Whether you suffer from it yourself or it affects one of your loved ones, I’m sure you know just how debilitating fibromyalgia is.
If so, you may have heard about CBD and wondered whether it can help relieve the disabling symptoms of this chronic illness.
Well, I’m glad to say that there’s some pretty solid evidence that CBD can relieve a variety of fibromyalgia symptoms.
Read on to find out more.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that’s believed to affect around 6% of the global population.
Unfortunately, despite its prevalence and the severely debilitating symptoms it causes, there’s still a lot we don’t know about this disease.
The main symptom of fibromyalgia is intense physical pain, as well as hypersensibility to pain from regular, normally non-painful stimuli.
However, fibromyalgia patients usually don’t show any physical signs that could cause their symptoms.
In fact, fibromyalgia patients can look just fine from the outside.
This has led researchers and medical professionals to believe that fibromyalgia might be a condition of the central nervous system.
Fibromyalgia Causes Debilitating Symptoms
Living with pain makes every day into an uphill battle.
Unfortunately, fibromyalgia doesn’t just cause pain.
It can also cause:
- Heightened pain sensitivity. Patients with fibromyalgia might experience pain from standing under warm water in the shower or from a hug.
- Neuropathic pain symptoms like tingling or burning or feelings of numbness.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Roughly 60% of patients with IBS have fibromyalgia, and up to 70% of fibro patients have IBS.
- Sleep problems. People with chronic pain often suffer from sleep disorders like insomnia, which often only exacerbates the severity of their pain.
- Headaches. Fibromyalgia patients often suffer from tension headaches and migraines.
- Chronic fatigue, usually caused by a combination of pain and sleep problems
- Difficulty concentrating and staying productive, also because of pain and lack of sleep.
- Stiffness, muscle pain, and aching joints
Many fibromyalgia patients experience flare-ups of really severe symptoms that can last for days or weeks.
It is very likely for patients to suffer from flare-ups when they are stressed, but the symptoms of fibromyalgia can really strike any time.
Fibromyalgia is Much More Common in Women
According to the US National Fibromyalgia Association, out of every 10 fibromyalgia patients, 7-9 are female.
For a long time, fibromyalgia was made out to be a “made up” disease.
Many patients report that they struggle to make friends, work colleagues, family members, and sometimes even doctors understand their symptoms and what they’re going through.
In a 2016 article from Health.com, 32-year-old fibromyalgia patient Shelley Kirkpatrick explained just how much she struggled to get the attention she needed from some doctors.
"It was maddening. I felt like most of the doctors I saw were not acknowledging that I was really in pain," said Shelley.
"I felt they were thinking I was exaggerating my symptoms or that I was making them up entirely, even to the point where I saw a neurologist who told my husband to take me to a psychiatrist because there was nothing wrong with me."
After 2 years, Shelley was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
In 2007, the National Fibromyalgia Foundation launched an educational campaign to help increase awareness among the general public about fibromyalgia.
The campaign featured survey results from physicians, of whom almost 50% admitted that they were reluctant about diagnosing a person with this condition.
Other studies have also shown that as many as 25% of fibromyalgia patients felt that their doctors didn’t treat their condition as very legitimate.
This struggle of having to legitimize symptoms only adds to the burden of fibromyalgia and can carry severe emotional and mental consequences for patients.
Fibromyalgia Carries a High Emotional Price
Besides its debilitating physical symptoms, fibromyalgia also takes a big emotional toll on patients.
Everyone experiences pain, and many people might suffer from long-lasting or even chronic pain at some point in their life.
Luckily, this pain usually goes away once its underlying cause has been treated.
Fibromyalgia is completely different.
People with fibromyalgia suffer from intense, chronic pain all throughout their life.
Add to that the fact that diagnosing the condition can be long and tedious, and it's not hard to see the potential emotional toll fibromyalgia can have.
Hence, it can come as little surprise that up to 20% of fibromyalgia patients suffer from anxiety disorders or depression.
In an episode for BBC Stories, Journalist Lucy Hancock (also a fibromyalgia patient) explored fibromyalgia and the effects it has on patients like her.
“Most days I feel like the Tin Man, but also like I’m getting pounded with a hammer all over...It’s almost like there’s too much for my senses to handle,” said Jess, a fibromyalgia patient interviewed for the story.
The symptoms of fibromyalgia can turn everyday tasks into a challenge.
During a flare-up, symptoms can get so intense so as to leave patients bedridden for days on end.
“Sometimes I can be absolutely fine, racing around doing my normal life stuff, and then bam, I can’t walk,” said Sam, another patient interviewed in the story.
The Fibromyalgia Brain
Fibromyalgia can be a tough condition to understand from the outside.
Hence, researchers try to look inside the brain for a better understanding of fibromyalgia and how it works.
In her short documentary for the BBC, Lucy Hancock spoke with Professor Irene Tracey, head of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at The University of Oxford.
Professor Tracey made it clear that, while fibromyalgia patients might not show any obvious physical signs of pain, they definitely show neurological signs.
“What we do know using techniques like I use… the brains [of people with fibromyalgia] are clearly different, they are clearly in pain, they’ve clearly got signals and networks active that look very different to an age and sex match control,” said Professor Tracey.
Professor Tracey has been studying pain for over 20 years.
Using brain imaging, researchers like her are able to go beyond a patient’s report of how they experience pain and actually see what is going on inside their body.
In doing so, we might be able to get a better understanding of fibromyalgia and what causes it.
At the 2018 inaugural Fibromyalgia Health & Wellbeing Summit in Dublin, Professor Andrea Nicol described fibromyalgia as a condition caused by the amplification of pain signals.
“Fibromyalgia is essentially a final common pathway wherein your pain is actually being generated and maintained by your central nervous system,” said Professor Nicol.
Professor Nicol believes the central nervous system in people with fibromyalgia does 2 main things:
- Amplifies input from the peripheral nervous system, or
- Generates pain signals without any kind of painful stimulus or cause.
Professor Nicol also made it clear that fibromyalgia is 100% independent from any psychological symptoms:
“You are not making this up and it is not being caused because you have depression or anxiety. Those are downstream effects of the pain,” she said.
Recent research into fibromyalgia suggests that this dysfunction of the central nervous system may be caused by chemical imbalances of specific neurotransmitters in the brain.
Some studies have found, for example, that cerebrospinal fluid samples from patients with fibromyalgia have consistently lower levels of serotonin, tryptophan (the precursor to serotonin), and serotonin metabolites.
Serotonin, as I’m sure you know, is a very important neurotransmitter that’s involved in regulating mood, sleep, appetite, metabolism, and more.
When our bodies don’t produce enough serotonin, we tend to feel depressed, anxious, stressed, fatigued, or even in pain.
Low levels of serotonin can also contribute to sleep problems in many people.
Substance P is a neurotransmitter and neuromodulator which seems to play a key role in regulating our pain threshold.
Some fibromyalgia patients also have higher levels of Nerve Growth Factor, a neurotransmitter that when directly injected into muscles, causes long-lasting pain and allodynia.
Dopamine levels also seem to be lower in people with fibromyalgia which, together with the other chemical imbalances I’ve mentioned, could be responsible for causing the central nervous system to misfunction in these very specific ways.
Cannabinoids and Fibromyalgia: Can CBD Relieve Fibromyalgia?
CBD has received a lot of attention recently for its analgesic properties.
In fact, CBD is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to prescription painkillers, especially among patients with chronic conditions like fibromyalgia.
CBD works by activating the endocannabinoid system in a very unique way.
Unlike other cannabinoids which can bind directly to cannabinoid receptors in our body, CBD works via a complex network of over 60 different molecular pathways.
There are 4 main ways CBD might be able to help fibromyalgia patients:
- By helping to regulate chemical imbalances of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.
- By fighting nociceptive, visceral, and even neuropathic pain.
- By reducing anxiety, stress, and depression.
- By improving sleep.
Below I’ll look at some of the potential benefits of CBD for fibromyalgia patients in more detail:
CBD Can Regulate Neurotransmitter Levels in The Brain
I mentioned earlier that fibromyalgia patients often suffer from low levels of serotonin.
This is why they are often prescribed with drugs that inhibit the reuptake of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine (known as serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, SNRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, SSRIs).
These drugs work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine from their respective receptors, temporarily increasing the levels of these chemicals in the brain.
Studies show that CBD can have similar effects.
Studies show that CBD, like SSRIs, can temporarily inhibit the activity of serotonin receptors, therefore increasing serotonin levels in the brain for a little while.
Best of all, it can do so without many of the harsh side effects associated with prescription reuptake inhibitor drugs.
CBD is Great at Fighting a Variety of Different Pain
Besides helping boost serotonin levels, cannabinoids like CBD are also getting a lot of attention for their analgesic properties.
CBD, for example, has been shown to relieve a wide variety of pain, including nociceptive, visceral, and even neuropathic pain.
This is important because the pain from fibromyalgia can fall into any or all of these categories, depending on the individual experience of the patient.
Studies show, for example, that CBD can relieve inflammatory pain from a wide variety of conditions, including arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and much more.
This is due to the fact that CBD can directly reduce inflammation by inhibiting COX enzymes just like regular NSAIDs but again without the side effects.
CBD can also help relieve neuropathic pain, which has made it an interesting treatment option for people suffering from conditions like multiple sclerosis.
By interacting with glycerine receptors, CBD may be able to alter the way pain messages are sent and processed via the central nervous system.
CBD can Reduce Anxiety and Improve Sleep
Another major benefit of CBD is its ability to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
It does so by increasing the levels of serotonin and anandamide in the brain.
Anandamide, also known as “the bliss molecule,” is an endocannabinoid that our body produces naturally.
Like serotonin, anandamide has a major impact on our mood, emotions, stress response, and sensitivity to pain.
By increasing both the levels of serotonin and anandamide in the brain, CBD can be very effective at reducing symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression which, as I mentioned earlier, often accompany fibromyalgia.
Finally, one other major way CBD can help fibromyalgia patients is by improving sleep.
As I mentioned earlier, patients with chronic pain often struggle with sleep disorders.
Luckily, the endocannabinoid system seems to play a key role in regulating our sleep-wake cycle.
Stimulating the system with CBD, for example, has been shown to help patients with insomnia get to sleep faster and get a better, more restorative night’s sleep.
CBD: A Simple Way to Beat Fibromyalgia
If you or a loved one suffer from fibromyalgia, I highly recommend trying CBD.
There are many different CBD supplements out there, and you’ll want to do some experimenting to see what works best for you.
Personally, I use and recommend CBD Gummies from Hemp Bombs.
And while I don’t suffer from a chronic pain condition, I have heard many patients say great things about edible CBD products like gummies.
CBD edibles need to pass through the digestive tract before they can start taking effect.
While this means that they take a little longer to kick in, these edibles also offer a slow release that can be really beneficial for people who need long-lasting relief from symptoms like pain.
Plus, CBD gummies are super easy to dose.
If you’re interested in trying CBD gummies to treat fibromyalgia symptoms, make sure to check out my website for detailed reviews of specific CBD brands and products.
Also make sure to keep reading my blog for more informative articles like this.