Israeli researchers study the benefits of using cannabis to treat fibromyalgia symptoms

The Israeli researchers noted that cannabis could be a welcome alternative for fibromyalgia patients who do not respond to conventional methods of treatment

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Israeli researchers study the benefits of using cannabis to treat fibromyalgia symptoms

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

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Israel is right on the cusp of something special in terms of medical cannabis research. Based on the results of a new Israeli cannabis study, herbal treatments made with the plant’s derivatives could effectively treat chronic pain. 

The Israeli cannabis study was conducted in Tel Aviv by a team of researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Department of Rheumatology at Rabin Medical Center. Primarily, the researchers focused on treating pain caused by fibromyalgia with medical cannabis.

Although cannabis cannot be dubbed a “cure” for fibromyalgia, the researchers did make a point of saying that the plant could potentially emerge as an option for patients who suffer from chronic pain caused by the debilitating disease. 

A pioneer in cannabis research and development (R&D), Israel has decriminalized the plant for home use to the amount of 15 grams. The Jewish country is home to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1965, chemist and university professor of medicinal chemistry, Raphael Mechoulam, made history by successfully synthesizing the cannabis plant’s primary active cannabinoids, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Treating fibromyalgia pain with cannabis: What the study found

The outcome of this Israeli cannabis study was primarily positive and supports the idea of treating fibromyalgia-related pain using the green, leafy plant. A total of 367 patients with fibromyalgia participated in the study; 82 percent of the study subjects were female.

A wide range of symptoms plague patients who are diagnosed with fibromyalgia, including chronic/persistent pain, tiredness and lack of sleep. Combined, these symptoms can make it troublesome for patients to perform simple day-to-day activities without experiencing discomfort.

Below is a summary of key takeaways that the researchers identified with this Israeli cannabis study:

  • 81.1 percent of patients claimed that they successfully used cannabis to treat fibromyalgia pain
  • 80.8 experienced symptomatic relief from depression
  • 73.4 percent had a better night’s sleep
  • 61.9 percent experienced better “quality of life” thanks to heightened sexual activity and appetite.

“Medical cannabis appears to be a safe and effective alternative for the treatment of fibromyalgia symptoms,” concluded the researchers, who claim that the study subjects reported minimal negative side effects. Some commonly reported side effects of cannabis include dry mouth, tiredness and paranoia.

Although the researchers approve of using medical cannabis to relieve fibromyalgia-related pain, they made a point of noting that patients should not divert from standard methods of treatment. 

The Israeli researchers did, however, say that cannabis could be a welcome alternative for fibromyalgia patients who do not respond to conventional methods of treatment, such as opioid pain relievers like codeine, fentanyl, hydromorphone and hydrocodone.

Cannabis has “low rates of addiction and serious adverse effects (especially compared to opioids),” say the researchers. A study published in 2015 suggested that just nine percent of people who use cannabis will develop an addiction to the drug.

Fibromyalgia affects more women than it does men

There’s a reason why the vast majority of people participating in this Israeli cannabis study were female – more women are believed to be affected by the medical condition than men.

Scientists are scrambling to find a method of treatment that does not include treating the condition’s associated symptoms – such as pain, sleep disturbances and fatigue – with opioids. In 2017, opioid overdoses claimed the lives of 47,000 Americans. This is according to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The good news is that this Israeli cannabis study suggests that cannabis may be a suitable and safer alternative. No cannabis-related overdoses have been reported, according to the NIDA. What’s more, previous studies have shown that Tai Chi may benefit patients who suffer from fibromyalgia-related pain, suggesting that lifestyle changes could relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Aside from demonstrating positive effects on treating fibromyalgia symptoms, the researchers who conducted this Israeli cannabis study say that cannabis may also help as a preventative measure. The plant exhibited potential for preventing flare-ups altogether, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Further studies must investigate the ways in which cannabis’ naturally-occurring anxiolytic and anti-inflammatory compounds could relieve fibromyalgia-related anxiety and depression, in addition to providing pain relief. Until this happens, doctors should refrain from prescribing cannabis for fibromyalgia and patients shouldn’t rely solely on cannabis as a treatment.