The notion that fibromyalgia is misunderstood is nothing new. As an invisible condition, millions of people living with chronic fibromyalgia pain continue to fight for access to effective treatment. As a result, countless patients are forced to go private, with many then finding solace in medical cannabis.
Yet, despite this, a staggering proportion of the British public remains unaware of the medicinal properties of cannabis. It holds the potential to provide much-needed relief from pain and anxiety, as well as improvements to sleep and quality of life; a medical cannabis prescription may help to transform symptom management for those living with fibromyalgia in the UK.
Fibromyalgia: an overview
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition thought to affect between 1.8 million and 2.9 million people in the UK and typically, but not exclusively, affects women. Those living with fibromyalgia experience chronic pain and stiffness, typically in muscles and tissues such as the tendons and ligaments. Patients can also experience extreme tiredness and fatigue, sleeping problems, anxiety, and cognitive dysfunction – or ‘brain fog’.
As a poorly understood and under-researched condition, there is currently no known cause or cure for fibromyalgia. It affects individuals differently, so patients require unique treatment that aims to improve symptoms and quality of life.
Some patients find that symptoms can be improved by exercise, physiotherapy, or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Others may require more regular painkillers, antidepressants, or even certain antiepileptic medications that have proven to benefit symptoms.
There is also an abundance of testimonial evidence hailing cannabis-based medicines and cannabidiol (CBD) as a godsend for reducing pain and inflammation, improving moods and sleep, and helping to combat fibromyalgia fatigue. Now, a growing number of studies are supporting these claims.
Can I get a UK medical cannabis prescription for fibromyalgia?
In 2018, UK law was changed to permit doctors on the General Medical Council’s specialist register to prescribe cannabis-based medicines for many qualifying health conditions. Medical cannabis can therefore be considered for the treatment of chronic pain conditions if traditional therapies are ineffective at managing symptoms – including fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia and medical cannabis: the evidence
Most of the existing evidence for using cannabinoids to manage fibromyalgia symptoms comes from preclinical research. Here, scientists have noted that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) – a complex cell-signalling network that regulates a myriad of biological processes – may play a role in the onset of fibromyalgia symptoms.
Large-scale clinical trials of cannabis-based medicines for fibromyalgia are yet to be conducted, but numerous surveys and small studies suggest that patients may benefit from using cannabis to manage pain and stiffness, promote relaxation, and improve quality of life.
Recent data from a study conducted by the UK Medical Cannabis Registry suggests that medical cannabis can significantly improve fibromyalgia symptoms and quality of life. The research, conducted on 306 fibromyalgia patients with UK medical cannabis prescriptions from Sapphire Medical Clinics, showed a 17% reduction in opioid use by patients, as well as self-reported improvements in pain severity, anxiety, and sleep quality.
Can medical cannabis be prescribed for fibromyalgia in the UK?