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How Cannabis Medicines Can Help Fibromyalgia Patients Cope with the Agony of Chronic Back Pain

“The epicentre of my pain began deep in the core of my sacrum and radiated up my spine and into my arms. Through my buttocks and down into my legs, which after a while I simply couldn’t use. The pain which I can only compare to my bones being turned to broken glass was virtually unbearable. Every time I tried to move, I had a stabbing sensation in my joints, and it felt as if my muscle membranes were being burnt with acid.”
– Steven Fibromyalgia Sufferer

Back pain even if you are not a Fibromyalgia sufferer is incredibly common because our spines are designed by evolution for walking mainly on all four limbs, i.e., supported at both ends! But we, as humans, insist on walking only on our hind limbs, and sitting upright, putting much more mechanical strain on every structure in our back than they were ‘designed’ for. We also mobilise our backs through exercise rather less than we perhaps should. We only have to look at our pet cats, to see how regular bending and stretching of our spines should be done several times a day to keep spines healthy. We also tend to be much more sedentary than we should be, and so the postural ‘core stability muscles surrounding our spines, can become rather less effective as “guy ropes” than they should be.

So unfortunately, spines can become stiff and painful. As intervertebral discs become worn, and facet joints at the back of the spine become enlarged and stiff, nerve roots leaving the spine to go down the arm or leg become pinched, and muscles can become painfully tight.

For the majority of people things can settle down again, relatively quickly with the right balance of rest and exercise, and simple pain medicines such as paracetamol and ibuprofen. But often people are not so fortunate, and pain in the spine and limbs can go on to become long-term or chronic particularly in the case of Fibromyalgia patients where it can become absolutely debilitating, as in Steven’s case.

Modern physiotherapy and medicine can often be of great help in such circumstances, but even in the best of pain clinics, with x-ray guided spinal injections, the best pain medicines, the best physiotherapist and even clinical psychologists, we can often struggle to help people truly rid themselves of back pain, to be to fully enjoy life again.

Steven’s story illustrates the above and describes how he found his route to living a much more balanced and relatively pain-free life through the use of cannabis medicines.

“Fibromyalgia arrived during a very stressful period in my life, triggered by a car crash. Immediately after the crash, my neck was sore, and I felt tender. I thought these were just typical whiplash symptoms. It was not until 4 months later when I was admitted to hospital having difficulties with walking that the problem really manifested. I had a burning pain in my lower back which radiated into my legs and I literally could not walk. In the mornings I would wake up in terror at the thought of how much my limbs were going to hurt when I tried to move them. I had already exhausted all other common pain killers because of the treatment I had received for FSH muscular dystrophy, that had started a year before. These included Pregabalin, Tramadol, Naproxen, Co-Codamol and Amitriptyline. None of these drugs helped me at all – as they all produced terrible side effects.”

Stephen was in a very challenging and difficult place. He was having to use a wheelchair and a mobility scooter and was also a Dad to two small children, so everyday life was extremely stressful and felt like a constant battle.

“The whole situation changed when I got my first medical cannabis prescription in June 2019 and it was the best decision, I’ve ever made to treat my illness. Overtime my back pain and brain fog that I was perpetually in receded. I can compare my Fibromyalgia with a volcano, that was bubbling and active – the cannabis soothed and quietened it. It allowed my stiffness and fatigue to recede, and my body began to recover and flourish. Whole aspects of my personality that had switched off returned. Mentally and physically, I was healing, and I had the space to be me.

The consistent quality and regular supply of the medical cannabis as opposed to black market cannabis, was vital as it allowed me to get a regular level of relief that rebalanced my vulnerable body and mind. With each month of use, symptoms would reduce or completely go and my kids all commented on the massive change in my energy levels.

I finally reached a position where I was managing every aspect of the illness. I was still having symptoms, but they were far reduced, localised and manageable. For me, medical cannabis is seriously life-changing stuff.”

Cannabis medicines are increasingly being turned to for the treatment of Fibromyalgia, when traditional medicines are no longer offering any relief.

“The use of medicinal cannabis allowed me to manage my pain. It was like turning a forest fire, that was destructive and damaging to everything around it, into a campfire you could sit around. The fire is still hot and can burn but it does not get out of control. I feel protected on cannabis medicine, protected against triggers and best placed to deal with the continuous challenges this condition brings.” – Steven

Through advocacy campaigns lead by patients, such as those living with MS and Fibromyalgia, cannabis medicines became legal to prescribe in November 2018. These medicines are currently available primarily via private clinics, although Sativex is available on the prescription via the NHS for spasticity in MS.

The Science Behind Cannabis Medicines

Cannabis flowers grow tiny hairs called trichomes that themselves contain hundreds of different chemicals compounds. The most common are two of a family of compounds called cannabinoids, THC and CBD. These two compounds are the most researched and are each known to have a multitude of medical actions and both play a role in treating pain.

These cannabinoids interact with our body’s own endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a system of receptors, situated on certain cells throughout the body. To date we have identified two key ECS receptors: CB1 and CB2. Humans naturally produce their own endocannabinoids. Two examples of this are anandamide and 2-AG. These receptors and endocannabinoids make up the ECS (Blenheim, 2016)

The ECS is involved in regulating numerous physiological functions including (but not limited to) motor coordination, neuroprotection, pain control, appetite stimulation and regulating our immune systems (Herhenham et al, 1990).

Endocannabinoids such as anandamide are produced through activities such as exercise, but for those living with chronic conditions, this is more difficult to produce naturally. It is more difficult to regulate all body systems, and cannabis medicines can be useful supplements to these essential naturally produced compounds.

THC has been proven to alleviate both neuropathic and inflammatory pain caused by Multiple Sclerosis (Russo, 2008) by causing a reduction in pain signalling and acting as an anti-inflammatory.

CBD is an effective muscle relaxant (Biles, 2020) making movement more comfortable and therefore enabling individuals to be able to engage with physiotherapy exercises, or complementary therapies such yoga, all of which contribute to maintaining muscle strength and tone.

Better pain management, with fewer side effects than opioid medications, can result in higher quality sleep. This, coupled with the mood stabilisation effect of some cannabis medicines, can help build emotional resilience and empower individuals to manage symptoms such as anxiety and even enable them to engage with mindfulness or meditation techniques as part of a holistic approach to back pain management.

The goal of carefully planning and sticking to an effective and varied care regime, is to help patient regain a sense of control over their symptoms. In order for this regime to be sustainable, it has to be right for their lifestyle.

If you are interested in learning more about how Cannabis Medicines can help your back pain and Fibromyalgia symptoms please join us for a free expert webinar on Cannabis and Backpain on May 25th brought to you by BackCare, the UK’s National Back Pain Charity and Integro Medical Clinics.

Book your place below on the eventbrite link:

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