Does Weed Actually Work for Period Cramps?
Soma, a marijuana dispensary in Crested Butte, Colorado, only stocks a few dozen of a product called Foria Relief at a time, and they don’t sell them as quickly as some of their other items. But people who come in looking for them know exactly what they’re looking for, and typically say they heard by word of mouth how well they work, according to the store.
Foria Relief is for periods. They’re cannabis-filled suppositories, meant to be inserted directly into the vagina, and sold as holistic treatment for menstrual cramps. It’s one of a handful of pot products claiming to ease period pain—Whoopi Goldberg, for one, has a line of topical ointments, tinctures and bath salts marketed for period pain.
Is there evidence that weed ca help treat period pain?
There’s a solid body of evidence on the pain-relieving properties of marijuana, so using pot for this particular type of pain seems to make sense. In some states, lawmakers are pushing to add menstrual pain, or dysmenorrhea, to the list of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana.
However, there are a few factors to consider before turning to weed each month, and when selecting your weed delivery system. Even though anecdotal evidence, easily found online, points to pot as a period cure-all, there hasn’t actually been any scientific research on it. There’s one scientific case study done on cannabis and period pain—but it was published in 1847.
Just because there hasn’t been any research done on the subject doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work. It does mean, though, that doctors aren’t likely to list it as a medically approved option. “I can’t fully recommend it, because we don’t know everything about its efficacy and safety,” says Leena Nathan, an obstetrician-gynecologist at UCLA Health.
It’s not ideal that there isn’t much research on the subject, says Jordan Tischler, an emergency physician who oversees InhaleMD, a cannabis clinic in Massachusetts. “Is cannabis effective for menstrual pain? The answer is, anecdotally, yes. The flip side is, ‘has anyone studied this in a rigorous, scientific manner?’ And the answer is no.” But that doesn’t discount it entirely, Tischler says. “For the right condition, and severity of discomfort, I think cannabis is a good bet.”
Doctors and scientists also don’t know how, exactly, weed might interact with the causes of period pain. Cramps are largely caused by hormones called prostaglandins, which are released from the lining of the uterus and signal it to contract. The hormones also cause inflammation, which contributes to pain. Birth control pills, which can help with painful periods, reduce the amount of prostaglandin produced during the menstrual cycle. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, like aspirin and ibuprofen, do as well.
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Weed has anti-inflammatory properties, which is one potential way it could help period pain, Nathan says. Feeling relaxed, in general, and dampening pain, might have some effect. And cannabinoids might be able to interact with prostaglandins, though there’s not enough evidence to say for sure. “It’s hard to say, just based on how cramps during menstrual cycles work,” she says.
Are cannabis suppositories safe?
If cannabis is still your drug of choice during that time of the month, it’s worth considering how you’re taking it. Foria’s cannabis suppositories are probably the most out-of-the-box pain relieving products, and Nathan says they raise some red flags. “I’m not sure how safe that would be,” she says. We don’t know how, or how much, of the active ingredients might be absorbed into the vagina, or how that entry point might be different from the lungs. (Experts such as gynecologist Jen Gunter have expressed similar concerns.)
Creams, rubs, butters, and bath salts—topical treatments that you don’t ingest—are also advertised as cramp-relievers. In mice, studies show they relieve pain caused by inflammation, but there’s very limited research on how effective they might be overall.
“Part of what we’re talking about is trying to sort out marketing hype from good doctoring,” Tischler says. He sees patients struggling with menstrual pain, and if they’re interested in using cannabis, he recommends they stick with basic, tried-and-true smoking. “A fairly simple approach, just a low dose of vaporized flower,” he says. “It’s effective, and without a lot of risk.”
If the standard treatments for menstrual cramps like over-the-counter painkillers don’t work, Nathan says people should talk to their doctors before trying something new. “There are other medications that can help,” she says. “There are lots of methods we can use that are evidence proven. People who don’t necessarily talk to doctors might be hearing things anecdotally, and going with that information.” It’s hard to know what’s reliable, she says, and what’s just someone’s opinion.
Nathan guesses that some patients might be scared, or embarrassed, to tell their doctor if they’re using something like marijuana to treat a medical problem themselves. “But I would encourage everyone to be open with their physician, even if it’s something out of the ordinary.”
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Menstrual pain could soon be a condition that qualifies for medical marijuana.
Can weed relieve menstrual pain?
This article is also available in: portuguГЄs, espaГ±ol
Top things to know:
Cannabis is believed to have therapeutic uses for illnesses and pains, including menstrual discomfort
Researches are still scarce, but some studies already show effectiveness of cannabis on the relief of menstrual pain
Worldwide, there has been a noticeable trend in favor of legalising cannabis for medical and recreational use
If youвЂ™ve ever visited a healthcare provider for painful periods or cramps, you may have been recommended anti-inflammatory pain medicines or hormonal birth control (D). However, people with menstrual pain often look for other alternatives to painkillers and birth control (B).В
Medicinal plants have been used by many cultures for thousands of years for the treatment and prevention of diseases and their symptoms (A). Cannabis is one such plant that may relieve or lessen menstrual pain (12). Menstrual pain is commonвЂ”about half of people who menstruate have some pain for one to two days each cycle (C).
The use of cannabis (also called weed and marijuana, among other names) for the treatment of pain has been identified in various places around the world pre-Christianity. ItвЂ™s believed that medicinal cannabis was introduced to European medicine when physicians first observed the use of the substance in India. The introduction of cannabis in the Americas may have occurred when African slaves who were taken to Brazil brought the plant with them (2).В
What does research say about weed and the menstrual cycle?
Cannabis is believed to have therapeutic uses for a variety of illnesses, including but not limited to chronic pain, headache, epilepsy, symptoms of multiple sclerosis and gastrointestinal disorders (E).В
The science around cannabis and its ability to relieve menstrual pain is scarce, and more research is needed. In 2015, researchers from the University of British Columbia, asked a sample of 192 women if they had used cannabis to relieve menstrual pain. Marijuana is available for purchase from dispensaries in Vancouver.В
Of all the women surveyed, 85 percent said they had used cannabis for menstrual pain and almost 90 percent of these women said it was effective at relieving the pain (12).В
These participants said that the most common ways they consumed cannabis were smoking and eating. Other research indicates that using it might have side effects on the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle.В
A study of 47 women between 17 and 29 years old who habitually consumed cannabis for at least one year found alterations in progesterone, prolactin and testosterone.В
Compared to women who didnвЂ™t use cannabis, these women had more frequent menstrual variations, including shorter cycle length and heavy periods (16). This study didnвЂ™t look specifically at period pain, but the results might have indications for period pain since frequency and intensity of bleeding can impact pain.
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A global panorama of cannabis use
Worldwide, there has been a noticeable trend in favor of legalising cannabis for medical use. But before digging into the details of current legislation in some Western countries, it’s important to clarify the uses of this substance and understand the arguments that usually accompany its prohibition.В
Uses of cannabis
There are several possible types of cannabis usage:
Medical purposes: usage eases symptoms of diseases or assists in treating an existing diagnosis.
Scientific purposes: usage as a tool to investigate the substanceвЂ™s roles in people’s health or diseases (3).
Recreational purposes: usage for pleasure.В
The status of cannabis around the world
For governments around the world, the more well-known reasons for prohibiting the use of cannabis are:
The psychotropic aspect of cannabis, meaning the alteration of the central nervous system.
The addictive aspect , or the difficulty in controlling its consumption.
The prohibition, in addition to criminalising the consumption of cannabis, imposes several inhibitors to conducting scientific research (3).В В
Countries like Canada, United States and the Netherlands are remarkable for having opener politics around cannabis. When it comes to Canada, since the 17th of October, 2018, it has allowed the recreational and medicinal use (5). In the United States, more than 20 states allow its medicinal use, and in the Netherlands since 2001 the medicinal and research uses have been allowed, and under strict control the purchase and consumption of soft drugs have been allowed (3).
As cannabis becomes more popular and mainstream, novel ways of using it for sexual and reproductive health are emerging. Vaginal suppositories and bath salts with THC are being marketed to people with periods as a solution for cramps (15). ThereвЂ™s even arousal lube with THC marketed to intensify sexual pleasure (15).
This diversity of approaches for the consumption and use of cannabis might help increase its popularity. Ideally, as more people use cannabis for period pain, researchers will produce more science about the risks and benefits, in hopes that we learn all the effects of cannabis for women and people with cycles.
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Ideally, as more people use marijuana for period pain, researchers will produce more science about the risks and benefits.