I have a friend who’s a doctor who ever since developing fibromyalgia in medical school, has been on one long experiment using herself as a Guinea pig to try and figure out what was going on in her body that caused so much pain, fatigue and brain fog and how she could use that information to translate into finding effective treatments for herself and ultimately her fibromyalgia patients. I’ve suffered from fibromyalgia myself so this really resonated with me.
You might’ve heard about CBD or cannabidiol as a useful treatment for fibromyalgia. There’s been a lot of buzz about CBD and rightfully so. It really can be helpful for fibromyalgia. Part of why I made this website is because I think there’s really a lack of good quality, accessible medical guidance out there for folks who want to try CBD for themselves.
So this article compiles all the information we’ve been able to get from my friend (the doctor) who has many fibromyalgia patients as well as from an extensive review of the scientific literature. This includes not only resources she sent me but also reading almost every study I could find about a CBD for a fibromyalgia or related symptoms like anxiety and insomnia.
I’m also going to answer a lot of the questions that her patients would ask like
what fibromyalgia symptoms could CBD actually help me with?
- Is CBD safe?
- Is it legal?
- Where do I get it?
- Do I have to go to a dispensary to buy it?
- Do I have to have a medical marijuana card?
- What kind of dose or drain should I be taking?
- What side effects could I expect?
What is CBD?
So let’s get started and we’re going to start with the basics. Learning about what CBD is, where it comes from, and how it could help in fibromyalgia. CBD or cannabidiol is a chemical found on the plant, commonly referred to as marijuana, but more scientifically inaccurately called cannabis. THC and CBD are the two biggest chemical players in cannabis as far as from medicinal standpoint, THC and CBD are the most well studied for their medicinal and scientific affects.
I’m going to review what research has shown us both animal and human studies about the effects of these two chemicals in the body. I’m going focus more on CBD but I do need to address how THC and CBD interact with each other and how they’re different from each other. So THC is the most famous component of cannabis and it’s really the “high” causer.
It’s responsible for the psychoactive or altered thinking effects of marijuana. That typically is what recreational users are seeking. Now it also has strong pain relieving effects. However, the psychoactivity really limits its ability to used as a pain reliever because usually people seeking pain relief are seeking to improve their function and the high can really limit their function. As one of my friend’s patients said, “you know what good is it to me to be in lower pain if I’m stuck on my couch feeling high all day?” So that right now is what limits kind of the usefulness of THC on its own as medicine for pain. It really does also have some mild anti-inflammatory properties, which can be helpful. It’s been shown to reduce muscle tension and improve sleep quality and we know a lot about how THC works in the body and we know exactly what receptors it works on.
THC works in the brain on CB one receptors. That’s what gives it its psychoactive effects and it’s pain-relieving effects. THC also works on a cells of the immune system through a CB-2 receptors which is what helps it to have its anti-inflammatory properties. In contrast, we understand a lot less about how CBD works in the body and part of this is because CBD seems to have effects on lots of different receptors rather than just a few like THC one research article I was reading estimated that there may be up to 65 different molecular targets, meaning receptors that CBD works on. In that same article they called CBD a “promiscuous” molecule, which made me laugh, but also it’s true. It interacts in a lot of different ways with a lot of different receptors and that’s partly why the effects of CBD tend to be more global or systemic or subtle than what you see with THC.
How is CBD Different from THC?
CBD does not activate those same CB one receptors in the brain, which is why it doesn’t have the same effects of psychoactivity as THC does. In fact, CBD doesn’t have any of that classic psychoactivity effect. It does not make people high. Now it does interact with the brain, however, and it seems to interact with neurons that are inflamed or hyperactive. That’s how it reduces seizures. It acts as sort of an antioxidant in the brain, giving it some neuroprotective capacity and there’s some exciting new research about using CBD to help the brain recover from injuries like stroke or traumatic brain injuries. We know that CBD has a lot of effects on various cells of the immune system and that’s really why it’s such a strong anti-inflammatory. Unlike THC, which is more of a mild anti-inflammatory, CBD is really a very strong and effective anti-inflammatory. Now it’s a mild pain reliever, not a strong pain reliever, and it works really in the brain to kind of calm down neurons that are kind of overreacting to pain and so you can see how in fibromyalgia that would be really helpful, but CBD does not actually act as a pain blocker like THC does, so it’s not the same kind of effect.
Benefits of CBD
It’s a more global and subtle effect and it’s kind of a combination of it’s anti-inflammatory effects, it’s muscle relaxers effects, it’s brain calming effects that really give it it’s pain-relieving capacity. Now CBD also interacts with serotonin receptors in the brain, which is how it eases anxiety and improves depression. It interacts with the receptors of the fight or flight response, which we’ll talk more about in the next section, and that really enables it to help calm down PTSD and fibromyalgia symptoms specifically. Now there have been some very interesting studies done on both THC and CBD, both in animal and human models. Now this video is about fibromyalgia and unfortunately as of the time of making this video, there have been no studies looking at CBD directly on its effects for fibromyalgia. Now there have been studies looking at arthritis, there’ve been studies looking at CBD for nerve pain and primarily at this point a lot of the work has been done actually in the animal model that we’re getting.
CBD for arthritis
Although there is more interest in studying for humans, it’s still because of the regulatory and legal issues in the U S it’s still actually very hard to study CBD on humans. A lot of what we know about CBD, from a research perspective, comes from studies on animals. And interestingly, in one study looking at rats, they induced arthritis (meaning inflammation) in one of the joints and then they applied CBD both locally to that area, to the skin above the joint and looked at what happened. And they found that both markers of inflammation and pain responses went down with CBD, applied topically to the joint. Then in that same study they tried it systemically. So they gave these rats some CBD liquid and basically they found the same effects. So CBD both systemically or topically, at least in the animal model, was really effective to reduce inflammation and pain from arthritis.
Now you can see in this comparison slide that there really is a lot of overlap areas where THC and CBD both have similar effects, but keep in mind that they’re doing it by working on different pathways. So although THC and CBD both reduce inflammation, they’re doing it through different avenues by acting on different receptors. And what’s great about this is that it means that if you are combining them together, if you’re using a product that has a little bit of THC along with your CBD, you’re likely to get more inflammation reduction, more pain reduction, and more muscle relaxant benefits. Basically the way to think about it is that there’s additional benefit from kind of the “entourage effect”, meaning more effects from THC and CBD together. Then from either one alone. Now you will see down here this is where THC and CBD really differ.
Here, THC is listed as a sleep aid. CBD is not, although I do think CBD has some benefit for insomnia, CBD is the only one that’s listed as reducing anxiety. In fact, THC is known to increase anxiety and THC is the only one that gives that psychotropic or high effect, whereas CBD does not. Based on that review, on the scientific effects of CBD, that we know from research, I bet you’re already starting to guess how it could be effective as a medicine or medicinal treatment for fibromyalgia in order to really understand exactly the ways that CBD can help with fibromyalgia and what you should be watching for.
If you’re trying CBD for specific fibromyalgia symptoms, I feel like it’s important for you to really understand, uh, what’s going on in the body in fibromyalgia. Of course, it would be a much longer article if I reviewed everything that we know about, what’s happening in the body in fibromyalgia.
If you want to go more into the science and treatment of fibromyalgia, I encourage you to check out this book, the fibro manual that is THE definitive guide for fibromyalgia.
We’ll keep this article more focused. In fibromyalgia, we know that the part of the brain that senses danger has gone haywire. That part of our brain that’s like the smoke alarm looking for danger should only really go off when there’s actually danger and as soon as danger goes away, the response should go away. What happens in fibromyalgia is that a trauma or illness or injury triggers the fight or flight nervous system. That’s our innate, uh, response to danger. And unfortunately once the trauma goes away, the response does not. So it’s like a smoke alarm that correctly responds and start sounding when, when it notices smoke. But once the fire is gone and there’s no more smoke, the smoke alarm keeps going.
That’s what’s happening in our nervous system. In fibromyalgia, we are continually sending out deep in an unconscious level, completely out of our control. Our brain is continually sending out these fight or flight, uh, signals, which are kind of like dangerous signals to the body. And you could imagine that sending out dangerous signals for a short term would be good, right? It’s going to help our muscles to get more blood flow and be tighter so we can fight off an attacker or runaway or, you know, get out of the car. If we’re in a car accident, things like that. But over the longterm they can be really damaging. And what we’re seeing in fibromyalgia is really the widespread effects of a constant over-activation of that fight or flight nervous system. And it’s really important to understand all the different areas of the body that that can affect.
CBD and Insomnia
There also a lot of different areas that CBD can have positive effects on. So first let’s go over the negative effects. What’s happening in response to that constant fight or flight? A signal that’s being sent out from our brain to our body? Well first of all, if your body is getting the signals that it’s in danger, it’s probably not going to let you go to sleep very easily, right? Cause I wants you to stay awake and be hypervigilant and be on the watch for danger. This is why insomnia is a huge problem in fibromyalgia. The next thing that can really go haywire is our ability to get into deep sleep because even once we’re asleep, our brain is sort of keeping us in the lighter stages of sleep, never really letting us get into those deep restorative stages of sleep.
And that’s really kind of a state of hypervigilance while we’re sleeping. And that, as you can imagine, leads to unrefreshing, sleep, fatigue and fog. So right there you can already see two ways that CBD could help. CBD absolutely can help with insomnia. I have found personally it’s a really great treatment for insomnia and for some people they feel like it improves the quality of their sleep, meaning they feel like they get deeper sleep with it. I haven’t experienced that personally. I’ve seen more than benefits for insomnia, but my doctor friend has definitely said she has patients that report that they feel like they get deeper, more restful sleep with CBD. So sleep is the first area to look for benefits.
CBD for Anxiety
The second, aspect of a fight or flight nervous system gone
haywire is the emotional experience of that, that hyper vigilance. We
experienced that as a feeling of anxiety or feeling of fear. And that’s another
area where CBD has been really helpful both in research and empirical studies.
And for me personally, I have found CBD to be a really effective, gentle
anti-anxiety treatment. The other thing that really goes out of whack when the
fight or flight nervous system is on overdrive like it is in fibromyalgia, is
because our muscles are so tight and even while we’re sleeping, they’re sort of
tight and ready to fight. It leads to a lot of muscle tenderness, muscle pain,
and muscle inflammation. And CBD can help both in topical application over the
muscle that hurts or systemically with kind of widespread body inflammation.
Now, that’s a more subtle effect. And what I’ve seen as, for me, CBD topically
can be very helpful only really when it’s combined with other herbs. So I find
it’s the most hopeful when I combine it with something like arnica, which also
has anti-inflammatory properties.
When I asked my doctor friend about this she said “Some of my patients find that CBD just by itself is a really good topical pain reliever and then systemically I have found it to be mildly helpful as a pain reliever but not, not hugely. It’s more kind of a global subtle response and I feel like it’s more helpful for pain for me because it helps kind of ease my muscle tightness.” This is the other area where CBD can be really helpful. It’s a good muscle relaxant and most of us with fibromyalgia have really tight muscles. So for me, I think it’s kind of the, the muscle relax and effective CBD that gives the most pain relief effect along with kind of that mild anti-inflammatory, effects when taken systemically and the strong antiinflammatory effect when used topically. Now the final area that the fight or flight nervous system really throws out of whack is our hormones.
And in particular when the fight or flight nervous system is in overdrive, like it is in fibromyalgia, it can really burn out or tire out our adrenal glands, our poor adrenal glands are really getting pummeled all the time by this fight or flight nervous system signaling. And basically they get to the point where they just don’t have anything left to give. So they’re still functioning but just barely. And this is sort of an end result of this constant fight or flight nervous system, uh, signaling from the brain. And interestingly, CBD shows some really good, uh, effects both restoring kind of a more normal function to the adrenals and also calming that fight or flight nervous system signals is coming from the brain in the first place. So to review what we’ve talked about so far is that CBD has good anti-anxiety effects. It can help with insomnia for some, it helps them get into deep sleep.
It has general anti-inflammatory effects and local anti-inflammatory effects. It can be a good muscle relaxant. And all of that combined, the anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant effects are really what give it its pain-relieving effects out. If that was all CBD did, that would still be pretty good. But here’s the best part, the ultimate end result of this whole chain reaction of uh, the fight or flight nervous system gone haywire is that the part of our brain that senses pain also goes haywire. And in particular there seems to be some inflammation in certain cells in the brain that are really important in how we respond to pain. And so what we see is this kind of localized neuroinflammation, particularly in glial cells, which are certain, uh, cells that surround our, our nerves in the brain. The inflammation there is really hard to treat, but really, really fundamental in that process of chronic pain and in the process of pain amplification.
So, you know, in fibromyalgia the kind of volume has gone up when our pain sensing, uh, the best analogy is like the princess and the pea. That fairy tale where the woman, uh, can feel a pea under 40 mattresses. And most of us with fibromyalgia can definitely recognize that feeling cause our, our nervous system is so sensitized that even something just like a gentle touch can feel like a smack. So how do we treat that? That’s actually one of the hardest components of fibromyalgia to treat. And it’s also one of the areas where CBD is the most exciting because CBD has shown really good effects at reducing neuro inflammation and as a neuroprotectant meaning restoring or improving more normal function between neurons and lessening that inflammation. So altogether you can see that CBD hold a lot of different avenues where it could benefit in fibromyalgia.
And the key to watch out for is how, how is it helping you, you know, as, as for me, I found it to be most helpful for anxiety, for insomnia and as a muscle relaxer. That’s just my experience. Um, keeping in mind that CBD, just like any medicine, people will respond differently to it. I definitely have found that the majority of my patients that try CBD do report benefit from it. Some people report a significant amount of benefit, some report only mild improvement, and others report no benefit at all. So keeping in mind that it’s not a panacea, it’s not a cure all, but it definitely really holds, I think, the most potential to help on lots of different avenues and fibromyalgia, helping with the fight or flight nervous system. Over-activation helping restore more adrenal balance, reducing inflammation, reducing muscle tension and tightness and restoring and improving the brain’s ability to correctly interpret pain signals. So if you want to try CBD for yourself, the key is trying to find really good quality sourced CBD and to make sure that you know exactly what to look for as far as side effects and the correct dosages. So that’s what I’m going to go into in the next hour portions. So stay tuned.