Medical cannabis appears to be a safe and effective treatment option to manage symptoms of fibromyalgia, a study says.
The findings of the study, “Safety and Efficacy of Medical Cannabis in Fibromyalgia,” were published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.
Fibromyalgia is a complex condition characterized by widespread muscle pain, fatigue, sleep disturbance, and memory and mood issues. Treatment for fibromyalgia is challenging, and normally consists of a combination of pharmacological therapies — antidepressants and anticonvulsants — and non-pharmacological approaches, such as aerobic exercise, cognitive‐behavioral therapy, and rehabilitation programs.
“Medical cannabis represents a promising therapeutic option for fibromyalgia patients due to its effectiveness and relatively low rate of serious adverse effects. Although the identification of cannabinoid receptors and their endogenous [natural] ligands has triggered a large body of studies, there is a paucity of large‐scale and prospective clinical trials regarding their role in fibromyalgia,” the investigators said.
To learn more, a group of researchers from Tikun Olam, one of the largest producers of medical cannabis worldwide, collaborated with investigators from the Ben‐Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. The team set out to examine the safety and effectiveness of Tikun’s medical cannabis in people with fibromyalgia.
Between 2015 and 2017, the prospective observational study enrolled a total 367 patients with fibromyalgia, who were treated with a combination of Tikun’s medical cannabis variants. These included a high cannabidiol strain, Avidekel, and a high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) strain, called Alaska. Treatments were given at the Tikun Olam cannabis clinic in Tel Aviv, Israel. Women comprised more than 80% of the patients studied, a figure that proportionately corresponds to the number of people with fibromyalgia in general, the researchers said.
After six months of treatment, participants were asked to complete a series of questionnaires to assess changes in perceived pain, overall quality of life, and other fibromyalgia-related symptoms.
From the 367 patients initially enrolled, 28 (7.6%) failed to complete the six-month treatment course. Among the 339 who completed the course, 70.8% were willing to provide feedback on the treatment by completing questionnaires.
Data from the questionnaires showed treatment with medical cannabis led to a significant reduction in pain intensity, as assessed by an 11-point numeric rating scale. Scores dropped from a median of 9.0 points at baseline to 5.0 points by the end of the six-month treatment period.
In addition to pain reduction, 73.4% of participants reported improvements in sleep quality, while 80.8% cited betterment of depression and other mental symptoms. A total 61.9% reported improvement in different components of quality of life, including appetite and sexual activity. Overall, 81.1% of the patients claimed the treatment had been successful.
“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,” Lihi Bar-Lev Schleider, head research scientist at Tikun Olam, said in a press release. “We hope these findings will lead to more research and acceptance of cannabis as a safe and effective treatment for pain and other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.”
Remarkably, according to data from the study, most patients ceased, reduced, or at least maintained the dosage of medications they were routinely taking to control their symptoms while they participated in the study. In addition, 22.2% of the participants who were taking opioids, including morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, and percocet, stopped or reduced their dosage during the study.
In general, treatment was considered safe and well-tolerated. The most common adverse events occurring during the study included dizziness (7.9%), dry mouth (6.7%) and gastrointestinal symptoms (5.4%).
“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,” the researchers said.
“Moreover, our results highlight the need for further research to identify the effect of cannabis on other clinical conditions that are associated with fibromyalgia: cognitive impairment, fatigue, and additional chronic pain syndromes. Future studies should aim to compare medical cannabis to the standard therapy of fibromyalgia, to establish the proper place of cannabis in fibromyalgia therapeutic arsenal,” they added.