Cannabis Has a Long History of Helping Ease Menstrual Discomfort
The remarkable powers of the cannabis flower to treat a variety of maladies have been documented since ancient times, but it’s only with the relatively recent discovery of the endocannabinoid system that we are beginning to understand just how cannabis works for soothing menstrual pain and discomfort.
This age-old botanical, which forms buds only in its female form, has a long history of treating issues associated with female bodies and has proven to be effective in aiding the discomforts associated with women’s monthly cycle around the moon.
Cannabis’ “role in obstetric and gynecological conditions is ancient, but will surprise many by its breadth and prevalence,” explains leading cannabinoid researcher Dr. Ethan Russo.
“Cannabis appears in this role across many cultures, Old World and New, classical and modern, among young and old, in a sort of herbal vanishing act,” Russo writes. “It is only recently that a physiological basis for these claims has been available with the discovery of the endocannabinoid system.”
As early as the 9th century, Persian texts cite the use of cannabis to “calm uterine pains.” And a Chinese text in 1596 based on ancient remedies recommends cannabis for menstrual disorders. However, when it comes to using cannabis to ease menstrual pain, the most well-known origin story has royal lineage. It was widely known that Queen Victoria received monthly doses of cannabis indica for menstrual discomfort throughout her adult life.
Following 30 years of experimentation with the plant, the Queen’s personal physician, Sir J. Russell Reynolds, was convinced of its effectiveness.
Cannabis “is one of the most valuable medicines we possess,” Reynolds wrote in 1890 in the Lancet Journal, one of the world’s oldest and well-respected medical journals.
He described the plant as being “of great service in cases of simple spasmodic dysmenorrhea,” a clinical term describing painful contractions of the uterus, more commonly known as menstrual cramps.
Reynolds went on to write that cannabis benefits many conditions beyond menstrual discomfort, also citing its ability to quell spasms caused by epilepsy disorders.
The endogenous cannabinoid system, or endocannabinoid system, was discovered in the early 1900s and named after the plant that led to its discovery. Leading cannabinoid researcher Dr. Dustin Sulak describes it as “perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health.”
Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body, in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. And when cannabis is consumed, chemicals found in the plant that are responsible for its effects in the mind and body, called cannabinoids, bind to these endocannabinoid receptors and help to promote homeostasis.
Although U.S. federal prohibition has greatly hampered scientists’ ability to research the therapeutic effects of cannabis on menstrual pain and other conditions, emerging research does suggest an association between cannabis use and menstrual cycle disruptions. Although much more research is needed to fully understand this association, scientists believe cannabis may be so effective at relieving menstrual pain because of the high concentration of endocannabinoid receptors found in the female reproductive tract, particularly in the uterus and lining of the uterus.
Whoopi & Maya’s line of cannabis-infused products harness the therapeutic powers of the cannabis plant to provide maximum relief for various physical discomforts, especially those related to women’s menstrual cycles.
As Whoopi & Maya customer Kathleen says, “The Whoopi and Maya products really help to manage my pain and empower me to face real life when I am having my period. I take the relax tincture every day, before work and during work I eat the CBD chocolate. After work I get some light exercise and then I soak in the CBD Bath Salt-Lavender and it’s really good. But the tincture is much better, and I have that in the evening days before and during my period. I have been doing this for about a year. Instead of being worried and anxious about my period, I feel good knowing that I can support my body and still support myself financially by getting up and going to work or enjoying my time off without pain.”
Medical marijuana has proven to have some significant medical benefits, most especially pain control. Although it isn’t strong enough to treat severe pain (such as bone fractures or post-surgical pain), it can be effective in relieving different types of chronic pain in many people.
Practitioners of alternative medicine will frequently include menstrual cramps as one of the conditions that medical marijuana can help treat. Insofar as it has been reported to help relieve symptoms of endometriosis and interstitial cystitis, it would seem reasonable to assume that marijuana can help treat the cyclical cramps and pelvic pain that can occur with menstruation.
Mechanism of Action
Marijuana (Cannabis sativa) contains more than 100 different compounds called cannabinoids, some of which have psychoactive properties. These compounds are easily absorbed when inhaled or eaten and can cross the blood-brain barrier to act directly on the brain.
The body is populated with a vast quantity of cannabinoid receptors, called CB1 and CB2, found mainly in the central nervous system but also in the lungs, liver, kidneys, and joints. These are the same receptors that naturally-occurring compounds, called endocannabinoids, attach to.
Endocannabinoids, part of the body’s endocannabinoid system, are believed to play an important role in regulating pain and inflammation. The ability of cannabinoids to attach to these receptors suggests that they may exert similar activity.
The two most recognized cannabinoids in marijuana are:
- Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is primarily responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive “high”
- Cannabidiol (CBD), which does not cause a “high”
While THC and CBD are thought to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties, how they do so differs from other anti-inflammatory or analgesic agents.
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 you’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).
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. Menstrual pain is common—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. It’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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Compared to women who didn’t use cannabis, these women had more frequent menstrual variations, including shorter cycle length and heavy periods. This study didn’t look specifically at period pain, but the results might have indications for period pain since frequency and intensity of bleeding can impact pain.