Treating Fibromyalgia with Marijuana: A HealthCentral Explainer

CRegal Editor October 26, 2012
  • In the United Sates, marijuana is still illegal to smoke, possess,  grow or distribute.  But over the last decade, more and more states have started allowing marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes. And, with a doctor’s prescription, people are now allowed to grow, purchase and use marijuana, though the rules vary from state to state.

     

    Initially, marijuana was mainly prescribed for treatment of glaucoma, but now  patients with conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis to ADHD can get a prescription.

     

    Does marijuana help fibromyalgia?


    A 2010 study from McGill University in Montreal found that marijuana can help chronic pain patients who are not getting sufficient pain relief from traditional pain treatment methods.  According to the study, the drug was used to help sufferers of painful conditions fall asleep more easily and sleep more soundly, both highly beneficial for those suffering from fibromyalgia.  As part of one of the first applications of marijuana as a treatment for fibromyalgia symptoms, the subjects in this study received a synthetic version of cannabis once daily before bed.  Subjects found the drug to actually be more effective than amitriptyline, a popular sleep medication, with fewer side effects.

     

    Next came a 2011 study published in PLoS One, the peer-reviewed journal put out by the Public Library of Science. In this one, participants took marijuana by smoking it, eating it and both smoking and consuming it.  The study found that patients had a significant reduction of pain and stiffness, enhanced relaxation and increased quality of life and feelings of well-being. 

     

    There is, however, no proof that marijuana had an effect on fibromyalgia itself.  Those who use the drug use it for symptom management – to help with sleep or decrease pain levels, but not to actually reduce the progression of the condition or change its course.  

     

    What is the downside?


    Though marijuana seems like an effective and almost logical treatment option for fibromyalgia, there are several downsides that need to be noted.  Long-term marijuana users can also experience a change in brain chemistry, rewiring the "reward" system in the brain, which could result in addiction to the drug, as stated on DrugAbuse.gov, a division of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  According to a 2006 study published in Current Opinion in Psychiatry, marijuana also is associated with withdrawal, with symptoms that may be worse than the fibromyalgia symptoms being treated. Marijuana can have a long-term impact on the brain, especially in young people.  Marijuana is also still illegal – even medicinally – in 33 states and on the federal level.

     

    It does appear that many fibromyalgia patients are self-medicating with marijuana.  A study published in Arthritis Care and Research indicates that nearly 10 percent of fibromyalgia patients use marijuana, most without a prescription.  The research also found that those fibromyalgia patients who do self-medicate with marijuana have poorer mental health – 36 percent of marijuana users had "unstable mental illness" as opposed to only 23 percent of non-users. 

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    What do you think?  Should marijuana be legalized in your state to treat the symptoms of fibromyalgia?  Do the potential benefits outweigh the risks?