Story by NICO
For the estimated 5 to 10 million Americans, mostly women, who suffer from it, Fibromyalgia is a real pain. The widespread disease is often misunderstood and commonly misdiagnosed. A condition of chronic pain, Fibromyalgia (FM) is characterized by mild to severe pain and tenderness all over the body, especially the muscles, and is often paired with intense fatigue, anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances. The diagnosis for FM is not straightforward and doctors will often run multiple tests before even considering FM as a diagnosis. There is a blood test to help determine if a patient has Fibromyalgia, but the efficacy is unknown and the test costs more than $700. Sometimes doctors will diagnose based on if a patient has had widespread pain for more than three months, but many people suffer with their symptoms for months or even years before getting a diagnosis. On top of that, there is currently no medical treatment that alleviates all of the symptoms, and the disease is incurable.
The FDA has approved three prescription drugs for the treatment of Fibromyalgia symptoms: Cymbalta, Lyrica, and Savella. According to a survey of 1,300 FM patients conducted by the National Pain Foundation, most sufferers agree that none of the three drugs are effective at alleviating FM symptoms. The patients were asked to review their experiences with the three prescription drugs and the results were unfortunate. Of those patients that had tried Cymbalta, Lyrica, and Savella, 60%, 61%, and 68% respectively reported that the drug had no positive effect on their FM symptoms whatsoever. Only 8 to 10 percent out of the patients surveyed reported that any of these drugs were very effective for their FM symptoms.
Many of the patients who were surveyed reported that the only thing that worked for relieving their symptoms was cannabis, whether they had it medically prescribed or they self-medicated.
Of the patients who had tried cannabis to treat their symptoms, 62% reported that it was very effective at relieving symptoms, 33% reported that cannabis helped relieve their symptoms a little, with only 5% reporting that it did not help relieve symptoms at all. Based on these statistics cannabis is significantly more effective and possibly the most effective known treatment for FM symptoms.
Results from recent medical studies back up these Fibromyalgia patients’ reportings. A study conducted in Barcelona, Spain, set out to observe the effect of medical cannabis on Fibromyalgia symptoms. They used two groups of 28 patients, one group which used cannabis through self-administration, and a control group which did not use cannabis at all. The methods of ingestion among the cannabis group included smoking, oral consumption and a mixture of both. The frequency of use varied among the group, with most using it daily, and the rest using it 1 to 4 times per week. Of the daily users, 12 reported using the cannabis once per day, 11 used it 2 to 3 times per day, and 3 used it more than 3 times per day. One interesting note about the setup is that the patients seemed to have to acquire their cannabis supply independently of the study. The supply sources varied, with 14 people obtaining the cannabis from friends or family members, 7 receiving it from an illicit market, 5 growing their own plants, and 2 getting it through associations. 68 percent of the patients ended up reducing their medical treatments with the use of cannabis. The study revealed that two hours after the cannabis use, most patients showed a significant improvement in their FM symptoms, including pain reduction, relaxation, ability to sleep, and feelings of well-being.
Another case study conducted by the Canadian Marihuana Medical Access Regulation followed 30 people suffering from chronic pain conditions, including Fibromyalgia, to see how cannabis use affected their symptoms for an average of 23 months. These were patients whose medical conditions had not responded to traditional medical therapies. Again, most patients experienced immense relief from their symptoms. 93 percent of the patients in the study reported significant relief of pain, anxiety, and sleep, as well as improvement of function, described by ability to move, work, socialize, and concentrate.
From medical studies to patient surveys, it has become very clear that cannabis has great potential to relieve Fibromyalgia sufferers of their debilitating symptoms. However, if a patient would like to legally buy medical marijuana to treat their illness, then they better live in Illinois. Currently, this is the only state that lists Fibromyalgia, and only “severe” cases at that, as a qualifying medical condition for obtaining a medical marijuana card. Nineteen other states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon list varying descriptions of chronic pain as a qualifying condition, and the rest of the states leave sufferers completely out of luck.
With Fibromyalgia being as widespread and potentially debilitating as it is, it is unclear why more states are not listing Fibromyalgia as a qualifying condition. Even lumping FM into a vague chronic pain category does not do its patients justice. Fibromyalgia entails much more than just chronic pain, and is even thought to be closely related to chronic fatigue syndrome. As such a prevalent and unique disease, sufferers deserve to have it specifically listed as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis in their state.
Even worse, another 19 states including New York, Florida, Texas and Utah allow medical cannabis for certain conditions, but do not even include a chronic pain category, let alone list Fibromyalgia as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis use. This leaves patients with the only legal option of seeking traditional medical drugs for their symptoms, which clearly lack effectiveness. One tactic for FM sufferers living in these states who want medical cannabis is to petition their state governing bodies who are responsible for medical cannabis laws to include Fibromyalgia as a qualifying condition. As the condition becomes more widely diagnosed, hopefully we will begin to see Fibromyalgia listed in more states as a qualifying condition so that the mass amount of sufferers can receive the relief they deserve.
One tactic for FM sufferers living in these states who want medical cannabis is to petition their state governing bodies who are responsible for medical cannabis laws to include Fibromyalgia as a qualifying condition. As the condition becomes more widely diagnosed, hopefully we will begin to see Fibromyalgia listed in more states as a qualifying condition so that the mass amount of sufferers can receive the relief they deserve.