a placebo which contained neither THC nor CBD.

The study found that subjects receiving the two treatments containing high levels of THC experienced an increase in their pain threshold compared to the placebo, while the ones receiving a formula containing CBD without THC experienced no significant pain relief.

More research is required to understand whether medical cannabis really is an effective treatment for pain associated with fibromyalgia.

Medical cannabis for fibromyalgia sleep problems
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The 2018 review from NAP referenced in the previous section concluded that there’s a moderate amount of evidence that cannabis-related products can help improve sleep in people with fibromyalgia in the short term.

In the 2011 study cited in the previous section, 81 percent of participants who used cannabis to treat fibromyalgia reported that it provided strong relief from sleep issues.

Finally, a 2010 study investigated the effects of nabilone, a synthetic drug with effects similar to those of cannabis. The researchers found that nabilone helped improve sleep among people with fibromyalgia.

Medical cannabis for other fibromyalgia symptoms

Research examining the effectiveness of cannabis in treating other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia is limited.

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According to the Handbook of Cannabis and Related Pathologies, most of the evidence assessing cannabis’ effectiveness in treating muscle stiffness, mood problems, anxiety, and headaches associated with fibromyalgia comes from surveys and observational studies.

More clinical studies are needed to come to any conclusions.

Can medical cannabis alleviate my fibromyalgia symptoms?

Based on the research above, medical cannabis might be able to help manage pain and sleep disturbances associated with fibromyalgia.

If you’re thinking about using medical cannabis to treat fibromyalgia, speak to your doctor. Cannabis can interfere with medication you might already be taking.

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Your doctor can help you weigh the risks and potential benefits of using cannabis for fibromyalgia. They can also tell you whether it’s legally available in your area.

Don’t use cannabis if you’re pregnant or nursing. THC can pass through the placenta and breast milk to your baby, and it poses risks to developing fetuses and babies.

Avoid smoking around children, pregnant women, and pets.

What are the risks and side effects?

Cannabis can cause unpleasant short-term side effects. These may include:

  • changes in perception
  • changes in mood
  • confusion
  • impaired movement
  • impaired concentration
  • impaired memory
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High doses of cannabis can trigger (not cause) hallucinations and delusions in adolescents and young adults with a known family history of psychosis or schizophrenia.

Based on current evidence, it would be wise for these individuals to avoid any mind-altering substances, including not only cannabis but alcohol, cocaine, or methamphetamines.

Research into the long-term risks associated with daily or near-daily cannabis use is still in progress.

Is marijuana legal?

Cannabis laws vary by state and country and are evolving. Whether it’s legal depends on where you live. Across the United States, the different legal scenarios are as follows:

  • Cannabis is legal.
  • Cannabis is legal for medicinal purposes.
  • CBD or low-THC cannabis is legal, sometimes with restrictions.
  • Cannabis is illegal.
  • Cannabis is illegal, but it’s decriminalized.
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Many state-based medical cannabis and CBD programs specify which health conditions qualify for therapeutic use.

For instance, in some states, CBD is only legal when used to treat epilepsy. In other states, CBD or low-THC cannabis products are permitted with a doctor’s prescription.

How do you obtain medical cannabis legally?

If medical cannabis is legal in your state or country, you’ll need to find out what your local requirements are.

In the United States, requirements vary significantly from one state to another.

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Specifically, you’ll need to find out if having fibromyalgia qualifies you for medical cannabis. This information should be available on your state’s health services website. If it isn’t, call and ask.

If you do qualify for medical cannabis, you might have to apply for a medical marijuana card.

To apply, you’ll be asked to provide documentation of your condition in the form of medical or other records. You’ll also need a prescription from a doctor. In addition, you might need to submit proof of your identity, such as a passport or driver’s license.

Depending on where you live, it might not be possible to obtain cannabis legally. If cannabis isn’t legal in your state, you shouldn’t try to obtain it illegally.

Lifestyle changes to help with fibromyalgia symptoms

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Additional nonmedical treatments are available for fibromyalgia. Here are some lifestyle changes and alternative therapies that you can try:

  • eating a balanced diet
  • improving your sleep habits
  • getting regular exercise
  • managing stress
  • mindfulness techniques, such as meditation
  • acupuncture
  • biofeedback
  • massage
  • physical therapy
  • tai chi

Talk with your doctor to find out which lifestyle changes and alternative therapies might work for you.

The takeaway

Medical cannabis may help alleviate symptoms of fibromyalgia in some people. However, the safety and effectiveness of cannabis in treating symptoms remain unclear.

If you’re thinking about using cannabis to treat your fibromyalgia symptoms, you should find out more about the laws in your area.

If cannabis isn’t legal where you live, don’t try to obtain it illegally.

Always consult a doctor before using cannabis to treat fibromyalgia symptoms.

Read more on: fibromyalgia, marijuana


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