Our bodies naturally make pain relievers called endorphins, but they also make other substances that can trigger pain relief in the so-called endocannabinoid system. This system seems to play a key role in many processes in the body, including modulating how we feel pain. Marijuana contains cannabinoids very similar to those that occur in the body naturally.
Drugs derived from marijuana
Dr. Ware recently published a study showing that one such compound, nabilone (Cesamet), helped fibromyalgia patients sleep better. It was more effective than amitriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant often prescribed to fibromyalgia patients to ease pain and improve sleep. And a study published a couple of years ago found nabilone helped lessen pain and anxiety in fibromyalgia patients.
But do they help?
“It is quite possible that cannabis-based medicines could be helpful for sufferers of fibromyalgia based on available science,” says Ethan Russo, MD, who is senior medical advisor to GW Pharmaceuticals, which makes Sativex, and a study physician for the U.S. clinical trials now underway for cancer treatment.
But in the U.S., the legality of medical marijuana is determined state-by-state (its now legal in 14 states), and rules and regulations vary widely. (Get state-by-state information.) And while Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that he would no longer go after people who were selling or using medical marijuana legally, many users—and potential users—are fearful of the legal risks they may be taking.