Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain syndrome, is hard to treat
and impossible to cure. With pain so debilitating, patients may wonder about
trying medical marijuana to ease their discomfort.
Still widely controversial, "medical marijuana" refers to the smoked form of
the drug. It does not refer to the synthesized version of THC, one of the
active chemicals in marijuana, that's available in a medication called Marinol.
The FDA first approved Marinol (dronabinol) in 1986 for nausea and vomiting
Fibromyalgia is a common condition that causes painful muscles. The pain is severe and involves many muscles as well as tendons, ligaments, and other soft tissue areas. Fibromyalgia has also been linked to fatigue, sleep problems, headaches, cognitive dysfunction, depression, and anxiety.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder that involves abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, as well as changes in bowel movements - constipation or diarrhea, or alternation of both. People with IBS often experience anxiety and depression.
Millions of people have at least one of these conditions. Fibromyalgia affects 5 million U.S. adults, and an estimated 25 million to 45 million people in the U.S. have IBS.
If you have fibromyalgia or IBS, you may be more likely to have the other one, too.
In one study, 32% of people with IBS also had fibromyalgia symptoms, compared with 4% of people without IBS. Another study showed fibromyalgia occurring in 20% of people with IBS. And studies have estimated 32% to 70% of people with fibromyalgia also meet criteria for IBS.
Both are functional disorders. There isn’t anything wrong with the structure of the organs, but with how they work.
Fibromyalgia and IBS don't always go together. They're two separate conditions.
But there is relationship between two, says Michael J. Pellegrino, MD, a fibromyalgia expert at Ohio Pain and Rehab Specialists in North Canton, Ohio and an expert on WebMD's Fibromyalgia Exchange. Pellegrino, who has fibromyalgia, says he also has intermittent IBS that he considers mild.
“There’s some connection because they come in clusters, but we don’t know what it is right now,” says Albena Halpert, MD, an assistant professor of gastroenterology at Boston University's medical school.
Researchers see a possible pain link between IBS and fibromyalgia. In short, people with those conditions respond to pain differently than people without the two conditions.
IBS patients are hypersensitive to intestinal pain; people with fibromyalgia are hypersensitive to skin and muscle pain. There is a lowered threshold to pain sensation in general, Halpert says.
It’s been also found that people treated with a certain group of antidepressants, known to affect when pain is felt by someone, for both conditions responded favorably. This led to the idea that the disorders were possibly linked by a similar underlying cause.
In fibromyalgia, the central nervous system may be highly sensitive, making someone feel more pain than what someone without fibromyalgia would feel in a similar situation. And the central nervous system is not as able to block or inhibit the pain compared to someone without the condition, Pellegrino says.