MCGILL (CAN) — One in 10 people who suffer from fibromyalgia are self-medicating their pain with illegally purchased marijuana, research shows.
The study published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research reveals that 13 percent of patients with fibromyalgia use cannabinoids for relief from symptoms such as widespread pain, fatigue, and insomnia—and 10 percent of them buy it illegally.
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 percent of the population and is more common in women,” says Mary-Ann Fitzcharles, professor of medicine at McGill University. “Unfortunately, FM (fibromyalgia) pharmacologic treatments for pain have modest results, prompting some patients to self-medicate with more nontraditional therapies, such as marijuana.”
Fitzcharles and colleagues assessed cannabinoid use in 457 patients with fibromyalgia being treated at the MUHC Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit. They found that 13 percent of participants used cannabinoids, which can include legal pharmacologic preparations, to help manage pain, fatigue, and insomnia, and 10 percent 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 behavior. Additionally, marijuana users had a 77 percent 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 fibromyalgia 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 people with fibromyalgia.
“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 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.”
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