One of the most popular reasons for trying medical cannabis to manage recurring period symptoms.
Women may be less likely to try cannabis than men, but when they do, it’s often for “functional reasons.” According to “It’s Different for Girls: Gender Plays Role in Marijuana Consumption and Effects,” women prefer to carefully select and control the cannabis they consume. And, women typically consume cannabis to treat the symptoms of anxiety or physical ailments – or period symptoms.
In patient-reported data, published by RYAH Medtech, women reported medical cannabis consumption for anxiety, depression, stress, pain, insomnia, headaches, and fatigue. Interestingly, these are all some of the most common symptoms of menstruation. So, as far as period symptoms go, logically, cannabis should work based on what we know about these symptoms more generally.
But, little research supports this gendered application of a medicinal plant. It is frustrating. There is little to no scientific research on how women are working with this powerful plant ally for the symptoms of menstruation. Yet another example of how modern medicine has forgotten women’s health.
The Nature of Period Symptoms
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) covers a wide range of symptoms women may experience leading up to menstruation. Period symptoms and the severity of these symptoms vary widely from one women to the next, but may include:
- Tender breasts
- Muscle aches and joint pain
- Abdominal cramps
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Lower back pain
- Trouble sleeping
The endocannabinoid system is responsible for several key aspects of reproductive health, and therefore, assumed to control menstruation. However, women’s health has always faced gender discrimination in the scientific literature, and until recently, there was little to no attention paid to this endocannabinoid connection.
Italian researchers recently took the first steps to address this gap in the literature by using a mouse model of menstruation. Throughout the lab animals’ reproductive cycle, the researchers explored the expression of endocannabinoids. As they detail their findings, “It is concluded that the endocannabinoid system undergoes adaptive changes between the oestrus and dioestrus phases.” The oestrus phase is the period of fertility, and the dioestrus is the infertile period. In their investigation, the activation of CB1 and, to a lesser degree CB2, impacted some period symptoms.1)Pagano, E., Orlando, P., Finizio, S., Rossi, A., Buono, L., Iannotti, F. A., Piscitelli, F., Izzo, A. A., Di Marzo, V., & Borrelli, F. (2017). Role of the endocannabinoid system in the control of mouse myometrium contractility during the menstrual cycle. Biochemical pharmacology, 124, 83–93. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bcp.2016.11.023.
There is so much more work to do on the connection between endocannabinoids and the female reproductive cycle, but this initial study already postulates a potential for cannabis.
Could Cannabis Improve Period Symptoms?
With such a wide variety of symptoms, perhaps all linked to the endocannabinoid system, cannabis could provide an overarching solution. Instead of targeting a single symptom (for example, headaches), cannabis may target over-activation of the endocannabinoid system at large—only an initial theory at this point, but worth deeper exploration.
Basically, there are three primary targets for cannabis and period symptoms: bloating (digestion issues), ovulation pain, and mood. Already there is research detailing how cannabis improves gastrointestinal diseases, like irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s Disease. Animal studies have confirmed several cannabinoids, including rare ones like Cannabichromene (CBC), could improve hypermotility. Hypermobility is the overactivity of the intestines, causing diarrhea.2)Izzo, A. A., Capasso, R., Aviello, G., Borrelli, F., Romano, B., Piscitelli, F., Gallo, L., Capasso, F., Orlando, P., & Di Marzo, V. (2012). Inhibitory effect of cannabichromene, a major non-psychotropic cannabinoid extracted from Cannabis sativa, on inflammation-induced hypermotility in mice. British journal of pharmacology, 166(4), 1444–1460. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2012.01879.x.
The exact cause behind ovulation pain, like many other symptoms of menstruation, isn’t known. However, one theory behind this period symptom is that eggs, fluids, and blood traveling into the ovaries irritates the system. Cannabis has a remarkable ability to target several types of pain, including inflammatory, neuropathic, and other types of chronic pain. Cannabis’ multi-faceted approach to pain could be why so many women report substantial pain relief from this plant.
Mood is another difficult symptom of menstruation. Women report anxiety, depression, stress, and mood swings as some of the top conditions treated. Especially with CBD, and its ability to reduce anxiety, it seems plausible that certain cannabinoids can reduce heightened stress and anxiety around menstruation.
A Counter Argument, Cannabis Might Make Mood Swings Worse
Its benefits are not always clear cut despite the prevalent, popular use of cannabis for the treatment of bloating, ovulation pain, and mood swings. Although women report feeling a reduction in period symptoms, recent research suggests cannabis might make mood swings worse.
In 2018 the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry published a systematic review exploring cannabis use and mood disorders. The authors concluded, “Most studies showed that cannabis users had more-severe symptoms and lower rates of remission than less-frequent users or nonusers. Some studies showed links between stopping use and symptom improvement.” Notably, this study did not control for gender, type of cannabis, and other important variables. But, it does suggest that cannabis can negatively impact mood for those experiencing elevated anxiety and other mood disorders.3)Mammen G et al. Association of cannabis with long-term clinical symptoms in anxiety and mood disorders: A systematic review of prospective studies. J Clin Psychiatry 2018; 79:17r11839. (https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.17r11839).
Moreover, as we don’t have any studies on cannabis for mood swings related to period symptoms, this is a brand new area of research. Considering so many women already use cannabis to reduce period symptoms, it’s well worth investigating cannabis and mood in women more specifically.
More Research Needed on Cannabis for Women’s Health Conditions
Unfortunately, as a woman, it is incredibly frustrating just how little research there has been on women’s consumption of this medicinal plant. After all, it was only in 2017 that researchers published, “Sex-Dependent Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: A Translational Perspective,” detailing how cannabis does work differently in men and women. 4)Cooper, Z., Craft, R. Sex-Dependent Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: A Translational Perspective. Neuropsychopharmacol. 43, 34–51 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2017.140.
Despite the widespread consumption of medical cannabis for the treatment of period symptoms, we still don’t understand why it works. In part because modern medicine is still researching the inner-workings of the female reproductive cycle. But, also, because there has been minimal study of women and cannabis.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Pagano, E., Orlando, P., Finizio, S., Rossi, A., Buono, L., Iannotti, F. A., Piscitelli, F., Izzo, A. A., Di Marzo, V., & Borrelli, F. (2017). Role of the endocannabinoid system in the control of mouse myometrium contractility during the menstrual cycle. Biochemical pharmacology, 124, 83–93. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bcp.2016.11.023.|
|2.||↑||Izzo, A. A., Capasso, R., Aviello, G., Borrelli, F., Romano, B., Piscitelli, F., Gallo, L., Capasso, F., Orlando, P., & Di Marzo, V. (2012). Inhibitory effect of cannabichromene, a major non-psychotropic cannabinoid extracted from Cannabis sativa, on inflammation-induced hypermotility in mice. British journal of pharmacology, 166(4), 1444–1460. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2012.01879.x.|
|3.||↑||Mammen G et al. Association of cannabis with long-term clinical symptoms in anxiety and mood disorders: A systematic review of prospective studies. J Clin Psychiatry 2018; 79:17r11839. (https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.17r11839).|
|4.||↑||Cooper, Z., Craft, R. Sex-Dependent Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: A Translational Perspective. Neuropsychopharmacol. 43, 34–51 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2017.140.|