CBD and Fibromyalgia - Oli Genn-Bash (author)

haskel adamson

I received my diagnosis of fibromyalgia in 2016 after many years of trying to figure out why my body was often struggling with things like fatigue and pain. My life has been characterised by various injuries from playing sport as a child and generally being quite accident prone as an adult. My joints have taken the brunt of these injuries and I put a lot of that down to being overweight, however around a decade ago someone mentioned to me that I’m not so overweight that I should be experiencing these kinds of issues. It was often the same places - knees, hips, back, neck, and shoulders. These are pain points which I now understand to be signifiers of fibromyalgia and ones which line up with other symptoms I have experienced, including; sleep problems, tingling, increased sensitivity to pain, migraines, IBS, depression/low mood, cognitive problems known as ‘fibro fog’, stiffness in the morning, and costochondritis (inflammation in the cartilage between your ribs and at the point of connection to the sternum)

This condition is still not well understood and there is no clear cause - it is thought that fibromyalgia is related to the way in which the brain processes signals such as pain and how these are sent around the body, however it may be that inherited genes or a traumatic incident such as bereavement or major surgery have provided a trigger for this condition to occur. This may be why fibromyalgia is so difficult to diagnose, as there are no tests which can positively confirm a diagnosis and patients have to go through a variety of tests to rule out other possible conditions, such as arthritis, MS, or chronic fatigue syndrome. As was the case with myself, if these tests do not show any positive results then the GP will most likely give the patient a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. 

Treating this condition is  problematic because there is no clear cause, and I personally have struggled with the side-effects of both traditional pharmaceutical pain medications and antidepressants. This isn’t a disease or condition which can be simply treated and this can lead to a lot of frustration, where patients potentially have to include multiple therapies into their regime. This isn’t such a bad thing and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t explore lots of different avenues (if we have the time to do so) but I feel like there must be something which can cut through the pain and fog, and fortunately I have found a lot of benefit from using cannabinoids to manage my symptoms, which includes CBD (cannabidiol). I have tried many different formulations of CBD, including broad spectrum oil (which is different from pure CBD isolate), vaporised CBD, water-soluble powder, gummies and capsules, and it seems that a high-CBD broad spectrum oil generally tends to work best for me in managing my symptoms of pain, sleep and low mood.  There is also increasing evidence for the benefits of CBD in treating digestive issues such as IBS, which is a cause of discomfort for many fibromyalgia patients.

A 2021 survey which looked at CBD use amongst 2701 patients with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia has yielded some positive results, with 60% of participants having previously tried CBD and 30-40% reporting relief from their symptoms across different domains. 32% of participants were currently using CBD at the time, reportedly to manage pain, anxiety, and sleep. 

There seems to be a lot of potential for CBD and other cannabinoids to help manage fibromyalgia, and this may be down to something known as ‘clinical endocannabinoid deficiency’ (CEDC) which can be balanced out by introducing cannabinoids into our body. Our endocannabinoid system (ECS) makes use of naturally occurring or ‘endogenous’ cannabinoids within our body to modulate different functions and responses, particularly with those associated with pain, and it’s thought that patients with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia could actually have a deficiency in these helpful compounds. This would suggest that cannabinoids such as CBD can be used to supplement the ECS and provide relief for a variety of symptoms associated with the condition.

It’s important to note that I’m not talking about CBD or other cannabinoids as some kind of silver bullet, but I have personally found that through using them I am able to break out of what seems to be a pain response feedback loop, where pain is contributing to a low mood and then the reverse happens. Compounds such as CBD seem to have the ability to give patients with fibromyalgia some freedom, or simply just a break from their normal experience which can be a liberating opportunity to bring about more of a state of holistic wellness. Cannabinoids including CBD and THC have the ability to regulate certain processes such as body temperature, appetite, thirst, heart rate, blood pressure, and sleep cycles, which are all vital for the body to achieve what’s known as ‘homeostasis’. This is the body’s own state of internal equilibrium or our Goldilocks zone where everything is ‘just right’, but it can be disrupted through illness or injury, resulting in a system which is having difficulty regulating itself. The hypothalamus, which plays a role in this regulation, contains cannabinoid receptors and the subsequent  introduction of external cannabinoids, when used in a balanced way, can help regulate homeostasis.This is clearly what the body is always looking for and I’m sure all of us would agree that being in a state where our body feels ‘just right’ is an ideal situation.  As cannabis becomes more widely prescribed in the UK, patients are benefitting from an increased variety of cannabinoids to include both CBD and THC, and it is important to note that there is promising evidence for the introduction of THC in managing symptoms of fibromyalgia. Patients may want to look more towards bespoke blends of cannabinoids to manage their symptoms, as there is a lot of therapeutic potential from the cannabis plant which includes more than just CBD. 

It is vital that patients with a diagnosis of something so complicated as fibromyalgia have the opportunity to explore a treatment which can potentially provide some relief when other treatments haven’t been successful, and CBD certainly has the power to do this. A condition which is so poorly understood can often make patients feel a bit hopeless, but CBD and other cannabinoids can give more hope and control back to the individual when it comes to managing the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Boehnke KF, Gagnier JJ, Matallana L, Williams DA. Cannabidiol Use for Fibromyalgia: Prevalence of Use and Perceptions of Effectiveness in a Large Online Survey. J Pain. 2021 May;22(5):556-566. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2020.12.001. Epub 2021 Jan 2. PMID: 33400996.

Russo EB. Clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD): can this concept explain therapeutic benefits of cannabis in migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome and other treatment-resistant conditions? Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2004 Feb-Apr;25(1-2):31-9. PMID: 15159679.