What Is Fibromyalgia?
For decades, fibromyalgia (FM) patients have gotten the run-around from the medical community. Ten years ago, medical professionals were still arguing over whether or not fibromyalgia actually exists. Fortunately, most of them have now come to their senses. Also known as myofascial pain syndrome, the precise cause of fibromyalgia has yet to be found.
While the primary trait is seemingly unexplained and often debilitating pain, the illness actually comes with a wide variety of symptoms that range from:
- Chronic pain with specific tender points
- Widespread stiffness in the muscles
- Sleep Disturbances
- Irritable Bowl Syndrom (IBS)
- Depression and Low Mood
The Endocannabinoid System and Fibromyalgia
There’s something interesting about the series of symptoms listed above. These are the exact same symptoms that doctors like Ethan Russo have discussed time and time again in endocannabinoid research. Dr. Ethan Russo is a neurologist and pharmacologist. He is currently the Medical Director of Phytecs, a company that develops medicines, cosmetics, and lifestyle products that incorporate cannabinoid medicines. Cannabinoids are compounds found in the marijuana plant that take the place of endocannabinoids in our bodies.
In the early 2000s, Russo suggested that fibromyalgia may actually be a part of a larger disease called Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD). You can think of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) as a giant communication network in your body. Different chemicals known as “endocannabinoids” attach to receptors on your cells, telling them what to do. The ECS links certain parts of your brain to corresponding body parts, so a disruption or chemical imbalance in the endocannabinoid system means that these communication signals get disrupted.
Here’s a brief summary of research suggesting that the endocannabinoid system may play a part in fibromyalgia:
Study 1: Is CECD A Thing?
Russo first proposed the concept of CECD in 2003. In his paper, he links IBS, migraine, and fibromyalgia. He concludes that these conditions “display common clinical, biochemical and pathophysiological patterns that suggest an underlying clinical endocannabinoid deficiency that may be suitably treated with cannabinoid medicines”.
Study 2: An Argument For Cannabinoid Medicine
In 2008, Russo expanded on his original CEDC paper and focused specifically on pain. In this article, he explained that THC reduces the hypersensitivity to pain experienced by both migraine and fibromyalgia patients. THC fills in for our own body’s natural endocannabinoid, anandamide. This is again, strong evidence linking these diseases to the endocannabinoid system.
He argues further that cannabinoid medicines have other side benefits, including anti-nausea, anti-insomnia, and neuroprotective antioxidant properties. These additional benefits may help relieve some of the other symptoms often experienced by fibromyalgia patients.
Study 3: Cannabinoids Improve Wellbeing
Researchers from the University of Manitoba treated fibromyalgia patients with Nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid. Researchers found that the cannabinoid was well-tolerated and decreased pain. At the 4-week mark in the study, patients saw drastic decreases in tender points and anxiety symptoms. They also saw significant improvements in results from Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaires (FIQ). The FIQ tests for quality of life disturbances like depression, fatigue, interference with work, muscle stiffness, and overall physical functioning.
“This suggests that nabilone is an effective treatment even for those with severe cases of fibromyalgia with marked functional impairment,” write the study authors.
Study 4: CECD Revisited
Ten years after Russo’s first CECD was published, California-based researchers revisited his initial discussion. In their literature review, they confirmed evidence that imbalances in the endocannabinoid system play a role in fibromyalgia, IBS, and chronic migraine. They also suggested that ECS deficiencies may play a key role in a host of other diverse neurological and otherwise seemingly unexplained illnesses.
How Can Cannabis Help?
The list above is only the beginning when it comes to understanding the precise connection between fibromyalgia and the ECS. Only clinical trials and more research will be able to say for sure just how effective cannabis-based medicines can be in treating this illness. In the meantime, there are a few significant ways marijuana can help relieve symptoms:
Sleep disturbances are all-too-common for fibromyalgia patients. In fact, some researchers claim that sleep disturbances coupled with tender points are the defining characteristics of the illness. Marijuana not only can help you fall asleep, but night-time medication extends your deep sleep cycle. Getting a good nights’ rest is extremely important for fibromyalgia patients, as too many interruptions increases your likelihood of pain flare-ups the next day.
To ensure that you actually get some sleep, make sure you’re smoking/vaping/eating a heavy indica strain.
Aim for strains like:
- Afghan Kush
- Grandaddy Purple
- Northern Lights
Via an online survey by the National Pain Foundation and NationalPainReport.com, 62% of cannabis-consuming fibromyalgia patients found the herb “very effective” in relieving pain. This is actually quite amazing because marijuana drastically outperformed common prescription drugs like Cymbalta, Lyrica, and Savella. Only 8-10% of patients reported that these drugs were “very effective” in controlling symptoms.
Aim for strains like:
- Sour Diesel
- Purple Trainwreck
Fun fact: you have cannabinoid receptors in your skin. So, cannabis topicals might be a good addition to ingested or inhaled marijuana. You can gently rub marijuana-infused lotions, balms, or oils onto tender points for additional pain relief.
Muscle spasms, tightness, and twitching are not uncommon in FM patients. Underneath each trigger point lies a contracted muscle. These trigger points can differ pain to different parts of the body when pressed. Muscle spasms and twitching can also happen a lot at night, interrupting sleep. Fortunately, cannabis can help.
Marijuana’s ability to put an end to muscle spasms came to light via research on Multiple Sclerosis (MS). In a 2011 study, mice injected with a mock form of MS. The injection caused extreme muscle tightness, contractions, and spasticity. After receiving CBD injections, the mice regained mobility and saw a drastic improvement in symptoms. CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid.
There is even a marijuana-derived prescription drug out on the market in many countries. The drug, Sativex, contains a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD. While muscle spasms from fibromyalgia may be different from those in MS patients, cannabis can still work wonders on any muscle that seems to have developed a mind of its own.
Aim for strains like:
- One to One
- White Berry
Having any chronic illness is never easy, but feeling constantly fatigued and in pain without explanation can be very taxing. Enjoying a little cannabis is a sure-fire way to put your mind at ease and even a smile on your face. In low doses, psychoactive THC is a potent antidepressant. Other non-psychoactive cannabinoids like CBD and CBC also have strong mood-lifting properties.
If you’re concerned about your low mood, be sure to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Otherwise, if you’re looking for the ultimate antidepressant cannabis strain, opt for something with a balanced cannabinoid profile. As in, something that’s not super high in THC but also has a good amount of CBD and other compounds like CBN, THCV, or CBC.
Aim for strains like:
- One to One
- Doug’s Varin
As stated earlier in this article, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and fibromyalgia are closely related. IBS can cause stomach pain/cramps, gassiness, and either diarrhea or constipation. As cited by Americans for Safe Access, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has concluded:
For patients . . . who suffer simultaneously from severe pain, nausea, and appetite loss, cannabinoid drugs might offer broad-spectrum relief not found in any other single medication.
We actually have endocannabinoid receptors all throughout the gut, so it makes sense that weed is helpful for patients experiencing any kind of stomach and intestinal irritation. Compounds in marijuana bind to cell receptors in these areas, causing a cascade of chemical reactions. If you had chemical imbalances in those areas in the first place, then cannabinoid medicines may help keep things more regular. For severe gastrointestinal issues like IBS, try some high THC strains.
Aim for strains like:
- Strawberry Cough
- Sour Diesel
Stories From Fibromyalgia Patients
While we await more research on the exact cause of fibromyalgia, there is still an incredible amount of anecdotal evidence about cannabis as a treatment for FM. Just to share a few:
Judith is a medical marijuana patient that has been able to get off of all prescription narcotics because of the herb. Back in 2007, she told Hemp’n Ain’t Easy TV:
When I medicate, I can actually get up and do what I need to do. […] You hear so many rumors, people get stoned and they can’t function, but for me, medication is what allows me to get up and do what I have to do. It’s what helps me drive on the days that I drive. You know, do what I have to do. Whereas the other medication, I couldn’t. I couldn’t function with it.
Morgan Freeman made headlines last year when he told The Daily Beast that when it comes to marijuana, “I’ll eat it, drink it, smoke it, snort it!”. Freeman was in a near-fatal car accident back in 1997, and ever since he’s suffered from fibromyalgia in his left arm. He tells interviewer Marlow Stern:
I have fibromyalgia pain in this arm, and the only thing that offers any relief is marijuana. They’re talking about kids who have grand mal seizures, and they’ve discovered that marijuana eases that down to where these children can have a life. That right there, to me, says, ‘Legalize it across the board!’
When Sherry first started experiencing fibromyalgia symptoms, she thought she had the flu. She kept having this “gnawing ache”, which then turned into specific tender points. After doctors failed to prescribe her medication that gave her any form of relief, she turned to marijuana. Sherry tells Cannabis Patient Network:
When you think of the term ‘pot-head’ you see this lump on a couch. What cannabis does for me is keeps me from being the couch potato. Because I can smoke three or four hits of quality medicine, and I’m up and I’m moving, and I’m doing stuff. And the pain is gone by at least 85%, if not more.
Dietary Cannabis and Pain Fighting Recipes
If smoking or eating psychoactive cannabis isn’t your thing, there is another incorporate marijuana into your fibromyalgia treatment: diet. More than anything else, this plant is a herb. You can use cannabis leaves just like any other vitamin-rich leafy green. You can also use fresh, uncured flower in juices or smoothies as super-powered nutritional supplements.
To many, the thought of eating raw weed might seem incredibly unappealing. However, there is one major benefit to keeping this plant in it’s raw form. Marijuana is chuck full of cannabinoid acids. The most abundant acids are THCa and CBDa. When you heat marijuana, you break down these two acids into a degraded form. The result is psychoactive THC and cannabinoid CBD.
When you consume active THC, your standard dose is around 10mg. Even in those who are chronically ill, consuming more than 100mg in something like a brownie can make you feel wildly uncomfortable. If you eat raw marijuana, you can take in over 60 times as manycannabinoid acids as you can when you break down the particles with heat. Your dose of THCa and CBDa jumps to around 600 to 900mg or more when you keep the plant raw.
Because of these cannabinoid acids, medical professionals like Dr. William Cortney have deemed marijuana a “dietary essential.” Using marijuana nutritionally supplements the endocannabinoid system just as the vitamins in kale supplement our basic nutritional needs.
When you eat raw cannabis, your body processes the acids and other nutrients via your own metabolism. Eating fresh weed is not psychoactive, yet your body still receives the overwhelming medical benefits associated with the plant. According to Dr. Courtney, some of the benefits include:
- Improved intestinal function
- Improved neural function
- Improved immune function
Though more clinical research is needed on dietary cannabis, many people with severe conditions have reported drastic improvements in after incorporating raw marijuana into their diet. Just take a look at this comment from a fibromyalgia patient in response to the YouTube video above:
A Few Recipes
There is, at least, one particular strain that has been bred specifically for dietary cannabis. That strain is ACDC, an acronym which stands for Alternative Cannabinoid (CBD) Dietary Cannabis. This strain in non-psychoactive, and features a ratio of 20:1 CBD to THC.
The recipes below all call for cannabis products that have been heated. If you’d like to keep these recipes psychoactive, stick to the directions and use a THC dominant strain. If you would like to experiment with raw weed, swap out the infused cannabis products for some fresh flower or fan leaves.
- Green and Oh-So-Groovy Smoothie – This smoothie is the perfect way to introduce some raw cannabis into your diet; just swap out some of the spinach leaves for some fan leaves or throw in a flower or two. Creamy avocado turns this nutrient-dense creation into a smooth tasting breakfast. Lemon also has antispasmodic properties, helping to relieve muscle tension.
- Lean and Green Antioxidant Flush – Other than the marijuana, it’s turmeric that gives this juice an extra kick. Turmeric has been shown to help fight fatigue and ease pain. Of course, the kale and fibrous sweet potato won’t do you any harm, either.
- Bhang Ki Chutney – This chutney showcases bhang paste, a psychoactive preparation of cannabis from India. Combined with mint and chili peppers, mild natural painkillers, this dip makes for the perfect snack on days you need a little extra medication. Pair with some basmati rice or your favorite cracker. This recipe might be a little challenging to make raw, but you can always add some fresh fan leaves to the chutney after you cook it.
If this article hasn’t already made clear, those with fibromyalgia may be able to find hope in marijuana. Though much research is still to be done, signs are promising and patients are already experiencing relief thanks to the herb. Researchers like Dr. Ethan Russo are working feverishly to further connect illnesses like fibromyalgia to endocannabinoid deficiencies. In the meantime, there are many different ways to experiment with getting the most out of your medical cannabis.