Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of more than 100 chemical compounds derived from cannabis, a plant also known as marijuana. A small body of research suggests that cannabidiol may help people with fibromyalgia.
However, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved the medicinal use of CBD. Research is ongoing, and the legal status of this and other cannabinoids varies. A person should check their local laws before attempting to obtain CBD.
Nonetheless, CBD remains a popular choice. In this article, we explore why CBD may be able to relieve the pain of fibromyalgia. We also examine its most effective use and potential side effects.
Is CBD the same as marijuana?
In short, CBD is not the same as marijuana. CBD is one of many chemicals found in some strains of the marijuana plant.
However, CBD is responsible for many of medical marijuana’s health benefits. More concentrated forms of CBD, such as cannabidiol oil, could offer greater benefits with fewer risks than using medical marijuana.
The compound in marijuana that gets users high is called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). No evidence suggests that CBD can get a person high. This may make it a good option for people who:
- want to abstain from marijuana use
- have a history of bad reactions to marijuana
- are uncomfortable using mind-altering substances
In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in administering CBD to children with epilepsy, because it is effective in reducing seizures.
How does CBD for fibromyalgia work?
Only a few studies have looked at the effectiveness of CBD in treating fibromyalgia. Researchers cannot decisively say why the compound appears to reduce some fibromyalgia symptoms. They also do not understand why it works in some people and not in others.
The pain-relieving effects of CBD may be explained by the ways that this substance affects the brain. It may interrupt the nerve pathways that send signals of pain between the brain and the body.
There is also debate about whether CBD is more effective when used alone or as medical marijuana. A combination of other chemicals in the plant may intensify the positive effects of CBD and provide additional benefits. One 2006 study determined that CBD worked best in combination with THC, but little research has followed.
A 2016 study suggested that a lack of endocannabinoids — neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors — may be at the root of chronic pain syndromes, including migraines and fibromyalgia. Taking CBD may correct this deficiency, explaining the compound’s success in alleviating chronic pain.
More research is necessary to understand this process.
Is CBD effective?
Anecdotal data suggests that taking CBD oil may alleviate symptoms of fibromyalgia in some people. It may change the way that they process pain, with beneficial effects.
Quality research is now being conducted on this treatment method. In the past, research focused on medical marijuana rather than CBD in particular. New studies are finding benefits linked to this compound.
CBD has been found to effectively reduce pain, improve sleep, and diminish refractory pain in patients with fibromyalgia, migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, and similar conditions involving chronic pain.
Medical marijuana users are likely to consume some CBD, but exact quantities are unknown.
Why has finding evidence been difficult?
Many studies of CBD:
- are very small
- produce conflicting results
- do not involve placebos
- ask participants about their symptoms, without using objective measurement
The legal status of marijuana and CBD make research difficult.
Other challenges researchers face include:
- finding high-quality CBD
- finding high-quality medical marijuana
- controlling the dosage
- controlling potency
As a result, data is mixed and inconclusive. However, a small group of studies suggests that CBD is effective for fibromyalgia.
What the studies say
A 2015 review analyzed research on cannabinoid usage for chronic pain, though not specifically pain linked to fibromyalgia. Seven of the 11 studies included in the review demonstrated that CBD relieved pain.
Another 2015 review looked at the results of 28 randomized, clinically controlled trials of medical marijuana as a treatment for pain. Many of the trials focused on pain linked to multiple sclerosis. The review found that high-quality evidence supports the use of medical marijuana to treat chronic pain.
A 2017 study concluded that CBD might counteract the hypersensitivity of cells surrounding nerves in people with chronic pain, including those with fibromyalgia. However, it also points to the need for more research.
Does synthetic cannabis work?
A 2016 Cochrane review assessed the effects of a synthetic form of cannabis, called Nabilone, on fibromyalgia. Researchers found that it was poorly tolerated and had no significant benefits, compared to a placebo.
How to use CBD oil
A variety of websites offer instructions for using CBD oil, but there is almost no expert insight into usage or dosage.
Anyone interested in CBD should discuss it with a doctor who is knowledgeable about medical marijuana, CBD, and fibromyalgia.
As with any drug, it is advisable to start with a low dosage and carefully observe the body’s reaction.
There is little evidence that CBD or cannabis causes side effects.
Legality of treatment
The biggest risk associated with CBD oil involves its legality.
Several states in the U.S. have legalized the use of CBD and medical marijuana. However, the country’s Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) recently clarified that CBD remains illegal at the federal level. This could put users in legal jeopardy, particularly if they possess or take CBD in a state where medical marijuana is not legal.
CBD can be difficult to access legally, and potency may vary. It is important to find a quality source, ideally through a dispensary or healthcare provider.
Outlook and takeaway
Fibromyalgia is a chronic illness, and CBD will not cure it. Symptoms may vary with time, whether or not a person is treated. However, many with the condition find that experimenting with combinations of remedies can help to manage or eliminate symptoms.
In most cases, CBD works best when combined with medication and lifestyle remedies.
If a person lives in an area where medical marijuana and CBD are legal, they may want to consult an experienced healthcare provider. It may be necessary to experiment with varied treatment strategies over time.