Fibromyalgia and Cannabinoids
Fibromyalgia is a long-term disease with an unknown etiology (study of the causality of the disease) and is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain. It is believed to affect more women than men, and its cause is still being studied. It has been shown to develop after physically or emotionally stressful events. Incidents such as serious injury, childbirth, and death in the family can trigger the development of fibromyalgia. Another theory is that it may be genetically inherited. It may also be due to changes in the levels of certain chemicals in the brain. Abnormalities in brain chemistry can cause changes in the way the central nervous system responds to pain signals throughout the body. In addition, it interferes with the way the brain processes pain.
The main symptom of fibromyalgia is long-term, widespread chronic pain. Not only this, people can experience many other debilitating symptoms such as:
- Increased sensitivity to pain
- Extreme fatigue
- Difficulty sleeping
- Muscle stiffness
- Memory and concentration problems
- Mental health problems such as depression
- Irritable bowel syndrome and problems with digestion
What causes fibromyalgia?
As mentioned above, there are some theories about the cause of fibromyalgia. One of the main theories is that it could be due to a chemical change in the Central Nervous System (CNS). This change in chemistry can lead to problems in the way the CNS handles pain signals from all over the body. The CNS is a system of specialized cells that transmits pain signals from the body to the brain. In this case, any change in this tuned system results in increased sensitivity to pain.
What has been observed in people living with fibromyalgia is that they have lower levels of certain hormones. The hormones serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine have been found in much lower levels in the brains of those with fibromyalgia. These hormones are involved in regulating your mood, sleep, stress responses, appetite and behavior. Not only this, but they are also involved in processing pain signals to the brain.
Current treatment options for fibromyalgia
Currently, there is no cure for fibromyalgia. As with many diseases, treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and improving people's quality of life. A common treatment option is a mixture of antidepressants and pain relievers. Conventional painkillers are often ineffective in reducing the pain associated with fibromyalgia. This is due to the type of pain that occurs. Many over-the-counter painkillers work by reducing any inflammation that causes pain. This is ineffective at reducing pain that comes from confusing pain signals, not inflammation.
Stronger painkillers may be prescribed when OTC medicines are not enough. Opioid-based painkillers are much stronger and can effectively reduce pain in people with fibromyalgia. However, people are discouraged by the many negative side effects such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, constipation, and more. There is also the subsequent risk of developing tolerance to strong pain relievers, and in some cases, addiction. Opioids pose a very high risk of addiction and can even be fatal when taken over a long period of time.
Other techniques for managing the symptoms of fibromyalgia include changes in diet, increasing exercise levels, acupuncture, massage, group or individual therapy sessions, and more. Treatment involves a mixture of all techniques for many people living with fibromyalgia. Each person has their own way of managing their pain.
Could cannabinoids help?
Cannabinoids such as CBD and THC are well known for their anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving qualities. In fact, many people living with fibromyalgia already use medical cannabis along with more conventional treatments. It reportedly helps relieve pain, promotes better sleep, and may also provide relief from the negative mental health aspects of the disease. A previous study from 2011 examined the effects of cannabis in 56 subjects with fibromyalgia. 28 of the patients were already cannabis users, while the remaining 28 were not. Just two hours after use, the subjects reported a significant reduction in the sensation of pain and stiffness. In addition, the subjects expressed that they felt more relaxed and their feelings of well-being increased.
Because of the illegality of recreational and medicinal THC use in most parts of the world, this is not a viable option for many people. However, CBD is legal in most countries because it has a high safety profile and a low risk of addiction. Although fibromyalgia is a predominantly pain-related condition, it comes with other side effects. People with chronic conditions like fibromyalgia can also develop more serious mental health problems, such as depression. CBD has shown great potential as an antidepressant in both animal and human studies. A recent 2018 study found that CBD provides faster antidepressant relief than common pharmaceutical drugs. Most studies show that cannabidiol has a positive interaction with serotonin receptors in the brain. This may be one reason why it is helpful in helping with feelings of depression.
CBD is a health supplement, used to support homeostasis and maintain a healthy immune system. It is not a cure, nor is it a medicine, but it can provide relief from many physical and emotional problems. Medical research is limited due to its cost, but what has been discovered so far is very promising. In addition, the anecdotal evidence for the effectiveness of cannabinoids such as CBD is overwhelming. It's always best to do as much research as possible, and seek your doctor's advice if you're thinking of trying CBD.
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Fiz, J., et al. (2011). Cannabis Use in Patients with Fibromyalgia: Effect on Symptoms Relief and Health-Related Quality of Life. [online] NCBI Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3080871/ [Accessed 7 Feb. 2020].
Sales AJ, e. (2018). Cannabidiol Induces Rapid and Sustained Antidepressant-Like Effects Through Increased BDNF Signaling and Synaptogenesis in the Prefrontal Cortex. - PubMed - NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29869197 [Accessed 7 Feb. 2020].