CBD For Fibromyalgia
Around two million Britons suffer from fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is characterized by chronic pain throughout the muscles and bones and can be debilitating, both physically and psychologically.
There are no known causes of fibromyalgia, which makes treatment all the more difficult. Most sufferers are given pain relief medication and anti-depressants to manage their condition. Many patients worry they may need to take opioids to handle chronic pain, which could make them addicted to opioids and cause even worse problems.
With this uncertainty and complexity in mind, fibromyalgia patients are looking into alternatives to the common treatments and consider taking CBD for fibromyalgia. This post examines the evidence in favour and against such an approach.
CBD for fibromyalgia
Unfortunately, the medical community has only recently started looking into the possible effects of CBD for fibromyalgia. Studies are pursuing two avenues of research: one focused on treating fibromyalgia and one on alleviating fibromyalgia symptoms.
Preliminary findings are promising for both. However, as with most things related to CBD, more research is needed before we can reach a definitive answer, let alone determine the right CBD dosage for each patient.
While waiting for conclusive results from the trials underway, people are experimenting with CBD as a food supplement to help with their symptoms. Anecdotal evidence is encouraging and the side-effects of CBD consumption appear to be minimal compared to other medications.
What is fibromyalgia?
The symptoms of fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by chronic pain throughout the musculoskeletal system. Sufferers experience consistent and continuous pain. This leads to fatigue, poor sleep patterns, and cognitive issues such as difficulty in memorizing and thinking.
Poor sleep is intensified by the intense pain many patients suffer during the night, which keeps them awake. In the morning, they feel exhausted due to the lack of good quality sleep—a condition that worsens night after night.
Many people also experience irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and headaches, while a large percentage also suffers from anxiety and depression. The disease and its consequences worsen the feelings of depression and helplessness and create a vicious circle of mood disorders.
Is fibromyalgia an auto-immune disorder?
Fibromyalgia is not an auto-immune disorder, as it does not appear to cause any tissue damage. However, for a long time doctors thought it might be an auto-immune disease due to the similarity of some symptoms with auto-immune disorders.
What causes fibromyalgia?
The explanation for fibromyalgia
The medical community has established that sufferers understand the feeling of pain differently and constantly.
Under normal circumstances, our body alerts us when there is an injury or pain. Once alerted, we start fixing the problem: we treat the injury, take pain relief medication, or rest for a few days. After a while, the injury heals, pain recedes, and we are able to continue with our life.
In the case of fibromyalgia, a malfunction in the brain signals that the pain is not gone even after the injury has healed. It’s like the pain switch is stuck on “on” and can’t turn off. The brain mishandles pain signals and sends constant pain alerts, even when there is no pain or injury to take care of.
The theory is that there is a brain imbalance between the pain-carrying cells and the pain-reducing ones, at the expense of the latter. The brain is continually bombarded by pain signals, which ultimately overwhelm it.
Researchers are looking into whether the spinal cord is processing pain differently in fibromyalgia patients. They are also investigating whether there is an endocannabinoid deficiency.
Causes of fibromyalgia
These multiple research approaches are necessary because it is yet unclear what triggers fibromyalgia.
Doctors have noticed there seems to be a genetic factor, whereby fibromyalgia might run in a family.
Women are more prone to the condition than men. There might be a genetic factor there as well.
Psychological stress and emotional or physical abuse are also instances that can produce fibromyalgia. Similarly, surgery or physical trauma can be precursors of the disorder. In all these cases, there seems to be an initial pain trigger in the brain, either from physical or emotional trauma.
Fibromyalgia also seems to co-exist with other conditions such as arthritis.
Whatever the initial trigger, once the pain-inducing incident has finished, the brain fails to return to its stable condition. Instead, it keeps sending pain alerts without actually experiencing a painful event.
The role of the endocannabinoid system
The human endocannabinoid system (ECS) is responsible for many functions such as sleep, appetite, mood, temperature perception, reproduction, inflammation, and pain perception.
The role of the endocannabinoid system is to keep our body in balance and harmony. When the system hits a mishap, the ECS alerts the brain that something is amiss and should be fixed.
In the case of fibromyalgia, pain, mood swings, and insomnia are important symptoms of the disease. What if our ECS is lacking in endocannabinoids or receptors and is sending wrong messages to the body? What if we could assist the endocannabinoid system by supplying it with CBD and amend its imbalance?
A 2008 study investigated the possibility that endocannabinoid deficiency was behind conditions such as fibromyalgia, IBS, and migraine and found that these disorders display “common clinical, biochemical and pathophysiological patterns that suggest an underlying clinical endocannabinoid deficiency that may be suitably treated with cannabinoid medicines.” In other words, taking CBD for fibromyalgia may help because of the CBD’s effect on the endocannabinoid system.
An online questionnaire in Israel showed that a surprising number of fibromyalgia patients were taking CBD for fibromyalgia as a possible treatment for their condition. According to the study, almost all respondents “reported favorable effects on pain and sleep, and few reported adverse effects or feeling of dependence on cannabis.”
Could CBD for fibromyalgia help?
While the possibility that taking CBD for fibromyalgia might actually cure the disease thanks to the way it affects the endocannabinoid system is exciting, we’re still a long way off from clinical trials and a medicine.
That leaves us to explore the second avenue of research: that taking CBD for fibromyalgia might help alleviate the condition’s symptoms. Specifically, research suggests that CBD may possess pain relief, anti-inflammatory, sedative, anti-depressant, and anti-oxidant properties. All of these could make CBD for fibromyalgia part of an effective symptomatic treatment.
CBD as a pain-relief studies
Several CBD-related studies have been conducted to examine its potential in alleviating certain conditions. Many of them have focused on CBD’s possible analgesic properties.
A 2009 study about the analgesic potential of cannabis showed that animal studies were displaying efficacy of cannabinoids as an analgesic and that it was promising for severe pain.
Another trial in 2011 showed that “the use of cannabis was associated with beneficial effects on some fibromyalgia symptoms.”
Another randomized controlled trial in 2015 produced encouraging results that showed “cannabinoids are safe, modestly effective analgesics that provide a reasonable therapeutic option in the management of chronic non-cancer pain.”
A more specialized study in 2019 about pharmaceutical-grade cannabis as an analgesic for fibromyalgia produced promising results after a single inhalation.
In a systematic review on 1,219 patients suffering from neuropathic pain, “patients who received selective cannabinoids reported a significant, but clinically small, reduction in mean numerical rating scale pain scores.”
CBD for sleep problems
Several studies have indicated that CBD may be an effective sedative. A 2017 trial researched the relationship between sleep disturbances and glial activators and found that “pharmacological options include propentofylline, minocycline, β -adrenergic receptor antagonists, and cannabidiol.”
Another study in 2019 investigating sleep and/or anxiety in a clinical population found that “cannabidiol may hold benefit for anxiety-related disorders.”
CBD for IBS
Studies have also examined CBD for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A 2011 study on rats found that “cannabidiol reduces intestinal inflammation through the control of neuroimmune axis” and concluded that “our results therefore indicate that CBD indeed unravels a new therapeutic strategy to treat inflammatory bowel diseases.”
CBD for fibromyalgia: is it safe?
A 2019 study concluded that “medical cannabis appears to be a safe and effective alternative for the treatment of fibromyalgia symptoms.”
CBD’s role in the brain
Although it is still too early to understand how CBD acts on the brain, some preliminary theories have emerged.
The role of serotonin
An important cause of fibromyalgia is that serotonin levels in the brain are too low. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for pain perception, sleep, inflammation, mood, appetite, and body temperature perception. Interestingly, serotonin is found in the brain and bowels, the exact spots where fibromyalgia identifies itself.
CBD interacts with serotonin. Specifically, CBD interacts with the serotonin receptor 5-HT1A which is involved in stress, anxiety, and depression. Therefore, CBD could regulate and improve the functioning of the 5-HT1A receptor.
The role of microglia
The research community looking into fibromyalgia has found out that the microglia in the brain are intensifying the pain signals in fibromyalgia patients. CB2 receptors have been found to regulate the microglia. In cases of fibromyalgia, there seems to be an imbalance between the microglia and CB2 receptors.
As CBD interacts with CB2 receptors, CBD could regulate the CB2 receptors into working better and keeping the microglia in control instead of letting them strengthen the pain signals.
CBD for fibromyalgia: work in progress
Fibromyalgia is a disorder that can hinder people from leading happy, productive lives. It is a chronic condition characterized by chronic pain, depression, and low quality of life.
With no cure available, the available medication for treating fibromyalgia aims at alleviating the symptoms through pain relief and anti-depressants. Some people try physical therapy and acupuncture in an attempt to gain back their mobility and quality of life.
CBD has shown promise in terms of alleviating the symptoms of fibromyalgia with fewer side-effects than conventional medication. Due to the way CBD interacts with CB2 receptors as well as its potential effects as a pain-relief, anti-inflammatory, sedative, and anti-depressant, the research community is focusing its attention on the possible effectiveness of CBD for fibromyalgia.
Even better, there may come a day when CBD-based medication can help the endocannabinoid system reset and cure fibromyalgia. At the moment, however, all we have is tentative indications and promising research. That’s why the NHS has not approved medical-grade CBD for the treatment of fibromyalgia.
While waiting for more research and clinical trials, many fibromyalgia sufferers legally buy CBD as a food supplement and experiment with it. We strongly advise any patients wishing to do so to consult with their doctor or GP first. A doctor will provide an expert opinion on the possible CBD benefits and side-effects, especially if they are already on medication or suffer from additional conditions.