Fibromyalgia is a mysterious chronic pain syndrome that affects anywhere from 3 to 6 million Americans. It’s characterized by widespread muscle pain, by tenderness in the neck, spine, shoulders, and hips, and by fatigue. In fact, it is often associated with chronic fatigue syndrome, but victims of fibromyalgia have the advantage: Since their syndrome has a Greek name, it sounds more legit.
As is the case with many poorly understood medical conditions with few medical options, fibromyalgia patients have been willing to embrace medical cannabis (one study puts that number at 13 percent), and doctors are not averse to recommending it—despite a scarcity of clinical trials. This is known as the “Meh, what the hell?” school of medical thought.
While cannabis has been shown to be effective at treating chronic nerve pain (which makes sense, because one of the places cannabis receptors are most abundant is in our nerves), the (non-anecdotal) evidence for quelling the musculoskeletal pain caused by fibromyalgia is thinner, and it comes entirely from patients’ self-reporting. That doesn’t mean the evidence is false, just that we should be on guard for possible bias, whether conscious or not.
In a controlled, double-blind trial that appeared in The Journal of Pain in 2007, fibromyalgia patients who took synthetic THC reported “significant” improvement in pain and anxiety. A similar study from 2010 found that THC improved sleep, but it did not find any effect on mood. Finally, a 2011 study looked at cannabis users in the wild—asking smokers and eaters of marijuana to report their success treating their fibromyalgia. Researchers found a statistically significant reduction of pain and stiffness, plus increased feelings of relaxation, drowsiness, and well being.
The upshot? If you’re an adult looking for fibromyalgia relief, cannabis is certainly an option. The effects are temporary, and we don’t know exactly why it works in this case, but the side effects are mild. And beside, it can be a little fun in its own right.