Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is an illness that has great impact on the quality of life of its sufferers. As there is no effective treatment for this disorder, more and more patients are resorting to marijuana for the relief of their symptoms. But is cannabis actually effective against chronic fatigue or is it just a passing fad?
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease (SEID), is a chronic disorder really difficult to diagnose whose cause is not yet fully known. It is characterized by extreme persistent fatigue that does not lessen with rest or sleep, as well as by cognitive difficulties with no clear cause.
For decades doctors debated whether this disorder was in reality the fruit of people's imagination: an illness suited for hypochondriacs. In fact, in the 1980s chronic fatigue was known as the 'yuppie flu'. However, we know today that CFS has a genuine diagnosis which turns out to be an extremely challenging condition that significantly limits the lives of those who suffer it.
For a chronic fatigue sufferer, everyday activities may seem insurmountable, as they only have a limited amount of energy available, which translates into inexplicable exhaustion that doesn't go away with rest or sleep.
Other symptoms may include swollen lymph nodes, muscle or joint pain, depression, sleep disturbance, and problems with attention, memory, processing speed, or language comprehension. Some people may also experience headaches and sore throats. In any case, fatigue is the underlying symptom that connects all the others.
Treating chronic fatigue syndrome
If symptoms weren't frustrating enough, the fact that there's no standard treatment for this disease makes matters even worse. Even though CFS has been classified as a nervous system disorder by the World Health Organization, its origins are still unknown, with several psychological and physiological factors allegedly contributing to its development.
There are many different theories with regards to the causes of CFS. These may range from psychological stress to emotional trauma, as well as viral / bacterial infections or hormone imbalance. Some experts believe that a combination of some of these factors may trigger immune system issues that might ultimately unleash the disease. It seems likely that there is also a genetic component to it, as it seems to be more recurrent in certain families. CFS is more common in women between their 20s and their 40s.
Chronic fatigue syndrome has a lot of similarities with some autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or multiple sclerosis, which often makes diagnosis difficult. So for now the treatment for CFS concentrates on controlling and relieving the symptoms. Unfortunately this disease is incurable so it becomes a lifelong battle for those who suffer from it.
Cannabis and chronic fatigue syndrome
It is important to emphasize that no formal research has ever been carried out on the effects of cannabis on CFS. However, there are some anecdotal accounts by patients who use CBD to control their symptoms.
- CBD may be used to fight joint pain. Some recent studies on animals (like this 2018 study) have identified pain mitigation in rats through the use of a CBD topical treatment.
- There is also evidence that chronic fatigue is linked to hypersensitive central nervous systems. In 2017, the journal Expert Opinion on Therapeutic Targets identified cannabidiol use as a way of diminishing the activity of glial brain cells, which support neurones and trigger this hypersensitivity in the nervous system.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome is also frequently linked to low spirits or depression, which can lead to extreme fatigue even after a good night's sleep. Studies have also proven the effectiveness of marijuana in the treatment of this as well as in the treatment of cognitive impairment.
Therefore, medical cannabis may prove effective in the treatment of restless sleep, muscle and joint pain, emotional imbalance, or even depression. Through their experience, users recommend Sativa-dominant strains due to their energizing effects: they can improve mental clarity and alleviate anxiety, which may also help in the recovery process. For most users, though, a medicinal cannabis strain or a concentrate with balanced CBD:THC levels may be the most effective option.
It is vital for cannabis users to educate themselves on the different cannabis types and varieties that are more appropriate for the treatment of chronic fatigue, as both a Sativa strain or a product rich in cannabidiol (CBD) can be as effective. But even a heavy Indica with a powerfully inducing effect may be suitable to fight insomnia. In any case, for someone who has been fighting CFS for decades, giving cannabis a chance may be worth it, even if it only represents a light at the end of the tunnel.