Fibromyalgia is a complex, chronic condition that causes pain, fatigue and mental health issues. Today, over 2% of the American population has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, making it one of the most common chronic pain conditions. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the disorder. For example, scientists are still unsure about what causes it, whether it is an autoimmune condition, and how it’s affected by lifestyle factors.
More importantly, we’re still lacking safe painkillers that work for people with fibromyalgia. So recent studies on the use of medical cannabis for fibromyalgia are particularly promising in the field, as are those on the benefits of CBD. In this article, we examine the effects of CBD on the body, and how it can help to manage fibromyalgia symptoms such as pain, sleep disorders and mental illness.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes pain and discomfort in the muscles and bones. People who suffer from the condition also describe dealing with alertness issues. For example, they may experience chronic fatigue, brain fog and difficulty falling asleep.
Fibromyalgia is very widespread, but mainly affects women. It’s also more common in middle-aged people than children, and postmenopausal women are one of the most at-risk groups for developing this condition.
Although it’s perfectly possible to live with fibromyalgia, this condition can cause painful complications. On average, women with fibromyalgia report having a lower quality of life than women without the condition. People with fibromyalgia are also over three times more likely to develop major depression than the rest of the population.
To date, there is no known cure for fibromyalgia. Doctors focus on relieving its most painful symptoms so that fibromyalgia patients can live as normal a life as possible.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia
To diagnose fibromyalgia, health professionals need to use a wide array of tests, including pain scores, physical examinations, and blood tests. The main criterion for a fibromyalgia diagnosis is widespread pain that lasts for over three months. Widespread means that you feel pain above and below the waist, on both sides of the body.
Because fibromyalgia doesn’t show up on tests with any certainty, doctors may misdiagnose it for other chronic pain conditions and other conditions may also be misdiagnosed for fibromyalgia.
The surest way to accurately recognize fibromyalgia is to look at symptoms in all their complexity. The most common ones are:
- Pain and stiffness in many different areas of the body
- Chronic fatigue
- Depression and anxiety
- Brain fog, difficulty concentrating or remembering things
Some other symptoms, which are a bit rarer, include:
- Digestive issues like IBS, bloating or constipation
- Dry eyes
- Bladder problems
Causes of fibromyalgia
There are many theories for what causes fibromyalgia, but so far, there is no consensus in the medical community. We do know there may be a genetic component, as fibromyalgia seems to run in certain families. However, scientists believe that fibromyalgia has to be “triggered” for a predisposed person to develop the condition. Possible triggers could include:
- Traumatic accidents that also cause PTSD
- Poor lifestyle, particularly being overweight
- Viral infections
- Long-term stress
Treatment of fibromyalgia
Although we can’t treat fibromyalgia, many people are able to have a good quality of life with this condition by taking certain measures. After a fibromyalgia diagnosis, the first thing to do is start making lifestyle changes.
Fibromyalgia is not necessarily caused by an unhealthy lifestyle, but people with fibromyalgia suffer more when they eat unhealthily and don’t exercise. That’s why they benefit from:
- Eating a healthy diet full of fruit and vegetables
- Hydrating well
- Exercising a lot
- Practicing a calming activity like yoga, meditation or tai chi
Because fibromyalgia patients often struggle with mental illness, they can also benefit from therapy or a support group. Often, doctors also prescribe antidepressant or anti-anxiety medicines to people who suffer from fibromyalgia-related mental symptoms.
Finally, the most pervasive symptom of fibromyalgia is pain, which can be treated with pain relievers. Traditionally, doctors prescribed opioid-based medicines to people with chronic pain, but those often did more harm than good. With opioids’ strong potential for addiction, patients needed to constantly increase doses and became dependent on the substance. Today, most health professionals prescribe NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen to help fibromyalgia patients manage pain. However, those can also have serious side effects in the long term.
When dealing with fibromyalgia, patients usually have to go through a few different treatment options to find relief from their symptoms. For example, they may need to start an exercise regime, eat better, take anti-depressants and attend group therapy. Today, research also suggests that taking CBD daily could be a complementary treatment option, helping those with fibromyalgia to stop relying on potentially harmful painkillers.
What is CBD?
CBD stands for cannabidiol. It’s a cannabinoid compound that we extract from the cannabis plant for its medicinal purposes.
Cannabinoids are molecules that bind with certain receptors in our bodies (CB1 and CB2), affecting the working of the endocannabinoid system. So when we ingest cannabinoids like CBD, we notice changes on a physical and mental level. For example, CBD causes a decrease in pain, inflammation, nausea, and anxiety because these functions are all controlled by the endocannabinoid system. This system is crucially important to the healthy functioning of our bodies, which is why CBD can help with so many different symptoms. For example, we find that it can:
- Reduce seizures
- Calm down inflammation
- Fight arthritis pain
- Lower anxiety
- Promote deeper sleep
- Lift mood
- Ease digestion
Non-prescription CBD products are not currently approved by the FDA. However, research suggests that this molecule is effective in treating a number of conditions. We recommend consulting with a medical professional to see if prescription CBD could help your condition.
How can CBD help with fibromyalgia?
CBD could help people with fibromyalgia because it’s effective in treating many of its symptoms. For example, it acts as a natural painkiller, fights inflammation, and can even improve mental health. Here’s what the research says.
Pain is the most debilitating symptom of fibromyalgia. As with any chronic pain condition, fibromyalgia offers a unique challenge: patients are looking for pain relief that works in the long term, but most painkillers are only safe to use for limited periods of time.
Thankfully, CBD may be a good alternative to conventional painkillers. Its effects on the endocannabinoid system make it a natural painkiller, effective on different types of pain (including neuropathic and inflammatory pain). And compared to NSAIDS and opioid-based medicines, it has a much better safety profile. CBD doesn’t have any known long-term side effects, it isn’t addictive, and it doesn’t cause a tolerance even if you take it every day.
According to some patients, the mental symptoms of fibromyalgia are worse than the physical ones. The condition can cause people to lose sleep, feel constantly anxious, and even develop major depression.
As a substance that is well-researched for its anxiety-fighting effects, CBD could help fibromyalgia patients feel calmer and more at peace. Studies have also found that CBD could be helpful in lifting mood, making it a natural antidepressant. Finally, CBD could help people fall asleep more easily, as this study conducted over the course of several months showed.
In terms of mental health, CBD can be a powerful holistic treatment, regulating mood and fighting stress and depression. This could make it a useful complement for people with fibromyalgia, or even a substitute for mental illness medications.
Research on CBD and fibromyalgia
There have been a handful of studies on the effects of cannabis on people with fibromyalgia, but most of those didn’t isolate CBD. Instead, researchers gave cannabis, or cannabis-based drugs containing both CBD and THC (the psychoactive compound in cannabis) to patients.
Although these studies don’t allow us to say whether CBD was responsible for the effects observed, some of them are very promising. For example, this 2011 study found that people with fibromyalgia who took cannabis experienced less pain and found it easier to sleep after just two hours.
In a 2019 study, scientists decided to test different forms of cannabis-based medication for their effects on fibromyalgia. For the purpose of the experiment, they tested out four different treatments:
- A placebo
- A drug that contained equal amounts of THC and CBD
- A THC-based drug
- A CBD-based drug
They found that patients benefited most from the THC-based drug, and from the one that contained both compounds, in terms of pain relief. However, the CBD-based drug wasn’t effective. This could be a sign that CBD is more effective as a painkiller when taken alongside THC, or that THC is more effective than CBD.
Products and dosage
If the research on the effects of CBD for fibromyalgia symptoms encouraged you to give it a try, you have lots of different options. Today, CBD products are incredibly varied, including things like:
- CBD oils
- CBD edibles
- CBD capsules
- CBD vapes
- CBD topicals
Some of those methods of consumption are more effective than others, some are safer, and some are better suited for long-term or short-term solutions. Your choice of product is a highly personal one, so we recommend checking out our guide to CBD products before you make a decision.
CBD oil dosage for fibromyalgia is still a point of contention. To date, we lack clinical studies that would help us formulate recommendations. In the 2019 study of cannabis-based drugs for people with fibromyalgia, a 200 mg dose of a THC and CBD medicine relieved pain after just three hours. But if you want to take pure CBD, we recommend consulting with a professional to get dosage advice best suited for your own needs.
Is CBD safe for fibromyalgia?
As a drug, CBD has a very good safety profile. Over decades of studies on the substance, we’ve only discovered relatively mild side-effects which include:
- Digestive issues
- Sleepiness or lethargy
- Mild mood disturbances
CBD is not addictive and doesn’t cause a tolerance, which could make it safer than the painkillers that doctors commonly prescribe to fibromyalgia patients.
It also has a better safety profile and fewer side effects than the most common antidepressant and sleeping drugs.
So although CBD causes side effects in some people, it’s likely to be much safer as a treatment for fibromyalgia than the most popular options today.
CBD is a well-rounded substance that can relieve pain, aid sleep and fight anxiety and depression. As such, it gives hope to a natural treatment option for fibromyalgia patients. With so many promising studies on its benefits for fibromyalgia symptoms, we hope to see more clinical studies coming soon. In the meantime, CBD is a safe substance that can be used as a complementary treatment option, helping those with fibromyalgia to manage their pain and mental health symptoms.
Fibromyalgia facts and figures
CBD for pain relief
2008 study on the effects of CBD for pain management
2018 review of research on cannabinoids and pain
2012 study on the effects of CBD for pain management (inflammatory and neuropathic)
CBD for anxiety
2019 study on the effects of CBD for stress reduction
CBD for depression
2018 study on the effects of CBD against depression on mice
2014 study on the antidepressant effects of CBD
CBD for sleep disorders
2019 study on CBD for anxiety and sleep
Studies on cannabis for fibromyalgia
2011 study on the effects of cannabis for fibromyalgia pain
2019 study on the effects of cannabis-based drugs on fibromyalgia patients
Safety profile of CBD 2017 study on the safety and side effects of CBD