Fibromyalgia Update: Can Cannabis Help Treat this Mysterious, Painful Condition?

Even if you don’t know exactly what it is, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of fibromyalgia. It's a neurological disorder that's difficult to diagnose and even harder to treat. What's worse, it affects an estimated 2% to 4% of Americans, the vast majority of them women. So, in this article, we take a look at the current fibromyalgia therapies and compare them to cannabis as a treatment, referencing a recent survey by the National Pain Foundation. The findings may surprise you.

Fibromyalgia: A General Overview

The symptoms of fibromyalgia are non-specific—chronic pain and fatigue, joint stiffness, insomnia, general weakness, headaches, digestive issues, anxiety, and cognitive issues all make the list. Because of that, the disease is often misdiagnosed or even ignored as being psychosomatic.

The medical establishment is slowly pivoting to recognize fibromyalgia as a distinct and serious condition. Even so, finding effective treatment has been challenging. The condition’s symptoms vary depending on environmental conditions, hormone levels, and other variables, making it somewhat of a moving target.

Fortunately, there’s hope in a new—make that very old—treatment. That’s right, we’re talking about taking cannabis for fibromyalgia. Before we find out how marijuana might help, let’s learn a bit about the current pharmaceutical treatments.

Current Fibromyalgia Therapies

The current first-line treatments for fibromyalgia include Cymbalta (generic name duloxetine), Savella (generic name milnacipran HCI), and Lyrica (generic name pregabalin). Though they differ in their mechanism and their details, they’re all roughly classified as antidepressants. (That's with one exception: Lyrica is more properly classified as an anti-epileptic.)

Unsurprisingly, all three medications come with some potentially hefty side effects. With these pills, you can expect to experience dizziness, confusion, mood swings, headache, tiredness, vomiting, diarrhea, sleep changes, and brief feelings similar to electric shock. Ouch!

Those side effects may be worth it for some, who experience a marked improvement in their symptoms with these drugs. However, the general consensus is that these treatments aren't wildly effective. One 2014 survey conducted by the National Pain Foundation found that roughly two-thirds of respondents reported that these drugs did “not help at all.”

Other fibromyalgia therapies include benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium. While they’re often effective in the short-term, a growing body of evidence suggests they’re bad news. In addition to being addictive and easily abused, they're toxic in the long term and can spur nasty withdrawal symptoms.

Cannabis for Fibromyalgia

Given the major drawbacks inherent to current pharmaceutical treatments for fibromyalgia, one might think that anything with the capability to lessen pain and address the anxiety associated with chronic conditions would make a better alternative.

But cannabis, as it turns out, is more than just “the next best thing.” Because it’s so effective at managing chronic pain and inflammation, anxiety, digestive issues and many of the other symptoms of fibromyalgia, it’s uniquely effective for addressing this shape-shifting disease.

In fact, in the same survey, patients discuss their experiences using cannabis for fibromyalgia. Perhaps unsurprisingly-- cannabis is a helpful medication for a litany of conditions--those patients also experienced relief from their symptoms. In fact, their answers were a mirror-image of the answers for pharmaceutical effectiveness. A full 62% of respondents reporting that cannabis was “very effective” in treating their symptoms. Only 5% said that it didn’t help at all.

Like any drug, marijuana does have risks. Some 9% of regular users can develop abuse patterns, so we recommend a slow and gradual phasing-in process. But if you’re interested in using cannabis for fibromyalgia, we encourage you to engage with your doctor or caretaker. We’d love to play a part in helping you move to a more active, productive, and pain-free life!

As a Tacoma medical marijuana dispensary, we take the unique needs of our patients — from veterans to seniors — very seriously. In fact, we have a dedicated medical staff that’s here to serve you and provide you the guidance you deserve. Contact us or stop in to learn how we can help you enhance your quality of life with medical cannabis treatments.

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Is It Time to Retire the Term ‘Marijuana'?

Way back in the 1990s, around the time of that first, groundbreaking legalization of medical cannabis—thanks, California!—it was common to hear the warning “This isn’t your parents’ marijuana!” This was a bit of caution aimed at smokers returning to the fold: Newer, more carefully cultivated cannabis flower were exponentially more potent than the “street weed” many children of the ‘60s had grown up with, and imbibing an entire joint—as many remembered doing with ease—could have unintended consequences.

Now, some 20 years into this grand experiment, cannabis advocates are wondering whether the word “marijuana” still has any relevance. Maybe it’s time once and for all to discard the old labels—and old concepts—and rediscover the role this fascinating plant has to play in our lives today. Let’s start by looking at the definition of marijuana and what marijuana used to be.  

“Marihuana:” An Unwelcome Guest from the South

Although cannabis and hemp (essentially a very low-potency commercial crop) have a long history in this country, its medicinal (and, one assumes, recreational) role was limited. Cannabis tinctures and hashish were available over the counter—as were more powerful “remedies” as cocaine and opium—where they were recommended for anxiety, muscular pain, and upset stomach. Sound familiar?

But beginning in the early 20th century, migrant laborers from Mexico brought cannabis flower—“marihuana”—and the practice of purely recreational smoking with them. Race and class-based unease about immigrants tainted cannabis, as did the rising tide of the temperance movement, culminating in Prohibition in 1919 and the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Cannabis was officially flora non grata in the United States, and for most Americans, the word “marijuana” would take on a dark and sinister cast.   

Marijuana vs. Cannabis: New Terms for a New Era

While marijuana has shed many of its negative associations—recent polls suggest a clear majority of Americans now support both medical and recreational cannabis—this is as good a time as any to reconsider what we call the plant.

For one thing, “marijuana,” as noted above, is not a botanical term; it’s a culturally specific one. We don’t call cheese “spoiled milk,” as do many Chinese, who grow up in a largely dairyless culture.

Additionally, cannabis has a different role to play in today’s society than it did a century ago. Research is uncovering deep and potentially game-changing synergies between the cannabis plant and our bodies—largely through its interaction with the Endocannabinoid System—but many physicians remain skeptical of the plant’s usefulness as medicine (thanks, Jeff Sessions).

The words we choose to describe our world send powerful messages; a rebranding of the old “marijuana” may not change everyone’s minds, but switching to the term “cannabis” can have a subtle effect, signalling that old assumption may no longer be valid, or that it’s time for a reassessment of outdated—and often negative—perceptions of this controversial plant-based medicine.

Of course, at the end of the day, we’re fine with whatever you want to call cannabis, so long as you’re deriving value—recreational, medical, spiritual—from it. But consider the potential of a subtle rebranding, the power of turning over a new leaf and seeing something you thought you knew from a different perspective. Now that’s powerful medicine.   

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