By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
Cannabis significantly reduces pain and improves quality of life for patients with fibromyalgia, according to Israeli researchers who conducted one of the first studies to look at the effectiveness of cannabis in treating fibromyalgia.
Nearly 300 patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia completed the 6-month study at a Tel Aviv clinic. Participants suffered from fibromyalgia symptoms for a median length of seven years and nine out of ten reported constant daily pain. Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread body pain, fatigue, poor sleep, anxiety and depression. Standard treatments for fibromyalgia often prove to be ineffective.
"It is commonly accepted that chronic pain can be treated with cannabis, but there is scarce evidence to support the role of medical cannabis in the treatment of fibromyalgia specifically," says Lihi Bar-Lev Schleider, head research scientist at Tikun Olam, a cannabis producer that sponsored the study.
Patents began with a low dose of cannabis every 3-4 hours that was gradually increased until it had a therapeutic effect.
Participants were treated with two Tikun Olam strains of cannabis; the high-THC “Alaska” strain and the high-CBD “Avidekel” strain, which has virtually no THC. Both strains are available as a tincture, topical oil or for use in a vaporizer.
Over 80 percent of the patients reported at least moderate improvement in their pain. At the start of the study, the median pain level for patients on a 1 to 10 scale was 9, but after six months the median pain level was reduced to 5.
In addition to lower pain intensity, nearly 93 percent of patients said they slept better and about 80 percent said there was improvement in their depression. Nearly two-thirds said their quality of life was good or very good. Appetite and sexual activity also improved.
The most common side effects were relatively minor, including dizziness, dry mouth and gastrointestinal symptoms.
“Our data indicates that medical cannabis could be a promising therapeutic option for the treatment of fibromyalgia, especially for those who failed on standard pharmacological therapies. We show that medical cannabis is effective and safe when titrated slowly and gradually,” researchers reported in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.
“Considering the low rates of addiction and serious adverse effects (especially compared to opioids), cannabis therapy should be considered to ease the symptom burden among those fibromyalgia patients who are not responding to standard care.”
During the study, about one out of five patients either stopped or reduced their use of opioid pain medication or benzodiazepines while taking cannabis.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Israel since the early 1990s. A recent survey found about 27 percent of Israeli adults have used cannabis in the past year, one of the highest rates in the world.