A new survey conducted in collaboration by the University of Michigan Medical School and the National Fibromyalgia Association has found that over 70% of cannabidiol (CBD) users with fibromyalgia actively substitute CBD for opioids and other pain medications, citing that CBD provides fewer side effects and often better symptom management.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes widespread pain across the body, which in turn can lead to sleep problems, fatigue, as well as emotional and mental distress.
The condition affects approximately 4 million adults in the U.S. and can only be treated through pain medication and self-management strategies.
“Fibromyalgia is not easy to treat, often involving several medications with significant side effects and modest benefits,” said Kevin Boehnke, the lead author of the study. “Further, many alternative therapies, like acupuncture and massage, are not covered by insurance.”
With the known dangers of powerful painkillers like opioids and no cure for fibromyalgia in sight, research has found that many individuals are turning to alternative pain treatment options such as CBD.
A previous survey conducted by Boehnke at the University of Michigan and published earlier this year found that around 60% of individuals with fibromyalgia had tried CBD for pain management at some point.
Many of them chose to try CBD due to inadequate relief from other medications.
And unlike THC, another common pain relief molecule derived from cannabis, CBD typically does not produce similar psychoactive effects.
“CBD is less harmful than THC, as it is non-intoxicating and has less potential for abuse,” Boehnke said. “If people can find the same relief without THC’s side effects, CBD may represent a useful harm reduction strategy.”
Respondents Prefer CBD Over Traditional Pain Medications Due to Fewer Side Effects
In the study, Boehnke and his team collected information from 878 individuals with fibromyalgia who also used CBD.
Overall, the investigators found that 72% of survey respondents indicated they had substituted some type of CBD product – such as a broad spectrum CBD or CBD isolate – for pain medications. The most commonly substituted medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, opioids, gabapentanoids, and benzodiazepines.
The majority of participants also reported that they decreased or stopped using their pain medications as a result of the CBD substitution.
The primary reason respondents cited for preferring CBD over traditional pain medications was that it offered fewer side effects and better symptom management.
In fact, Boehnke and his team found that across all symptoms categories surveyed, those who substituted CBD reported greater improvements than those that did not. The categories surveyed include pain, sleep, anxiety, fatigue, depression, memory, and overall health.
CBD as a Substitute for Pain Medications is Promising
While additional controlled research is needed for the medical community to fully understand the benefits and safety of CBD for pain management, Boehnke notes that the growing interest in substituting CBD for pain medications is promising.
“I was not expecting that level of substitution,” Boehnke said.
Findings from Boehnke’s study are consistent with others which found that 8 weeks of 15-30 mg of CBD extract a day was sufficient to improve both pain and sleep, as well as allowing 53% of study participants to decrease or discontinue opioid use.
Likewise, other investigations have revealed that CBD can aid in not only pain management but also opioid addiction and withdrawal.
With new research continuing to emerge on the health benefits of CBD, Boenkhe notes that creating space for continued discussions around using CBD for chronic pain is going to be imperative to “enhancing the therapeutic alliance and improving patient care.”