New Research on Medical Cannabis for Fibromyalgia Released Ahead of International Fibromyalgia Awareness Day (Thursday 12th May)

New research has been released for patients with Fibromyalgia which has assessed the effects seen in UK patients after being prescribed medical cannabis. Symptoms commonly experienced in Fibromyalgia include anxiety, debilitating fatigue, chronic pain, sensitivity to light, sound, temperature and touch, as well as cognitive symptoms relating to short term memory or difficulty finding a word – often called ‘fibro fog’. Participants in the study – to be presented in full at the forthcoming International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS) Symposium June 25th – 30th – had an associated improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms and quality of life.

The study, a first in the UK, in addition to showing a reduction in fibromyalgia symptom severity found a 17% reduction in overall opiate use by patients.

Fibromyalgia affects around 3 million people in the UK and is often a cause of ‘invisible’ disability. It affects women more often than men – with a typical onset between 35-50 years of age, however it can present earlier. This chronic condition causes pain in the muscles and tissues such as the tendons and ligaments. Sufferers experience tenderness in the upper chest and back, as well as neck, arms, and legs. Symptoms can be exacerbated by stress, cold weather and physical activity with patients reporting fatigue and extreme tiredness which is not relieved by rest.

Until now, there has been no recognised, formal diagnostic process for health care professionals. This may have caused fibromyalgia patients to become “stuck in the symptom” undergoing extensive medical investigations without an official label – navigating between pain management, rheumatology, and psychology experts. As a result, many people receive an incorrect diagnosis and only receive the right one after many years of delay. However, the Royal College of Physicians has recently released new guidelines to support clinicians in the diagnosis of fibromyalgia syndrome (25 April 2022). Consultant Rheumatologist at Sapphire Medical Clinics, Dr Wendy Holden says, “Seeking an official diagnosis is important for patients and can be incredibly empowering by enabling them to validate their condition. An accurate and early diagnosis is vital to ensure symptoms such as anxiety, sleep, and cognitive function can be managed, mobility can be maintained – to avoid the risk of disability. Sadly though, many patients experience a late diagnosis after years of pain, finding themselves in devastating circumstances, unable to work and facing poverty.”

Patients often experience a long treatment “journey”, needing to try multiple medications to get on top of a set of complex symptoms. This could include analgesics, anti-depressants, complicated medical regimes and in some instances pain management programmes. Unfortunately, people with fibromyalgia often can’t tolerate certain medications as their bodies are more sensitive to their effects – so patients may need lower dosages, administered, and increased slowly to minimise side effects, as well as a combination of 2 or 3 medications to achieve optimum symptom management.

If these first line therapies have not achieved adequate symptom control, medical cannabis can be considered.

This latest study, which included those seen at Sapphire Medical Clinics for fibromyalgia, comprised of 306 patients. As early as 1 month, continuing to the end of the study period (6 months) there were significant reductions in fibromyalgia specific symptoms. In addition, patients also reported improvements in pain severity, anxiety symptoms, sleep quality, and overall health related quality of life.

Dr Holden adds, “Finding the right treatment regime for fibromyalgia is a huge problem – and 50% of the patients I see at Sapphire Medical Clinics suffer from the condition. This study is the first of its kind into the outcomes of UK patients prescribed CBMPs for fibromyalgia – and results are very promising. One of the ways we can help patients in the future is to invest in this type of research to better understand the condition and the impact of emerging treatment options. From my experience, the results of the study mirror what I am seeing in patients sat in front of me during their follow up appointments.”