It’s not an easy condition to diagnose, but millions of Americans have it: fibromyalgia. A disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood issues, it affects about 4 million U.S. adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Scientists don’t know what causes the condition, but they believe it has something to do with the way the brain and spinal cord process painful and nonpainful signals. Women are typically more at risk for the condition than men are, though it can affect both genders.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for fibromyalgia, so the only option is to manage the symptoms with medication and lifestyle strategies. Doctors may prescribe prescription drugs or suggest over-the-counter pain relievers, along with exercises and stress-management techniques meant to help patients reduce pain and disability.
These treatment methods don’t always work, however, and some may come with difficult side effects. Meanwhile, fibromyalgia can cause ongoing problems that interfere with the ability to function at home or on the job. The Mayo Clinic notes that the frustration of dealing with this often-misunderstood condition can also result in depression and health-related anxiety.
This has led many fibromyalgia sufferers to question whether CBD oil may help. It has pain-relieving properties after all. Might it be a gentler, more effective treatment for fibromyalgia?
How CBD Helps to Relieve Pain
We have some evidence that CBD products may be able to offer relief for people suffering from chronic pain. Though the research is young—we don’t have a lot of studies yet because of the regulatory history behind cannabis—animal studies have shown that CBD can have a beneficial effect on pain by interacting with the body’s natural endocannabinoid system (ECS), while also helping to relieve inflammation.
The ECS plays a critical role in maintaining homeostasis in the human body. This simply means that it keeps an eye on all of our systems, including body temperature, hormone release, heart rate, energy levels, and more. If something is “off,” it goes to work bringing things back to normal.
The ECS is made up of:
- cannabinoid receptors found on the surface of cells,
- endocannabinoids, which are small molecules that activate these receptors,
- and metabolic enzymes that break down endocannabinoids after they’re used.
The cannabinoid receptors sit on the surface of cells and “listen” to conditions outside the cells, then transmit information about changing conditions. Endocannabinoids bind to activate cannabinoid receptors when needed to maintain homeostasis.
Because cannabis contains cannabinoids too—similar to our own natural cannabinoids—they can interact with our cannabinoid receptors and alter various processes in the body, such as pain and inflammation.
CBD, for one, doesn’t seem to bind directly to our cannabinoid receptors but can influence the ECS in combination with other cannabinoids. It can, for example, increase the body’s levels of anandamide, a natural cannabinoid that’s associated with regulating pain.
Is CBD Oil Good for Fibromyalgia?
Currently, we have no published human studies looking at the effects of CBD specifically on fibromyalgia. We do, however, have studies looking at the effects of cannabis on the painful condition. (Cannabis, which is from the cannabis plant, has hundreds of different cannabinoids, whereas CBD is one type of cannabinoid.)
In a 2009 review, for instance, researchers found that cannabis-derived compounds acted as analgesic (pain-relieving) agents, though they noted that the effectiveness of the products was variable. The scientists did say that since opioids are the only therapy for severe pain—and considering the addictive potential of opioids—cannabinoids “may provide a much-needed alternative to opioids.”
In a 2011 study, scientists compared 28 fibromyalgia patients who were cannabis users with 28 fibromyalgia patients who were non-users. Results showed that after two hours of cannabis use, patients experienced a significant reduction of pain and stiffness, enhanced relaxation, and an increase in feelings of well-being. Their mental health scores were also significantly higher than in non-users.
A later 2019 study explored the effects of inhaled cannabis in 20 patients with fibromyalgia. Scientists tested four different cannabis varieties along with a placebo. Results showed that patients using a variety containing both CBD and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) experienced a 30 percent decrease in pain compared to placebo.
In a larger study published that same year, Israeli researchers followed hundreds of people with fibromyalgia for six months. They found that cannabis treatment helped reduce pain intensity, and concluded that medical cannabis “appears to be a safe and effective alternative for the treatment of fibromyalgia symptoms.”
How Much CBD Should I Take for Fibromyalgia Pain?
Because we have only a few small studies on cannabis and fibromyalgia, there is no recommended dose at this time. So far, it seems that products containing both CBD and THC have been most effective against fibromyalgia pain, but future studies are likely to give us more information about which combinations are best.
We do know that CBD alone does not have the mind-altering effects of THC, which is an advantage in many cases. Feel free to experiment and see what will work best for you, but always start with the lowest dose. It’s also wise to work with a doctor familiar with the effects of cannabis.
Options for using CBD and cannabis for fibromyalgia include:
- Smoking or vaping: These methods allow you to inhale the active ingredients, which can provide fast relief. Do be sure to buy pure, high-quality products as lower-quality items may injure the lungs. People with lung conditions like asthma or COPD should not use this method as it could make those conditions worse.
- Consumables: These are foods cooked with cannabis in them. Since you have to digest them, they usually take longer to work and are not considered the best option for rapid pain relief.
- Oil extracts: CBD oil can be applied directly to the painful area. This can provide a targeted benefit that doesn’t affect the rest of the body. You can also place a couple of drops of CBD oil under the tongue. The cannabinoids are absorbed in the mouth tissues and may provide fast relief.
- Topicals: These are lotions, creams, and balms that have been infused with CBD oil or CBD extracts. You can apply these directly to the painful area for relief. The effectiveness will depend on the concentration of cannabinoids in the product, so make sure the CBD is included at a useful level and not just thrown in at the end to increase the price of the product.
While more research is needed into the potential benefits of CBD for fibromyalgia pain and other symptoms, more and more consumers are turning to CBD who are seeking relief from pain, anxiety, and other health conditions. Always talk to your healthcare provider before adding CBD to your daily regimen to ensure that it’s safe for you to use and won’t interact with your other medications or supplements.