Cannabis Effective in Treating Fibromyalgia

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.

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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.

Medical Cannabis Effective for Elderly Pain Patients

By Pat Anson, Editor

Medical marijuana can significantly reduce chronic pain in elderly patients without adverse effects, according to a new study by Israeli researchers that found many patients were also able stop or reduce their use of opioid medication.

Researchers at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) surveyed over 2,700 patients 65 years or older who received medical cannabis. Over 60 percent of the patients were prescribed cannabis for chronic pain due to cancer, Parkinson's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis or other medical issues.

drug policy alliance image

drug policy alliance image

After six months of treatment, more than 93 percent of respondents reported their pain dropped from a median of eight to four on a 10-point pain scale. Nearly 60 percent who originally reported "bad" or "very bad" quality of life said their lives had improved to "good" or "very good." And over 70 percent reported moderate to significant improvement in their medical condition.

About a third of the patients used cannabis-infused oil, about 24 percent smoked marijuana, and about six percent used a vaporizer. The most common side effects from cannabis use were dizziness and dry mouth, researchers reported in The European Journal of Internal Medicine .

"We found medical cannabis treatment significantly relieves pain and improves quality of life for seniors with minimal side effects reported," said Victor Novack, MD, a professor of medicine at BGU and head of the Soroka Cannabis Clinical Research Institute.

"While older patients represent a large and growing population of medical cannabis users, few studies have addressed how it affects this particular group, which also suffers from dementia, frequent falls, mobility problems, and hearing and visual impairments."

The survey found that nearly one in five patients stopped using opioid medication or reduced their dose. The findings are at odds with a recent study by the RAND Corporation, which found that medical marijuana laws in the U.S. have not reduced demand for prescription opioids.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Israel since the early 1990s. Israel’s Ministry of Health still considers cannabis a “dangerous drug,” but adds “there is evidence that cannabis could help patients suffering from certain medical conditions and alleviate their suffering.”

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.

Most Medical Marijuana Patients Benefit From Treatment

By Pat Anson, Editor

Over 90 percent of long term medical marijuana patients reported significant improvement in their pain and nausea while using cannabis, according to researchers at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Israel for over 10 years, but this was the first in-depth study of patients who have a cannabis prescription from Israel’s Ministry of Health.

"Although medical cannabis has been legal for a decade and is licensed to patients to relieve pain and other symptoms, there has been no information about the users themselves," said Pesach Shvartzman, a professor at Ben-Gurion’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

The study examined more than 2,000 cancer and non-cancer patients using medical marijuana. Almost all said they sought a cannabis prescription after trying conventional treatments that were ineffective. Patients were interviewed by telephone in the first three months of treatment and subsequently every four months for two years. 

Users reported that their pain, nausea, anxiety, appetite, and general feeling had improved. Fewer than one in 10 stopped using marijuana due to side effects or ineffectiveness after the first interview, and only six percent after the second interview.

About three out of four patients experienced minor side effects that included dry mouth, hunger, sleepiness or “high” sensations.

Three-quarters of the patients smoked marijuana, while one in five used a vaporizer or cannabis oil.

Israel still considers cannabis a “dangerous drug” and it is not registered as a medicine. However, the Ministry of Health says “there is evidence that cannabis could help patients suffering from certain medical conditions and alleviate their suffering.”

There are over 20,000 registered marijuana users in Israel. About 50 new users are approved each week by the Health Ministry.

Ministry of Health regulations allow for medical marijuana to be used to treat cancer symptoms and to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. Eight farms have Ministry of Health permission to grow cannabis for medicinal use, and four companies have permission to deliver cannabis to cancer patients.