Although research in the field is still ongoing, evidence is mounting that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain. More patients than ever are taking cannabis as an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs to find relief from painful conditions including rheumatism, muscle and back pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and other health conditions. The fact that period pain, menstrual cramps, and other common menstrual conditions are still not on the list of approved conditions for medical cannabis everywhere, despite almost half of the population suffering from these symptoms every month, is certainly strange and potentially immoral.

CANNABIS: THE FORGOTTEN “WOMEN'S MEDICINE”

Some medical experts are still hesitant to consider cannabis for treating common women’s health problems such as period pain and cramps, which is astonishing seeing that the plant has a long history of being used exactly for this purpose. It goes back centuries, as demonstrated by the findings of board-certified neurologist, psychopharmacology researcher, and Director of Research and Development of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute (ICCI) Ethan Russo, MD. He points out that the use of cannabis for women’s health dates back to at least 16th century China. Back then, cannabis was commonly given as a medicine for menstrual cramps and related pain.

Some time later, in the 19th century, cannabis was again frequently prescribed for period pain and cramping. This time, however, it was in England where Queen Victoria was given cannabis as the go-to medicine for menstrual cramps by her royal physician. Yet, there is no mention of marijuana for treating these common ailments in medical literature.

Cannabis Menstruation  

HOW CANNABIS HELPS MANAGE PERIOD PAIN AND MENSTRUAL CRAMPS

There is convincing scientific evidence regarding cannabis’ ability to alleviate menstrual pain and cramping, although it is debated whether it can prevent the onset of pain altogether. Newer research, however, suggests that cannabis can potentially do both, functioning as a pain blocker and a preventative.

In his preclinical research, Ethan Russo notes that cannabis for treating menstrual pain may possibly work best due to a synergistic effect between THC and CBD. CBD (cannabidiol) is thought to have a pain-suppressing effect, while psychoactive THC acts as a muscle relaxant. This way, cannabis is believed to not just block the pain associated with cramps, but their onset as well. This, of course, makes the balance of cannabinoids within a potential medicine of the utmost importance.

Women who suffer from menstrual cramps can also take advantage of the muscle-relaxing properties of THC by applying a topical cannabis solution to their lower abdomen. Although they will not be able to feel the THC’s psychoactive effects, its muscle-relaxing properties are retained.

Vaping cannabis concentrates or taking them orally can also be effective. Then again, consumed this way, the THC would cause a psychoactive high, which isn’t always desired by all medical users. As an alternative, patients can take products that contain CBD only, such as CBD oils or tinctures, or they can switch to CBD-rich, low-THC cannabis strains. These can provide pain relief, but don’t have a pronounced psychoactive effect.

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Microdosing cannabis is another option. This way, patients can get minimal yet medicinal doses of cannabinoids in their system, evenly spread out over the day. This can minimise unwanted effects that would otherwise occur when taking larger doses.

CANNABIS AND PREMENSTRUAL SYNDROME (PMS)

Most of the time, women not only experience cramping during their period, but a whole host of other uncomfortable symptoms in the days leading up to it. This common condition, known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), can manifest in tender breasts, bloating and upset stomach, headache, lower sex drive, as well as mood swings and other symptoms. For this reason, PMS doesn’t so much describe a single condition as it does a range of different symptoms.

Of course, not all women experience the same PMS symptoms, and they can vary in severity based on genetic factors and environmental factors like stress. Here too there is a strong case for cannabis easing many of these symptoms in the same way it does cramping and pain during menstruation.

CANNABIS FOR HEADACHE

Headaches and migraines are also frequent symptoms that can manifest during or before menstruation. It has long been suggested that cannabis may alleviate these symptoms as well. A study published in 2016 in the renowned Pharmacotherapy journal found that cannabis helped to reduce monthly migraines. 

Researchers examined a group of 121 adults who suffered from migraines, finding that cannabis greatly helped reduce the monthly migraine attacks from 10.4 to 4.6. Although the study didn’t look into migraines associated with PMS, the drastic reduction of symptoms found in their study is still noteworthy.

Regarding headaches and migraines, it may be advantageous to once again consider microdosing, as high-THC cannabis is not a viable option for most people to dose throughout the day. Discreet tinctures or edibles with a balanced THC:CBD ratio may offer the best therapy, without major psychoactive side effects.

Cannabis Menstrual Symptoms Relief

CANNABIS FOR MOOD SWINGS

The monthly hormonal changes in a woman’s body can also cause mood swings. These mood swings may occur in the days leading up to the period, a time known as the luteal phase. Unfortunately, common medical practice is for doctors to simply prescribe antidepressants, many of which have a long list of potential side effects. However, cannabis can help here as well.

Aside from using cannabis to treat pain and various other bodily ailments, people also take it to ease emotional stress, depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

Now, it isn’t a secret that some people enjoy cannabis simply for recreational purposes, say when they want to relax; but it isn’t necessarily THC that is responsible for alleviating mood disorders. In fact, the relaxing “high” of THC can actually incite paranoia and anxiety in some users. The anxiety-relieving effect of cannabis is generally attributed to CBD.

Research published in 2015 suggests that “CBD has considerable potential as a treatment for multiple anxiety disorders” including but not limited to general anxiety, social anxiety, panic disorder, PTSD and more. This indicates that it is indeed a powerful (and safer) alternative to most pharmaceuticals.

Preliminary research suggests that CBD may achieve its action by blocking the absorption of serotonin, thus leading to higher levels of the neurotransmitter in the brain.

CANNABIS: REDISCOVERING A FORGOTTEN TREATMENT

Cannabis as an effective and safe alternative for treating many health conditions is a big topic at present. Rarely does a month go by without the release of some genuinely groundbreaking or progressive research on the subject. With cannabis laws steadily becoming more lax in more countries, cannabis has now finally entered the mainstream consciousness, and is also spurring interest in the scientific and medical communities.

As one result, places like New Jersey in the US are now considering adding menstrual cramps to the list of approved medical conditions treatable with cannabis. This is noteworthy because New Jersey’s cannabis laws are otherwise quite strict. Former New Jersey politician Tim Eustace, who served in the New Jersey General Assembly until last year, has introduced new legislation that will allow the use of medicinal cannabis for these purposes.

Word of the effectiveness of cannabis, especially for women’s health, is also being spread with the help of popular celebrities. Famous comedian Whoopi Goldberg has partnered with edibles creator Maya Elisabeth to create a line of cannabis-infused products targeted to women looking to relieve period pain and cramps. Like so many women, Goldberg wondered why cannabis wasn’t widely marketed to alleviate cramps, especially with all the preliminary evidence. She got the astonishing answer that this would be a “very niche” product for the industry. So, with her new brand of cannabis products designed especially for women, she’s now targeting that “niche”, which after all "is made up of half the population", as Goldberg points out.

With increased public awareness surrounding the rediscovered use of cannabis for women’s health, and the recent promising research, the future of cannabis as a medicine for treating period pain does indeed look good. It may well be that cannabis once again becomes the favourite “women’s medicine” it was lauded as for hundreds of years.

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