Fibromyalgia is a such a misunderstood disease that not only is there no cure, but doctors had thought psychological rather than physical problems were solely behind the condition in patients.
The disorder, which affects more women than men, is characterized by significant musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Symptoms sometimes begin after a physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress. In other cases, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event.
Many people who have fibromyalgia also have tension headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.
The pain resulting from fibromyalgia is often described as a constant dull ache that has lasted for at least three months, occurs on both sides of the body and above and below the waist. Victims of the disease often wake up tired, even though they slept a normal number of hours, but some wake up from the pain and have other sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea. Some patients complain of a “fibro fog” that impairs their ability to focus, pay attention and concentrate on mental tasks.
So far, drugs have shown only partial efficacy to relieve symptoms.
Among the suggested factors involved in fibromyalgia are genetics (it tends to run in families, and there may be certain genetic mutations that raise the risk); infections. Some illnesses appear to trigger or aggravate fibromyalgia; physical or emotional trauma. Fibromyalgia can sometimes be triggered by a physical trauma, such as a car accident or by psychological stress. The pain may come from repeated nerve stimulation that causes patients’ brains to change due to an excessive increase in the levels of neurotransmitters that signal pain.
But, thanks to a new and significant Israeli study, relief may be on the way for fibromyalgia victims. They have found that medical cannabis – which is legal in Israel and is used by tens of thousands of patients of all ages who have cancer and other serious conditions – is an effective and safe treatment for it, said Prof. Victor Novack, head of clinical research at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba.
The study, which was recently published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, was conducted by Novack in collaboration with Lihi Bar-Lev Schleider, a doctoral student at the Center for the Study of Cannabis and internal medicine specialist Dr. Yiftah Sagi and Prof. Mahmoud Abu Shakra, a rheumatology expert at the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ben-Gurion University.
Sagi, who also works at Soroka’s rheumatology unit, analyzed data on 367 fibromyalgia patients who were treated with medical cannabis between 2015 and 2017 throughout Israel and were followed up for six months. This is reportedly the largest group of fibromyalgia patients in the world to be treated with medical cannabis.
The study found that after six months of cannabis therapy, 81.8% reported a significant improvement in control of their symptoms, with mean pain decreasing from 9.0 to 5.0 pointgs. Symptoms Fibromyalgia characteristics such as sleep disturbances, depression and weakness showed significant improvement after half a year of treatment. In addition, an improvement was achieved in patients’ quality of life and daily functioning. Finally, the incidence of adverse events was relatively low: 7.9% reported dizziness, 6.7% suffered from dry mouth and 5.4% complained about nausea or vomiting.
“Fibromyalgia is a pain disorder with severe consequences for a large number of patients,” said Novack. “But patients have continued to suffer from chronic pain, depression and somatic. Now we believe medical cannabis is an additional treatment that may benefit these patients effectively and with a relatively few side effects in prolonged treatment. I hope that further studies will corroborate our findings in the future.”