Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Cannabis

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also called myalgic encephalomyelitis or immune dysfunction syndrome is a disease, usually characterized by profound fatigue, pain, sleep abnormalities, and other symptoms that are usually worsened by exertion. It refers to a disorder or group of disorders usually generally characterised by persistent fatigue that is accompanied by other symptoms that may be prolonged for up to a minimum of six months that is worsened by ongoing exertion and is neither substantially relieved by rest nor caused by other inherent medical conditions. It therefore impairs the normal body activities and usually has no identifiable psychological or medical problems to account for it.

No specific medications are universally approved for the CFS treatment. However, traditionally, some medications are being used that may be useful for pain or other symptoms, or in cases where CFS may have a specific cause. These involve the use combinations of drugs to accomplish specific goals that are usually unique and very individualized for every patient, for example, morning medication to improve cognition and energy and night medication to improve sleep. These include;

COX-2 Inhibitors (Coxibs): They were initially believed to work as the traditional NSAIDs but were later found to cause numerous reports of skin rashes, cardiovascular events and other adverse effects. Valdecoxib (Bextra) and rofecoxib (Vioxx) were later withdrawn from the U.S. market due to reports of heart attacks in patients using them.

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): Are pain relievers. They reduce pain and swelling and include ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin. They work well but their long-term use can cause stomach problems, such as bleeding and ulcers. As a control measure, NSAID manufacturers were asked by the FDA in April 2005 to include a warning label on their products to alert the users of an increased risk for gastrointestinal bleeding and cardiovascular events. Aspirin was however excluded from the labelling revisions due to its proven cardiovascular benefits. The NSAIDs can also have the effect of increasing blood pressure particularly among patients already undergoing hypertension treatment, with indomethacin, piroxicam and naproxen appearing to pose the greatest risk and Sulindac the smallest effect. They also cause kidney damage and patients with kidney or liver problems, severe circulation disorders, high blood pressure or taking diuretics or oral hypoglycemics and also have to use NSAID on long term basis must be closely monitored. These drugs also cause headaches, ringing in the ears, dizziness, possibly depression and skin rashes.

Antidepressants have also been used for the CFS patients, but they have side effects including restlessness, constipation, slightly increased heart rate, dry mouth and reduced sexual drive. They also have complicated interactions with other drugs, some of which are very serious.

Cannabis has therefore come in handy as the best alternative for CFS patients. It is associated with therapeutic properties not replicated by the other available medications and its side effects are less severe than ones associated with other common prescription medications. Adding cannabinoids (the main ingredient in medical marijuana or cannabis) to an opiates-only treatment can give great relief to such patients. A cannabis and opiates combined therapy could result in reduced opiate dosages.

Cannabis also helps CFS patients by; relieving headaches, anti-depression, has anti-inflammatory benefits, heighten focus, relieve muscle pain, support immune system and improve energy levels.