Women have been using cannabis for centuries for everything from aiding with pregnancy, labor and postpartum to uplifting mood and getting better sleep. Beginning in the early 20th century, cannabis was vilified by orchestrated campaigns propagating misinformation to help bolster the case for making the medicinal herb illegal.
Cannabis interacts with the human body through our endocannabinoid systems, or ECS, a system made up of receptors throughout our bodies and brains that also lays over our digestive, respiratory, nervous and reproductive systems, among others. A well-functioning ECS regulates and modulates other systems in our bodies to bring about homeostasis, or “balance.” Compounds within cannabis can affect and support our ECS and address many health conditions brought about by deficiencies in our ECS.
As more research becomes available on cannabis and how it interacts with our bodies and brains, scientists and doctors are noting that the chemical compounds in cannabis can affect women differently than men. Research suggests that estrogen receptors exist along the same pathway where THC is taken in and that estrogen levels affect how THC is processed in women’s brains.
When a woman ovulates, she produces more endocannabinoids — the chemicals humans naturally produce that are part of the ECS. Anandamide, or the “Bliss Molecule,” one of the naturally produced endocannabinoids in the human body, may play a role not only in mood but also in ovulation. Low anandamide levels are being linked to a number of conditions and disorders often affecting women, including migraines and fibromyalgia, according to Dr. Ethan Russo, a board-certified neurologist and psychopharmacology researcher.
The ECS and estrogen levels work together. When estrogen levels peak, the levels of cannabinoids follow. Estrogen engages endocannabinoids directly, and when estrogen drops, the endocannabinoid system changes, too. Women can be more sensitive to cannabis, particularly around ovulation or when they are menstruating. Progesterone could decrease the effects of cannabis.
Chemical compounds within cannabis such as cannabinoids like THC and CBD and terpenes such as myrcene and caryophyllene can help reduce pain and inflammation, two issues often associated with many female health issues including dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps) and endometriosis. In April 2019, Israeli researchers announced the beginning of pre-clinical studies to examine the impact of medical cannabis on endometriosis. While there seems to be a number of benefits women can gain from using cannabis, one study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine examined potential negative effects of cannabis on fertility.
Symptoms associated with menstruation but also peri-menopause or menopause, can include anxiety, irritability, and sleeplessness. Cannabinoids in cannabis can help regulate women’s hormonal fluctuations and alleviate many of the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause. The cannabinoid CBD and the terpene linalool can be helpful in reducing anxiety. The terpene limonene can be a mood lifter. THC and CBN can be helpful sleep aides.
Studies, including some at the Bone Laboratory at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, show promise using cannabinoids found in cannabis to reduce bone density loss, particularly to prevent or treat osteoporosis post menopause. CBD, in particular, is being studied for its potential bone-building properties. CBG, CBN, CBC and THCv, all cannabinoids found in cannabis to varying degrees, may also aid in bone growth.
While more research is still needed, particularly in the United States, cannabis and CBD may prove useful treating many chronic or acute conditions directly related to women’s health and aging. As with any medication or supplement, speaking with a health practitioner experienced with cannabis medicine is important in order to obtain recommendations for the proper forms of cannabis to address specific health needs as well as guidance on dosing.
Aliza Sherman lives in Anchorage, Alaska and has been involved in the cannabis industry since early 2016. She is the co-founder of Ellementa, an international network for women interested in cannabis for wellness. She is the author of a new book, “The Essential Guide to Cannabis and CBD: Optimizing Your Health With Nature’s Medicine” (Ten Speed Press). http://ellementa.com/cannabisbook