Can weed relieve menstrual pain?
*Translation: Jade Augusto Gola
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 (12). 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 (2).
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 (12).
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 (16). 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.
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.
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 substance’s roles in people's health or diseases (3).
Recreational purposes: usage for pleasure.
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).
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). There’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.