Since CBD was officially legalized in 2018, the market has exploded with hemp-derived products aimed at helping patients manage a wide range of ailments. Research interests have similarly followed suit as patients become increasingly aware of CBD’s potential to treat everything from Lyme disease and thyroid issues to celiac disease and menstrual cramps. With these treatments in mind, you may be wondering: can CBD also help treat fibromyalgia?
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain and tenderness across the body. Symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Widespread musculoskeletal pain occurring on both sides of the body as well as above and below the waist
- Sleep disturbances or nonrestorative sleep
- Cognitive disruptions, also known as “fibro fog,” that often present as lapses in memory or difficulty concentrating and staying alert
- Dry eyes
- Rashes or itching
- Bladder problems
- Depression or anxiety
Some researchers theorize that recurrent nerve stimulation alters the brain and spinal cord, triggering the brain to release chemicals that signal pain. As a result, these overactivated brain receptors become sensitized and overreact to painful and nonpainful signals.
Potential factors that may lead to these brain changes include genetics, infections, physical events, and prolonged emotional stress.
Unfortunately, fibromyalgia and its root causes aren’t very well understood, even among healthcare professionals. It is often misdiagnosed because there are currently no tests that conclusively diagnose the condition, and symptoms frequently imitate those of other ailments.
Fibromyalgia often coincides with chronic conditions like:
- Temporomandibular joint syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- Postural tachycardia syndrome
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Interstitial cystitis and painful bladder syndrome
What causes fibromyalgia to flare?
People with fibromyalgia may experience times of remission where the syndrome goes dormant and symptoms temporarily lessen or disappear altogether. How patients may induce remission isn’t entirely well understood.
Fibromyalgia sufferers also undergo flare-ups, where symptoms are triggered by certain events or changes in their lives. Triggers vary from person to person, but generally speaking, personal stressors seem to lie at the root. Triggers can include:
- Becoming sick
- Emotional stress
- Changes in daily routine
- Changes in your fibromyalgia treatment, especially when starting or stopping a new medication
- Changes in diet, especially when you aren’t meeting your nutritional needs
- Lack of sleep or changes in sleep schedule
- Hormonal changes or disruptions
How is fibromyalgia treated?
Treating fibromyalgia typically involves medications. Over-the-counter pain relief drugs such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium are recommended for mild pain. Most try to avoid opioid use unless the pain is severe and unrelenting.
Antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and anti-seizure drugs may be prescribed alongside pain relievers to reduce fatigue and promote sleep.
In addition to pharmaceuticals, physical therapy helps many improve stamina, strength, and flexibility. Occupational therapy can also help patients learn to perform everyday tasks in ways that are less strenuous on the body.
How can CBD help?
While some fibromyalgia patients find that modern treatment regimens alleviate their symptoms effectively, others find only temporary relief or none at all. Consequently, many turn to natural treatments to ease their symptoms.
Hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) has become a popular option for those seeking a natural treatment with minimal side effects. It is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is well-known for its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-spasmodic properties.
CBD may alleviate chronic pain
While research into CBD and how it impacts fibromyalgia is ongoing, a 2020 review sheds promising light on the treatment. Here, researchers conclude that because CBD is confirmed to successfully treat chronic pain, it may also be effective in treating the characteristic pain that fibromyalgia patients suffer from.
Researchers believe that CBD works to mitigate chronic widespread pain by interacting directly with the endocannabinoid receptors in the brain that signal pain. More specifically, CBD attaches to the CB2 receptor, which manages pain and inflammation.
Additionally, a study from 2016 suggests that a general cannabinoid deficiency may be central to chronic pain conditions like chronic migraines, IBS, and fibromyalgia. It seems that CBD helps patients achieve overall internal stability by triggering the CB1 receptors in the brain that regulate homeostasis.
CBD promotes better sleep and relieves emotional disruptions
More recently, a 2023 study finds that CBD treatment for fibromyalgia not only reduced chronic musculoskeletal pain, but also eased sleep and emotional disturbances. Some patients suffering from severe symptoms even found that they were able to reduce opioid use when consuming CBD.
By targeting the hypothalamus, or the part of the brain that regulates our circadian rhythms, CBD promotes better sleep. It acts on the endocannabinoid receptors here, helping the body progress through sleep cycles without interruption. It ensures that deep restful states are achieved, which is especially helpful for fibromyalgia patients who often suffer from nonrestorative sleep.
CBD also treats emotional disruptions like stress and anxiety. It reduces anxiety by interacting with serotonin receptors in the brain, which play an important role in mood regulation. Several studies have shown CBD to reduce symptoms of psychological disorders like social anxiety disorder (SAD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
While research into CBD and its potential to treat fibromyalgia specifically is ongoing, the most recent studies are certainly promising. The link between fibromyalgia and CBD has caught the attention of many researchers, and new studies are on the horizon. We hope that, as CBD becomes mainstream in its medical applications, researchers are better able to understand how it helps manage the chronic symptoms that accompany illnesses like fibromyalgia.