Women disproportionately suffer from anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia, and migraines. We also suffer from conditions that men do not experience, such as PMS and menopause. When looking at the pharmaceutical and traditional medicinal options available to women, they are woefully inadequate.
This is because clinical trials for new drug development are heavily skewed towards male biology, meaning most drugs are more effective or designed for men. Due to the gender gap in clinical trials, women are also far more likely to suffer the adverse side effects of medications.
Women’s Health is Overlooked
Research from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Chicago suggests this is because drug dosages are largely based on clinical trials conducted on men. The theory of the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work when it comes to drug discovery and development.
Irving Zucker, a professor emeritus of psychology and of integrative biology at UC Berkeley, says, "For decades, women have been excluded from clinical drug trials based, in part, on unfounded concerns that female hormone fluctuations render women difficult to study."
To complicate matters, medical professionals often downplay women’s health issues, and female health problems are vastly under-researched. One school of thought believes that the problem exists because funding and research panels have historically been male-dominated.
But overall, female reproductive health, among other conditions, are under-addressed. A good example is endometriosis; although this condition affects 1 in 10 women, the same number as diabetes, it has a fraction of research funding. When we look at the bigger picture, medicinal options for female-focused care is limited if not anitquated. Amy Miller, Ph.D. and CEO of the Society for Women’s Health Research says, "Women’s health has pretty much been ignored in biomedical pathology for our entire human history."
Cannabis as a Natural Medicine
Although women’s health issues have been overlooked by mainstream drug discovery and development, medical cannabis is a natural solution that helps millions of women feel better. Cannabis is not only a natural anti-inflammatory, for many people, it can help relieve anxiety, depression and improve the overall quality of sleep.
It has also proven effective for women suffering from PMS, whether it be body aches or menstrual cramping, to those feeling the general malaise and difficulties of transitioning into menopause. Dr. Julie Holland, a psychopharmacology specialist and well-known author of the book Moody Bitches says,
"In general, women are much more likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety than men, which means they are being prescribed antidepressants more than men are. Cannabis can potentially help with many symptoms that women who take antidepressants (as well as those who don’t) experience—including irritability, insomnia, depression, and anxiety."
Dr. Holland goes on to explain that the reason cannabis is so effective is due to its interaction with our body’s endocannabinoid system. She says,
"Stress and inflammation are inextricably linked, and the key to combating both lies in a system called the endocannabinoid system, which is made of cannabis receptors throughout the body and internal cannabis-like molecules.
When stress nearly knocks you overboard, your internal cannabinoid system helps to right the ship….cannabinoids (from cannabis) tamp down inflammation and reactivity in the body, maintaining your metabolism, immune functioning, learning and growing processes. The endocannabinoid system is involved in nearly everything we do: eating, sleeping, exercising, having sex, giving birth, and nursing."
Below we list five conditions where cannabis may be an effective remedy or complement to traditional pharmaceuticals and western intervention.
Fibromyalgia is a complex, irritating, and difficult condition with few medical answers. It affects over four million adults, and primarily women. The disease is mainly associated with widespread pain across the body, including muscles, tendons, and tissues. Unfortunately, there is no resolution as to why fibromyalgia happens to some and not others; however, it is linked to acute stress.
In a 2011 study, the majority of participants found that their fibromyalgia symptoms became measurably more tolerable after taking cannabis. Not only did participants feel their pain symptoms decreased, but they also noted improvements in their quality of life. It’s believed that THC, CBD and numerous other cannabinoids help to bolster a flagging endocannabinoid system, reestablishing homeostasis within the body.
During this past pandemic year, four out of ten American adults reported having symptoms of anxiety. That’s a fourfold increase from 2019 when just one in ten Americans were experiencing those symptoms. Anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders and can be incredibly debilitating.
CBD is one of the most well-known cannabinoids within the cannabis sativa plant. It’s non-intoxicating, which means you will not feel the typical high associated with THC. CBD is ideal for those who suffer from anxiety as it can help to balance mood and support the production of brain chemicals that produce feelings of calm and well-being.
CBD also supports the activity of other neurotransmitters that can quell the intensity of anxiety. Serotonin is a well-known “feel good” chemical that helps us "feel good". Meanwhile, CBD excites thethe brain’s serotonin receptors, which allows the brain’s natural production of serotonin and encourages its mood-boosting effects.
Migraines can be excruciating. The symptoms may include a throbbing headache, nausea and a heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli like light, sounds, flavors, smells or touch. You may even experience an aura, a visual experience caused by migraine pain which may partially or fully block vision for some time.
Similar to fibromyalgia, the endocannabinoid system may play a role in migraines. An endocannabinoid deficiency may actually be one of the primary reasons migraines occur in the first place.Generally, the most effective cannabis products for migraines are typically high in CBD.
That said, everyone has a unique endocannabinoid system and biochemistry—so experimentation is necessary and a high ratio of CBD to THC may work best or for many, a one to one ratio of CBD to THC works best for chronic pain.
PMS or premenstrual syndrome encompasses a wide range of unpleasant symptoms including: bloating, fatigue, headaches, cramping, lower back pain, breast swelling and tenderness, constipation, diarrhea, and change in mood. These symptoms can start two weeks before your menstrual period or a few days leading up to it. Although the cause of PMS is unknown it is believed to be linked to the hormonal fluctuations that occur during a woman’s cycle.
Many women feel the effects of PMS during their lifetime, and some have a more severe form, PMDD—premenstrual dysphoric disorder, which affects 3% to 8% of women during menstrual years. PMDD wreaks havoc on women’s lives, and can in some cases, leads to suicidal ideation.
There are no set cannabis dosages to alleviate PMS symptoms, but a good place to start is with a high CBD to THC ratio, due to CBD’s anti-inflammatory and mood-balancing properties. THC can help some women alleviate the physical pain associated with PMS, especially with cramping. When pain is acute vaping, or smoking flower, can help
Peri menopause, or the phase of life that happens just before a woman hits menopause, and menopause, is a normal phase of life during a woman’s life. This transition, which in the past was somewhat taboo, signals the end of reproductive years. But in recent years, to many women, it signals not only a new chapter but a new lease on life.
Unfortunately, the fluctuation of hormones during this time can cause some unwanted side effects such as mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats, disregulated sleep, thinning hair, changes in muscle tone, sexual dysfunction, and more.
Many women turn to cannabis during this transition for the mood-regulating, and anti-inflammatory benefits mentioned earlier. But cannabis has something additional to offer: phytoestrogens. This plant-based hormone is similar to human estrogen in many ways and can help to make up for the estrogen dip experienced during perimenopause and menopause. If you’re ready to give cannabis and its hit of phytoestrogens a whirl, you may consider trying cannabis strains containing higher CBD ratios to THC.
Dr. Julie Holland believes cannabis is a powerful aid for women entering, or within, menopause, "CBD can help with anxiety and THC can help with mood swings, irritability, and low resilience (your ability to handle stress)."