Fibromyalgia Patients Make Their Case For Medical Marijuana

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No matter how slow politicians are to game, medical marijuana is becoming a thing in Malta – Sativex spray, containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), has already been licensed, and at the end of this month the Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties Helena Dalli will be discussing whether Bedrocan should be made available in Malta. 

Bedrocan comes in the form of pharmaceutical-grade dried cannabis buds which can be vaporized, brewed as tea or smoked. The Pain Clinic Malta is one stakeholder pushing for Bedrock's introduction, claiming it to be "a fantastic tool to manage a wide range of conditions including persistent pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia and many more." 

But it's not just the doctors who are fully engaged with the pain-relief possibilities of medical cannabis, it's also the patients. The ME, CFS & Fibromyalgia Alliance Malta, founded in May 2013, have a team working specifically on the study of medical marijuana. Michael Zammit, who suffers from fibromyalgia and forms part of the alliance, has conducted a large study on marijuana and chronic pain sufferers.

"My life changed drastically [when I developed fibromyalgia]. It was hard for me to accept that I had become a human being unable to work, let alone living with the constant turmoil of pain," Zammit told Lovin Malta when we approached ME, CFS & Fibromyalgia Alliance Malta to find out more about people living with these conditions.

"My daily activities are a challenge because moving my limbs hurts. Things taken for granted have become a struggle to me to do – like going for a walk, shopping, and so forth. I feel like being imprisoned in my own body, underneath an apparent shell of health, as from the outwards I look healthy," Zammit said.

"I feel like being imprisoned in my own body, underneath an apparent shell of health, as from the outwards I look healthy"

Michael Zammit, ME, CFS & Fibromyalgia Alliance Malta

The alliance frequently refer to their chronic-pain conditions as 'invisible disabilities'. The NGO is working towards a disability status – in the past fibromyalgia was classed under rheumatology. 

"It is a disease in its own rights and cripples its sufferers to a disabled state," Ruth Debono, another member of the alliance told us. "The fact that it is an invisible disability raises a lot of questions and doubts amongst the professionals and laymen. In Malta, it's become a new way to diagnose people who are complaining with health issues and not knowing where their pain is coming from. Our NGO is fighting for better testing and more assurance for their members that the proper protocol is being followed by the health department."

It's also fighting for some relief. 

"Medical cannabis can help us to ease our pain with no side effects that other medicine can cause, making us feel worse," Zammit says. "Why withold a medicine that can ease our sufferings, and have a quality lifestyle?"

Zammit tell us that his level of daily pain became so severe that he was no longer able to work: "I had to quit my job, I couldn't cope with the pain. I am in constant severe pain, and if I didn't challenge myself, I would be bedridden."

When we asked him what the ME, CFS & Fibromyalgia Alliance Malta are most ardent about in their work, Zammit mentioned, "disability status, rights, awareness, psychological support, free medicine, free therapy such as hydrotherapy, and the right to have any treatment that can help ease our suffering."

The picture that Zammit paints of his life is a dire one, characterised by a level of pain which is hard for most to imagine living with on a daily basis – "I feel like a social outcast, and I am virtually invisible to the outward world. However, it is the pain that drives me mad – and at times I am suicidal. My faith in God keeps me alive."

Zammit's mother is now his carer. He tells us that his expensive medication has led to financial problems, meaning that the family find it hard to make ends meet each month. 

"Besides, the medicine I use is not so effective with pain control. And the side effects are horrible – obfuscated thoughts, feeling detached, particularly when I am prescribed ant-convulsions drugs. And the hell of chronic constipation."

"Why withold a medicine that can ease our suffering, and help us have a quality lifestyle?"

Michael Zammit, ME, CFS & Fibromyalgia Alliance Malta

So why does the ME, CFS & Fibromyalgia Alliance believe that medical marijuana has been slow to take hold in Malta? Zammit puts it down to "red tape and pharmaceutical lobbying".

In a matter of weeks we will know more about the next development in the introduction of medical marijuana in Malta. For Michael Zammit those weeks are filled with days that he describes as "debilitating". He assures us that "there are no bad or good days. My pain is constant."

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