Posted September 6, 2016 by Ljubica Kostovic

Using Cannabis to Manage Fibromyalgia

Patients use Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) dominant cannabis strains to help them manage symptoms of Fibromyalgia. 


FibromyalgiaGraphicFibromyalgia is a condition in which chronic widespread pain is the primary complaint. It is most often diagnosed in women and has a high prevalence in individuals with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Although fibromyalgia is beginning to be better understood by the healthcare community and patients alike, it is part of a long history of stigma. For many patients, the Fibromyalgia diagnosis may have come after decades of trial and error of various therapies, and stagnant conversations with a doctor who may have believed that “it’s all in your head”. However, as more and more physicians and patients affirm, Fibromyalgia is very much a real condition, and one that is quite complex. In addition to persistent pain, which varies in intensity from day to day, Fibromyalgia patients often experience a slew of accompanying symptoms such as: morning stiffness, muscle cramping, fatigue, migraines, headaches, non-restorative sleep, cognitive dysfunction a.k.a. “fibro-fog”, depression, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, myofascial pain and sexual dysfunction.

Using Cannabis to Break the Chronic Pain Cycle

If the above list of symptoms experienced by Fibromyalgia patients seems overwhelming and discouraging, it is important to remember that, like other chronic pain conditions, Fibromyalgia patients can successfully manage many of these symptoms by breaking the chronic pain cycle! What may start out as an experience of chronic pain quickly becomes an experience of pain and fatigue; pain and stiffness; pain an non-restorative sleep, and a multitude of rapidly worsening symptoms. In the cycle of chronic pain, the worsening of one symptom can have a significant impact on the worsening of other symptoms. However, an improvement in just one of the symptoms can result in an improvement of the other symptoms as well! It’s important to stay positive and remember that a multi-modal approach that includes exercise, diet, psychotherapy alongside pharmacological treatment options may help manage your symptoms holistically.

In addition, because many traditional pharmacological options are often ineffective and result in an unbearable amount of side-effects, it is important to consider alternative treatment options such as cannabis. In addition to providing pain relief, cannabis can help improve the quality and duration of sleep. Taking steps to ensure more restorative sleep can result in a significant reduction of pain, and can positively influence mood and healthy coping mechanisms. Similarly, decreasing inflammation and muscle stiffness can help reduce the frequency of occurrence of myofascial pain and tension headaches. Reducing experiences of anxiety and difficult emotions can positively impact symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Managing just one of these symptoms can help prepare you to more effectively manage many more symptoms in the future.

So, what are some of the ways medical marijuana can help break your chronic pain cycle?

Cannabis Reduces Pain and Muscle Stiffness

Research indicates that cannabis is an effective treatment, with relatively few side effects, for chronic, non-cancer pain. The cannabis plant is made up of over 100 cannabinoids, many of which are responsible for decreasing the experience of painful stimuli. The two most well-researched cannabinoids, Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) are believed to be primarily responsible for providing analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. A combination of oral, edible and topical forms of cannabis products can help manage pain and inflammation on a variety of levels. Vaporized cannabis can be helpful for managing breakthrough pain, as pain relieving effects will be felt very quickly. In addition, CBD oil and edible cannabis products can provide long-acting pain relief with effects lasting approximately 4-6 hours. Topical cannabis preparations can be applied directly to the painful area, providing an added sense of relief. In addition to providing pain relief, in the traditional sense, the anti-inflammatory effects of cannabis may also be useful for decreasing morning stiffness and muscle cramping. This improvement in flexibility can help make exercise even more effective! Although many patients find pain relief from using cannabis products exclusively, research shows that cannabis may be used to enhance the pain-relieving effects of opioids.

Cannabis for the Management of Headaches and Migraines

Recent studies show that medical marijuana can be helpful in treating headaches and migraines. In addition to helping manage associated symptoms, research indicates that marijuana has the potential to decrease the frequency of migraines experienced by chronic sufferers. In addition to providing pain relief and helping reduce the frequency of migraines, cannabis can also reduce nausea and vomiting and help induce a sense of calm and relaxation during this difficult time. More information on how to effectively use cannabis to manage headaches and migraines is available here.

Using Cannabis to Manage Difficult Emotions

Cannabis has been shown to help the body cope with the stress and tension caused by pain and may be a powerful tool for helping promote mental health. Cannabis has proven anxiolytic properties and may play a role in helping manage symptoms of depression. Medical marijuana can be used alongside meditation, exercise and cognitive behavioural therapy to better manage difficult emotions which can further exacerbate the experience of pain. In addition, because many Fibromyalgia patients suffer from PTSD, cannabis may be an additional resource for managing flashbacks, negative emotions and night terrors.

Cannabis Can Help Manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Fibromyalgia patients also suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome often experience abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements, such as constipation and nausea. These symptoms can be extremely difficult to manage as treatment options are limited. However, recent studies have shown that cannabis may be helpful in relieving and managing IBS.

The therapeutic effects of cannabis have been attributed to the presence of CB2 receptors in the GI tract. These receptors are activated by CBD, the non-psychoactive constituent of cannabis. The results of using CBD high cannabis strains are anti-inflammatory effects, and decreased abdominal pain. Cannabis has also been found to help in the movement of secretions as well as regulation of bowel movements.

Cannabis Can Promote Restful Sleep and Decrease Fatigue

Sleep deprivation can affect pain management, the severity of cognitive dysfunction, also known as “fibro-fog”, as well as the extent of difficult emotions and a patient’s level of irritability. Sleep is also crucial for many other aspects of our health. A lack of sleep can put us at an increased risk of heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and obesity.  As with other chronic pain conditions, restful sleep is essential for helping manage the symptoms of Fibromyalgia.

Cannabis is often used by patients to help them get to sleep and stay asleepResearch shows that high cannabinoid levels promote sleep, and that THC is highly sedative. For many patients, cannabis oils and edible products are highly effective for helping promote restful sleep because of their long-acting effects.

Cannabis offers a sedative solution with very few side-effects. But if all else fails and you’re still lacking sleep, a high CBD strain can help fend off fatigue during the day and keep you awake after a night of restlessness.

The Take-Away Message

For many Fibromyalgia patients, cannabis provides a much needed alternative to traditional pharmacological treatment options. Cannabis may result in more effective pain management, decreased anxiety, improved quality and duration of sleep, decreased occurrence of headaches and migraines, and an overall improvement in quality of life!

About GrowWise Health

GrowWise_Graphics-07GrowWise Health provides free ACMPR medical marijuana education services to patients for whom medical cannabis may be an appropriate treatment option. GrowWise Health Patient Educators provide services for patients in Toronto, Brampton, North York, Niagara Region/Fort Erie and across Ontario and Canada.

GrowWise Health Patient Educators assist patients in selecting the strain(s) most appropriate for their condition and symptoms and provide guidance on dosing, safety and modes of administration. The GrowWise Health team provides medical cannabis patients with ongoing support to help improve their quality of life.

For more information on how to access GrowWise Health patient services, or to connect with a healthcare provider, please contact us here.

Follow the author of this blog on Twitter: @ljubicakostovic

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