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.”
Article by: Paul Armentano
THE NATIONAL PAIN FOUNDATION
Marijuana Rated Most Effective for Treating Fibromyalgia
Medical marijuana is far more effective at treating symptoms of fibromyalgia than any of the three prescription drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat the disorder.
The FDA has approved only three drugs – Cymbalta, Lyrica and Savella — for the treatment of fibromyalgia. Although they generate billions of dollars in annual sales for Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Forest Laboratories and other drug makers, most who have tried the medications say they don’t work.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that 5 million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia, a poorly understood disorder characterized by deep tissue pain, fatigue, headaches, depression, and lack of sleep. There is no known cure and the disorder is difficult to treat.
“Fibromyalgia is devastating for those who must live in its grip. There is much we do not understand. We need innovative ‘out of the box’ solutions that change the face of this disease,” said Dan Bennett, MD, an interventional spine and pain surgical physician in Denver, Colorado, who is chairman of the National Pain Foundation.
Many who responded to the survey said they had tried all three FDA approved drugs.
“The prescriptions that are available for treatment have more negative side effects than positive aspects,” said one fibromyalgia sufferer.
“I haven’t found anything! Please find a cure or at least a medicine that will take our pain away,” said another.
Asked to rate the effectiveness of Eli Lilly’s Cymbalta (Duloxetine), 60% of those who tried the drug said it did not work for them. Only 8% said it was very effective and 32% said it helps a little.
Among those who tried Pfizer’s Lyrica (Pregabalin), 61% said it did not work at all. Only 10% said it was very effective and 29% said it helps a little.
Asked to rate the effectiveness of Forest Laboratories’ Savella (Milnacipran), 68% of those who said they tried the drug said it didn’t work. Only 10% said it was very effective and 22% said it helps a little.
About 70% of the people who responded to the survey said they had not tried medical marijuana – which is not surprising given that it is still illegal in most states and many countries. But those who have tried marijuana said it was far more effective than any of the FDA-approved drugs.
Sixty-two percent who have tried cannabis said it was very effective at treating their fibromyalgia symptoms. Another 33% said it helped a little and only 5% said it did not help at all.
“I’ve found nothing that has worked for me, apart from marijuana,” said one survey respondent.
“Nothing but medical marijuana has made the greatest dent in the pain and mental problems,” said another.
“Marijuana does help a LOT it numbs the pain. But it doesn’t last long and it makes your brain foggy,” wrote another fibromyalgia sufferer.
Survey respondents said massage, swimming, acupuncture, muscle relaxers and other alternative treatments also helped relieve their symptoms. Many said they take opioids to relieve their pain – although narcotic painkillers are generally not prescribed to treat fibromyalgia.
Other survey findings:
- Four out of ten (43%) fibromyalgia sufferers feel their physician is not knowledgeable about the disorder.
- Over a third (35%) feel their physician does not take their fibromyalgia seriously.
- 45% feel their family and friends do not take their fibromyalgia seriously.
- Nearly half (49%) said their fibromyalgia symptoms began at a relatively young age (18-34).
- Only 11% were diagnosed with fibromyalgia within the first year of symptoms.
- 44% said it took five or more years before they were diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Many survey respondents lamented that the disorder had taken over their lives, leaving them socially isolated, fatigued and in constant pain.
“I was once an active person and have now virtually become a hermit due to this disease,” said one.
“The worst thing about having fibromyalgia is disappointing loved ones when I can’t do things with them,” wrote one fibromyalgia sufferer.
“Having fibromyalgia is a life sentence. One simply cannot have a productive life living with this disease,” said another.
The 1,339 people who participated in the survey were self-selected as fibromyalgia sufferers. Ninety-six percent of them were female.
This was the second online survey of pain patients conducted by the National Pain Foundation and National Pain Report. The first survey found that over half of patients worry that they are perceived as “drug addicts” by pharmacists. Eight out of ten said they had stopped seeing a doctor because they felt they were treated poorly.