By Ginevra Liptan, MD
Editor’s Note: Ginevra Liptan, MD is both a fibromyalgia patient and physician specialist. Her new book The FibroManual: A Complete Fibromyalgia Treatment Guide for You…And Your Doctor releases May 3, 2016.
My last blog post examined the current legal and medical status of using marijuana as medicine. But how about specifically for treating fibromyalgia symptoms?
Many of my fibromyalgia patients report that medical marijuana/cannabis reduces their pain and improves sleep. A study of 28 fibromyalgia patients reported that two hours after use of cannabis they had a significant reduction of pain and stiffness.
The use of cannabis to relieve symptoms of fibromyalgia is not new. Around 2000 BC, the Chinese Emperor Shen-Nun described marijuana’s ability to diminish pain and inflammation and noted that it “undoes rheumatism” (an antiquated term for fibromyalgia). Fast forward to the U.S. in the early 1900s and we find medicinal cannabis extracts marketed by Merck, Bristol-Meyers, and Eli Lilly, among other pharmaceutical companies, along with medical textbooks listing numerous indications for cannabis including joint and muscle pain.
But then cannabis use was outlawed in 1936. All access for medical purposes was lost until 1996, when California became the first state in U.S. to legalize medical marijuana use. So now we find ourselves about 60 years behind in medical understanding of the cannabis plant.
We do know that the two primary active ingredients of cannabis are THC and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is a strong analgesic (pain reliever) and is also strong anti-inflammatory—in fact, it is 20 times stronger than aspirin! THC is responsible for the psychoactive effects or “high” of cannabis. CBD also has some pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties, along with strong anti-anxiety and muscle relaxation effects. CBD has the effect of lowering the psychoactive effects of THC, so cannabis with equal amounts of CBD to THC tend to be the most medicinally effective by providing desired pain relief with less of the undesirable “high.”
But we currently don’t have any standardized medication options beyond the two THC- only prescription medications, dronabinol and nabilone, which are expensive and tend to cause lots of side effects. Pharmaceutical companies are now racing to better find ways to produce standardized ingredients and dosing of cannabis.