It’s hard to believe we’re still making new discoveries about the endocannabinoid system (ECS), even though it occurs naturally in virtually all animals and influences a number of important processes in the body—but we are. For women specifically, studies suggest that the ECS plays a role in PMS, menopause, endometriosis and dysmenorrhea. That information provides hope that marijuana could be a viable therapy for these sometimes painful conditions.
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Here’s what you need to know about the ECS:
- It’s a network of cannabinoid receptors in your brain, organs, connective tissue, glands and immune cells.
- Cannabinoid receptors are the most common type of receptors in the human body.
- ECS receptors come in two variations: CB1 and CB2.
- Both types of receptors respond to endocannabinoids—cannabinoids such as anandamide that are made naturally by the body—and phytocannabinoids that come from plants like cannabis. These cannabinoids include cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
- CB1 receptors can generally be found in connective tissue, the nervous system, gonads, glands and organs.
- CB2 receptors are found in the immune system.
RELATED: WHAT IS THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM
The far-reaching ECS creates a special connection between our body and brain. The ECS plays a role in all sorts of functions including mood, pain management and movement. It’s also integral to maintaining homeostasis, which is when a healthy body can regulate various functions to maintain balance and stability.
To keep our ECS happy, it needs to be nourished with sufficient cannabinoids, whether they’re made naturally in the body or found in plants like cannabis.
How the ECS Affects Women’s Health
Because the ECS is such an extensive network, it affects many conditions related to women’s health. These also happen to be some of the most uncomfortable health aspects of being a woman.
** Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) **
The severity of PMS varies from woman to woman, and can be a minor inconvenience or a debilitating and painful experience. Symptoms of PMS include headaches, back pain, bloating, insomnia and fatigue.
A 2016 study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine concluded, “The female reproductive system and ECS are intricately linked,” and the highest concentration of the endocannabinoid anandamide is found in the uterus. According to the researchers, hormone fluctuation changes the way cannabinoid receptors and endocannabinoids are expressed. It’s important to note that this study was conducted on rats, and extrapolating its results to humans is shaky at best.
Endocannabinoid levels in females have a special relationship with estrogen. When a woman is on or about to start her period, her estrogen levels are at their lowest. This lack of estrogen actually makes it harder for endocannabinoids like anandamide, known for its uplifting effects, to survive.
If you’re interested in trying cannabis to combat painful PMS symptoms, sample strains like Jilly Bean or Pineapple. Smoking or vaping marijuana will be the quickest way to get relief but for longer-lasting effects, try a cannabis edible.
** Menopause **
When women reach menopause, typically between the ages of 40 and 50, their menstruation and ovulation stops, ending reproductive abilities. Much like PMS, the severity of menopause symptoms will vary depending on the woman. Some of the most common symptoms of menopause include mood swings, anxiety, hot flashes, insomnia and discomfort during sex.
Estrogen and its effect on endocannabinoids are key factors in menopause, just as they are with PMS. When women ovulate, their estrogen and endocannabinoid levels are at their peak. When women stop ovulating due to menopause, their bodies no longer produce high levels of estrogen, and there’s a reduction in endocannabinoid signaling. This can result in the mood swings associated with menopause.
If you’re experiencing anxiety, stress or mood shifts because of menopause, a CBD product like Pianta Tinta’s super high CBD tincture may be a good option for you.
If insomnia is one of your menopause symptoms, a THC-heavy marijuana strain such as Tahoe OG might help you get some much-needed sleep.
** Endometriosis & Dysmenorrhea **
Endometriosis is a painful disease in which the tissue lining of the uterus, also known as the endometrium, starts to grow outside of the uterus. Despite 10% of all women being affected by endometriosis, modern science knows little about what causes the painful medical issue. As with most disorders on this list, symptoms range from no pain to debilitating pain and infertility. Endometriosis can also lead to other unpleasant conditions, like dysmenorrhea, which literally means “painful menstruation.”
Endometrial tissue is full of components from the ECS, and endometriosis has been linked to endocannabinoid deficiency in rats. In a study published in the Journal of Pain, reduced ECS function led to the proliferation of uterine lining growth in areas outside of the uterus. Research is ongoing to pinpoint the reason.
A study published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research shows promising results for using cannabis as a treatment option for the pain associated with endometriosis. Some experts believe cannabis can be an effective alternative to estrogen replacement therapy, a therapy option for some women going through menopause.
A product that many report helps with the pain associated with endometriosis is Foria Relief, a vaginal suppository that contains CBD and THC, but won’t give you a head high.
Marijuana Pain Treatments for Women’s Health Issues
All of these conditions related to women’s health can cause debilitating pain at worst and an annoying inconvenience at best. According to a study conducted by Dr. Perry Solomon, chief medical officer of HelloMD, pain is the number one reason people turn to medical cannabis. And the body of research is growing, showing cannabis as a viable treatment for chronic pain
If you’re experiencing pain because of a women’s health issue, cannabis could be an effective treatment option. As Dr. Solomon always says, “go low and slow to start,” and gradually increase your dose until you achieve the desired effect.
Photo Credit: Imani Clovis
If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 post. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it’s easy, private and 100% online.