For the estimated five million Americans suffering from Fibromyalgia (FM), a chronic pain condition of unknown etiology, pain, fatigue, and depression are often a way of life. Though the US Food and Drug Administration has approved a small number of drugs to treat symptoms of FM, many patients report that these prescription pills provide little relief. By contrast, more and more patients with FM are finding effective relief from medical cannabis.
So say the results of a recent online survey of over 1,300 subjects conducted by The National Pain Foundation and NationalPainReport.com. Among those surveyed, 379 subjects said that they had used cannabis therapeutically. Sixty-two percent of them rated the substance to be “very effective” in the treatment of their condition. Only five percent of said that cannabis did “not work at all.”
By comparison, among those FM patients who had used Cymbalta (Duloxene), only eight percent rated the drug as “very effective,” and 60 percent said it did “not work at all.” Among those who had used Lyrica (Pregabalin), ten percent said that drug was “very effective,” versus 61 percent who reported no relief. Among those who had used Savella (Milnacipran), ten percent rated the drug as effective, and 68 percent said it was ineffective.
Commenting on the survey results, Dr. Mark Ware -- associate professor in family medicine and anesthesia at McGill University in Montreal -- told the National Pain Report, “We desperately need someone to step up and explore this potential for the efficacy of cannabis.”
Ware, whose own clinical research has demonstrated inhaled pot’s efficacy in subjects with hard-to-treat refractory pain, added: “The scientific rationale is there. There are some early preliminary, proof-of-concept clinical trials that demonstrate cannabis may be effective. Now your study adds additional weight that patients are reporting that cannabis may be better than the existing therapies. I think that this really should provide incentives for researchers to take a hard look at clinical trials to really explore that in much more detail.”
Some investigators already have. In 2006, German scientists reported that the administration of oral THC significantly reduced both chronic and experimentally induced pain in patients with fibromyalgia. Subjects in the trial were administered daily doses of 2.5 to 15 mg of THC, but received no other pain medication during the study. Among those participants who completed the trial, all reported significant reductions in daily pain and electronically induced pain.
More recently, Spanish researchers assessed the use of cannabis treatment of Fibromyalgia. A cursory review of the results indicates why so many FM patients are preferring pot over pills.
Investigators reported, “The use of cannabis was associated with beneficial effects on some FM symptoms. … After two hours of cannabis use, VAS (visual analogue scales) scores showed a statistically significant reduction of pain and stiffness, enhancement of relaxation, and an increase in somnolence and feeling of well being.”
They concluded, “We observe significant improvement of symptoms of FM in patients using cannabis in this study although there was a variability of patterns. This information, together with evidence of clinical trials and emerging knowledge of the endocannabinoid system and the role of the stress system in the pathophysiology of FM suggest a new approach to the suffering of these patients.”
Paul Armentano is Deputy Director of NORML