What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a form of neuropathy resulting in chronic pain, increased sensitivity, and a strong behavioral apprehension to most painful stimuli. Fibromyalgia is caused by dysfunction of sensory pain receptors and the resulting imbalance of the serotonin level-response to painful stimuli.
English version: your pain threshold gets lower and lower until even basic tasks cause excruciating pain. This understandably can then lead to psychological symptoms of distress.
5 million Americans are impacted by fibromyalgia, with 90% of cases presenting in women 35 years of age and older. There are many theories about potential causes of fibromyalgia, and the condition has an effect on several systems of the body, including the central nervous system, the musculoskeletal system, the endocrine system (which controls hormones), and the immune system.
Many subtle changes in bodily function are observed in most, but not all, cases. These can include insomnia, low blood pressure, and a decrease in the hormones that initiate apoptosis and tissue repair.
How does fibromyalgia work?
In the nervous system, pain receptors in the skin constantly register stimuli and send signals to secondary nerves in the spinal cord, which only allow the impulse to continue to the brain if the input from the sensory nerves is over a certain voltage. They do this through the use of a voltage-gated ion channel (VGIC). Like its name implies, a VGIC is a gate that will only open after a certain voltage is applied.
This is to ensure that the pain we feel corresponds to the damage to our tissue. A light slap on the wrist won’t produce enough voltage for the spinal nerves to register it as “painful”, but dropping a hammer on your toe will cause a burst of signalling that goes straight to the brain.
In fibromyalgia, these valves will open under much lower pressure, so even mild stimuli register as painful. This is likely caused by an imbalance in the voltage-gated ion channels that literally function as a gate, and won’t send a signal until enough voltage is applied. Patients with fibromyalgia experience pain because their voltage-gated ion channels react to lower voltage than they should.
Often, 50% less stimulus is required to induce a painful sensation compared to healthy individuals. In addition, the malaise often associated with the flu and the common cold is caused by an increase in cytokines and chemokines which trigger both an inflammatory response from immune cells and a pain response from nerve cells. An increase in these same signalling chemicals is present at an abnormally high amount in people with fibromyalgia.
CBD and fibromyalgia
The exact mechanism of this hypersensitization is not clearly understood, but the neuroprotective qualities of CBD have shown efficacy in preventing the original damage to nerves exhibited by people with fibromyalgia. Research into the mechanism(s) of action of cannabidiol in combination with other phytocannabinoids on the cellular processes underlying fibromyalgia is much needed, but the studies that have already been completed show a strong correlation between CBD consumption and a decrease in the negative impact on quality of life reported by patients with fibromyalgia.
CBD naturally relieves anxiety and depression, and those are common side-effects of fibromyalgia. Additionally, it reduces pain perception which is the chief complaint of those with fibromyalgia. It down-regulates the production of chemokines and cytokines which themselves agitate nerves cells causing aches and pains, present in the majority of fibromyalgia cases. Through these actions alone it can alleviate the symptoms of fibromyalgia, but there is reason to believe that it does more than just this…
Although CBD has well-known actions in the body, such as negative modulation of cannabinoid receptors, and agonization of serotonin 5-HT1a receptors, the specific way that it relieves symptoms of fibromyalgia may be attributable to another process completely.
As the frequency of fibromyalgia has only increased meaningfully in the last century, it is reasonable to assert that the modification of the human diet to no longer include hemp-based products, and therefore the cannabinoids found in them naturally, may have resulted in many of the public health issues that have skyrocketed in the last century, including and especially fibromyalgia.
Accordingly, cannabis users exhibit a lower rate of fibromyalgia than the general population. CBD therapy represents a new opportunity for people with fibromyalgia to live a life free of the burden of constant pain.