Fibromyalgia

The chronic condition of fibromyalgia causes generalised bodily pain, together with symptoms such as fatigue, muscle stiffness, and sleep deprivation. A large number of people with fibromyalgia take medical cannabis, with reported benefits including the significant reduction of pain. There’s also limited evidence to suggest that medical cannabis improves the sleep of people with this condition.

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Condition overview

Fibromyalgia, also known as fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a chronic condition that causes generalised bodily pain. Although the exact cause is yet to be established, it is thought that the extreme pain is a result of the abnormal processing of chemical signals by the brain and spinal cord.

Common symptoms

Other than widespread pain, people with fibromyalgia may also experience:

  • High pain sensitivity
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Tenderness
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Headaches
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Anxiety
  • Low mood

Common causes

Fibromyalgia has traditionally been a misunderstood condition, with some medical practitioners even questioning its existence. However, this is changing as more research is conducted into its aetiology. Symptoms often begin after an event, such as physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress. There have also been claims that in some cases fibromyalgia could be genetically inherited, with symptoms gradually accumulating over time and not being triggered by any single event.

Fibromyalgia affects around 7 times more women than men. Although it can affect people of any age, most instances are among those aged 30-50. It is linked to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), migraines, depression, and chronic fatigue syndrome. 

Standard treatment

While a cure is yet to be developed for fibromyalgia, there are some treatments that have been found effective in alleviating the symptoms, such as antidepressants and painkillers. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and regular exercise are also common strategies.

How medical cannabis could help

The endocannabinoid system has connections with both ascending and descending pain pathways, with cannabinoid receptors present at all three levels of pain processing. Medical cannabis has been shown to reduce pain, anxiety, and improve sleep in patients with fibromyalgia. High-THC and balanced THC:CBD strains appear to be particularly effective, with some patients able to reduce their opioid dose or stop entirely after taking medical cannabis for a period of at least 6-months.

FAQs about Medical Cannabis

FAQs about Medical Cannabis FAQs about Medical Cannabis
Is medical cannabis legal in the UK?

Yes. Cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) have been legal since the 1st of November 2018, when they moved from a Schedule 1 product to a Schedule 2 product. This reflects their potential for medical use.

Who is allowed to prescribe medical cannabis in the UK?

Cannabis-based medicinal products, also known as CBMPs, can be prescribed by private consultants, when appropriate, within their specialty area when there is unmet clinical need.

In the UK cannabis medicines are accessed primarily via private clinics. However, any specialist physician can prescribe cannabis medicines. GROW® is here to provide education and support to any specialists looking to prescribe or just to find out more.

Is medical cannabis available on the NHS?

There are 3 licensed medicines which contain cannabinoids – Epidiolex for some forms of epilepsy, Sativex for multiple sclerosis (MS), and Nabilone for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV). However, only a handful of prescriptions have been issued in the NHS to date.

Most cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) are instead unlicensed, and they must be written on a private prescription, typically issued by private clinics specialising in medical cannabis treatment.

What cannabis medicines are available?

Cannabis medicines come in multiple forms; flowers, often referred to as herbal cannabis (to be vaporised, rather than smoked), oils (taken under the tongue) and capsules. Cannabis medicines come in high-THC, high-CBD and balanced varieties.

Smoking medical cannabis is illegal. Medical cannabis can instead be taken in different forms depending on the desired speed of onset and duration of action, which is discussed between the patient and their doctor.

Which clinic should I use?

It’s important to find a clinic that works for you. Most importantly you need to find a Doctor that specialises in your condition. For example, patients with pain will need to see pain specialist, while those with a mental health condition must see a psychiatrist.

Which pharmacies can I use?

It’s important for patients to know they can use any pharmacy that supplies the appropriate medicines in the UK.

Some clinics have a preferred pharmacy but will be able to send prescriptions to others if needed. If patients have any questions about available medicines, they can contact IPS Pharma.

What should I do before my consultation?

To speed up the process, patients should bring a copy of their medical records. These are then forwarded to the clinic in advance of the first consultation.

Is medical cannabis the same as over-the-counter CBD?

No. Cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) are only prescribed by GMC-registered specialist doctors. As they are medicinal, CBMPs are regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA); which ensures the safety, quality, and effectiveness of medicines in the UK.

Over-the-counter (OTC) CBD products can be purchased without a prescription in pharmacies, health food shops, or online. These may come in forms such as oil tinctures, capsules, or vapes. They are not medicinal products as they are regulated by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) as a food supplement, with a 0.3% limit on THC.

What if I don’t get a prescription?

Patients are free to seek a second opinion from another clinic. Patients should ensure the clinic has communicated their reasons for deciding not to prescribe. It may be that they feel you should try other medicines before trying cannabis medicines, or that they need to see more information about your medical history before they are happy to prescribe.

How can I learn more about medical cannabis?

For patient enquiries - [email protected]

For doctor enquiries - [email protected]

For all other enquiries – [email protected]

Healthcare professionals can also sign up to our Doctor Portal.

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