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Cannabis-based Drug Improves Sleep in Fibromyalgia Patients

But Long-term Safety Is Unknown

Sleep problems are common in people with chronic pain disorders—and fibromyalgia is no exception.There are a number of medications that may treat sleep problems associated with fibromyalgia, and anti-depressants are among the most common. But new study findings may change that—a synthetic cannabinoid called nabilone (marketed as Cesamet) relieved sleep disturbances better than the anti-depressant amitriptyline (Elavil).

Cannabis (Marijuana)
As the name suggests, cannabinoids are compounds found in cannabis (marijuana). Cannabis for recreational use is illegal in the United States, but it is legal for medicinal purposes in some states. The cannabinoids found in cannabis have pain-killing properties similar to the natural painkillers produced in our bodies.

Cesamet Used in the Study
In most forms, cannabis is a grown product. But Cesamet, which was used in this study, is a synthetic (man-made) cannabinoid. The drug was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1985 to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea.

In this study, Canadian researchers conducted a randomized trial to compare Cesamet to Elavil in patients with fibromyalgia who also had chronic insomnia. Patients were given a low-dose of Cesamet or Elavil at bedtime. The researchers used the Insomnia Severity Index and the Leeds Sleep Evaluation Questionnaire to measure the quality of sleep of the 29 participants.

Sleep Quality Improved
Though both medications improved sleep quality in all of the patients, Cesamet was better at increasing the restfulness of the participants' sleep.

However, adverse effects, such as dizziness and nausea, were more common in patients taking Cesamet. Fortunately, these adverse affects were primarily mild to moderate.

Potential Alternative?
The researchers concluded that Cesamet may be an alternative to Elavil for fibromyalgia patients who have trouble sleeping. But more research needs to be conducted to determine the long-term effectiveness and safety of Cesamet.

Updated on: 12/05/14
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