Doctors caution that self-medicating with herbal cannabis could be linked to poor mental health
People who suffer from fibromyalgia (FM) – a medical disorder characterized by chronic widespread pain – are turning to the streets for marijuana to relieve their pain. A new study published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research, led by Dr. Mary-Ann Fitzcharles, a rheumatologist at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), reveals that 13 per cent of FM patients use cannabinoids for relief from symptoms such as widespread pain, fatigue, and insomnia; 10 per cent buy cannabis illegally for these reasons. These people tend to have poorer mental health, and are often on additional prescribed medications that could result in negative drug interactions.
“Fibromyalgia affects up to three per cent of the population and is more common in women,” says Dr. Fitzcharles, who is also a professor of medicine at McGill University. “Unfortunately, FM pharmacologic treatments for pain have modest results, prompting some patients to self-medicate with more non-traditional therapies, such as marijuana.”
Dr. Fitzcharles and her colleagues assessed cannabinoid use in 457 FM patients being treated at the MUHC Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit. They determined that 13 per cent of participants used cannabinoids, which can include legal pharmacologic preparations, to help manage pain, fatigue, and insomnia, and 10 per cent bought cannabis illegally. Men were more likely to turn to marijuana more than women, and marijuana users were more likely to have an unstable mental illness and display opioid drug-seeking behaviour. Additionally, marijuana users had a 77 per cent unemployment rate, which researchers believe may be a result of ineffective pain control or a more serious functional disability.
Little research has been done in the area of FM prevention. What is known, is that actively participating in self-care management, which includes exercising and staying in the workforce (patients who work do better probably because they are not focusing on their pain) can contribute to better outcomes for FM patients.
“While self-medicating with cannabinoids may provide some pain relief to fibromyalgia patients, we caution against general use of illicit drugs until health and psychosocial issues risks are confirmed,” says Dr. Fitzcharles. “Physicians should also be alert to potential negative mental health issues with these patients using illicit drugs for medical purposes, and that some cannabis users may be dishonestly using a FM diagnosis to justify self-medicating with illegal drugs.”