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The Truth About Marijuana And Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Google cannabis and chronic fatigue syndrome and you’ll get lots of speculation and questionable info,  but little scientific research. That’s because chronic fatigue—sometimes known as CFT/ME (the “ME” stands for myalgic encephalomyelitis, which might be a more medical-sounding synonym for CFT or might be its own ailment)—arouses nearly as much controversy in the medical world as cannabis does.

A disease seemingly with no cause but a laundry list of symptoms that includes fatigue, loss of memory or concentration, swollen lymph nodes, and sore throat, muscles, and joints, CFT entered the popular consciousness in the 1980s, when it was nicknamed “the yuppie flu.” That gives you an idea of how not seriously it was taken by everybody—except those who languished from it.

This skepticism has tapered (slightly) over the decades. However, in 2015 a densely-sourced report, in which the Institute of Medicine finally weighed in, giving its imprimatur to CFM/ME, to which it proposes yet another name-change: “systemic exertion intolerance disease,” or SEID. The official line is now that the disease formerly known as chronic fatigue is indeed a bona fide disorder; we just don’t know what causes it.

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Conjectured culprits have included the Epstein-Barr virus, herpes virus 6, mouse leukemia (all likely wrong), a yet-to-be identified autoimmune disorder or the lingering effects of viral infection (both vague enough to be safe), or even some atavistic emergence of hibernation in our non-hibernating species. (That last one is totally insane on its face, but is actually not that batty).

There’s no reason, beyond wishful thinking, to conclude that cannabis — that well-known relaxant and addler of short-term-memory — could be the cure for an ailment whose hallmark is fatigue and poor concentration. Nevertheless, wherever there is a mysterious and intractable disease, there are desperate people who’ll give anything a shot. In the case of CFS, “anything” includes Feldenkrais posture exercises, oils of fish or flax, electrical nerve stimulation, probiotics, antioxidants, oxygen therapy, compression socks, water (yes, plain old water), and cannabis.

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Until CFS/ME-SEID research gets a little less murky, there obviously can’t be any reliable tests to see what cannabis can do to fix it. So anything you see on the subject today is anecdotal (which may well be true, but cannot be relied on) or outright snake oil.

Let the user beware.

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