Being as fibromyalgia is so common and without a cure, many have looked to alternative therapies as a way of reducing pain. One natural substance that’s been garnering a lot of attention is cannabidiol (CBD). Unfortunately, while research concerning CBD for fibromyalgia itself is slim, we do know a decent amount about how CBD affects pain levels.
Throughout this article, we’re going to explore the health condition of fibromyalgia and how CBD products (such as CBD oil) may just be able to help.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is one of the most common syndromes of chronic pain and is thought to affect upwards of 8% of the world’s population. The disease causes physical pain all over the body as well as other symptoms including: ¹
- Cognitive decline
- Fatigue (sometimes chronic fatigue)
- Memory problems (a condition often referred to as fibro fog) ²
Researchers aren’t clear yet how fibromyalgia develops. In some cases, the disease can run in families indicating a genetic link. But in other cases, fibromyalgia can develop after a psychological or physical trauma (e.g. depression and sports injuries).
With no cure yet for fibromyalgia, treatments can vary but typically involve a combination of pain medication and other rehabilitative interventions to help individuals manage their pain levels (e.g. chiropractic and aerobic exercises). ³
CBD for Fibromyalgia: What Do We Know?
The medical cannabis plant contains a combination of both CBD (or cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). While THC causes psychoactive effects, CBD is non-psychoactive and has been used as a treatment option for a wide range of chronic pain including joint pain, nerve pain, and even cancer pain. ⁴
Unfortunately, all research studies on fibromyalgia so far test a combination of both CBD and THC, so it’s not clear yet how potent CBD would be as a treatment on its own. But here’s what researchers have found so far:
- A 2018 study from Israel surveyed 26 fibromyalgia patients and asked them to try smoking medical cannabis as a treatment option and compare it to their previous treatments using analgesics and mild opiates. Patients received on average 26 grams of cannabis a month for approximately 10 months. ⁵ All patients reported an improvement in their fibromyalgia symptoms, and 13 patients chose to stop taking other medications and rely on medical cannabis alone.
- In 2019, a study in the Netherlands found that fibromyalgia patients who took a combination of CBD and THC reported reduced pain compared to taking a placebo (18 out of 20 patients). ⁶
- In 2019, another Israel research study of 239 fibromyalgia patients who were given on average 20 grams of cannabis a day, found that 80% reported a “moderate” or “significant” improvement in their fibromyalgia symptoms after 6 months. ⁷ Of the 196 patients who also experience sleep problems, 73.4% said they saw improvement, and 13.3% claimed their sleep problems completely disappeared. Of the 125 patients who experienced depression-related symptoms, 80.0% reported some level of improvement.
However, 28 participants chose to dropout due to moderate side effects, with the most common including dizziness, dry mouth, and hyperactivity.
While all 3 of these studies show positive effects of cannabis on fibromyalgia symptoms, it’s important to remember that the research is still in its infancy.
Studies on cannabis and fibromyalgia have just started springing up in the last couple of years, and most look only at a small number of participants (< 500) and examine the effects in the short term (less than 1 year).
Likewise, until studies using only CBD are done, we can’t be sure how successful CBD is as a fibromyalgia treatment on its own.
Other Research on CBD and Pain
While CBD studies in fibromyalgia patients are lacking, other laboratory studies using animals and brain tissue has led to some promising insights.
In both mice and rats, CBD and THC can protect the animals from brain inflammation which is part of what causes brain damage, memory problems, and fibro fog is seen in human patients. ⁸ CBD seems to reduce the activity of certain neurons in the brain, preventing them from triggering the development of chronic pain. ⁹
CBD has also been shown to lower the stress response in mice, and previous research has shown that chronic stress could trigger the development of fibromyalgia. ¹⁰ ¹¹
Likewise, when CBD is administered orally or applied topically to inflamed joints in rats, it reduces their pain behavior. Both joint inflammation and pain is also a key symptom of fibromyalgia. ¹²
Is CBD Still Worth Trying?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disease and while CBD will not cure it, studies have found that at least for some, CBD can help alleviate the associated chronic pain. ¹³ With that, it’s assumed using CBD may work as an additional therapy for when people treat fibromyalgia.
While additional research is still needed, some reports suggest that CBD may be a safer alternative as compared to other pain-relieving pharmaceuticals such as opioids and NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). ¹⁴
A systematic review of 275 research papers conducted by the European League Against Rheumatism found no clear evidence that either strong opioids or NSAIDS improved health outcomes for fibromyalgia patients. ³
A survey of 2897 individuals in the U.S. found that respondents overwhelmingly reported that cannabis provided pain relief better than or at least on par with opioid-based medications. 81% of respondents agreed that taking cannabis by itself was actually more effective at treating their pain than conventional opioid-based pharmaceuticals. ¹⁴
Nonetheless, what works for one person may not work for everyone else. Until additional research on the effects of CBD on fibromyalgia symptoms, it’s best to approach with caution.
Always seek the advice of the medical professional treating your fibromyalgia before trying CBD. And always start with the “suggested use” amount labeled on your CBD product before trying a higher dose.