Menopause is one of the most dramatic changes a woman’s body will undertake in her lifetime. Not since puberty has the reproductive system gone through such a shift, and the experience is not altogether pleasant. Luckily, hot flashes, mood swings, pain, insomnia, and other symptoms of menopause don’t have to be fought alone, and—as it turns out—an extremely helpful ally can come in the form of cannabis.
To understand why cannabis can help treat the symptoms of menopause, it’s helpful to understand exactly what menopause is and how it affects the body.
What Is Menopause?
Menopause is the period of time (usually yearlong) when a woman’s menstrual cycle comes to an end. This occurs most frequently between a person’s mid-40s–50s. The most common age for women to begin menopause is 51.
Menopause itself occurs in three stages: perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause:
- Perimenopause occurs when the body begins to exhibit subtle changes, such as the slowdown of estrogen production, in preparation for menopause to begin.
- Menopause is the 12-month stretch of time after a woman’s last period, when ovulation stops completely, and estrogen levels drop significantly.
- Post-menopause is the period of time after menopause ends when menopausal symptoms subside and a woman enters a new homeostasis.
What Are The Symptoms of Menopause?
Menopause can produce a litany of side effects, including hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, pain, low libido, weight gain, fatigue, and osteoporosis. In addition, the onset of these side effects can cause anxiety or depression in some women.
The Endocannabinoid System & Menopause
The endocannabinoid system is a network of cell receptors whose role is to maintain homeostasis in the body. It is because of the endocannabinoid receptors that cannabis molecules (cannabinoids like THC and CBD) bind and create the familiar effects we all know and love. However, the endocannabinoid system does not exist exclusively for cannabis—it also interacts with endocannabinoids, the body’s natural cannabinoids.
Estrogen is linked to the endocannabinoid system by regulating the fatty acid hydrolase enzyme (or FAAH) that breaks down certain endocannabinoids. When estrogen levels peak, so do endocannabinoid levels and vice versa. There exists some preliminary research that suggests early onset menopause may be linked to endocannabinoid deficiencies.
Evidence suggests that estrogen utilizes endocannabinoids to regulate mood and emotional response—this could explain why mood swings are more common during menopause, when estrogen levels plummet.
As a result, one can theorize that the use of cannabis during menopause may help bolster the endocannabinoid system’s necessary functions that are struggling to work without high levels of estrogen.
How Can Cannabis Help Soothe Menopause Symptoms?
Due to the federal prohibition of cannabis, research on the subject of cannabis for menopause is scarce. However, a look back in history shows us that this concept is nothing new. In the 1924 text, Sajous and Sajous, cannabis is cited as an analgesic for menopause.
In addition to these historical references, we have a modern scientific understanding of the way our bodies work and the many ailments in which cannabis has proven useful.
The natural cannabinoid, anandamide, is chemically similar to THC and can bestow a “high” sensation (think “runner’s high”), but they also share another effect: regulating body temperature.
Thus, THC may be a key cannabinoid when mitigating the effects of hot flashes. Studies suggest that consuming higher doses of THC has a cooling effect on the system and can lower body temperature. Conversely, consuming small amounts may actually raise body temperature, so finding the right dose for each person is a crucial step.
Insomnia goes hand-in-hand with hot flashes for menopausal women. It can be difficult to sleep when night sweats strike. However, in addition to lowering body temperature, many strains are also excellent sleep aids. A relaxing strain or a long-lasting edible will help keep you asleep all night long.
During menopause, hormonal fluctuations can create a slew of painful side effects. Migraines, breast tenderness, joint pain, bruising, intercourse discomfort, and even increased menstrual cramping (oh the irony!) can all sweep in and make life a bit more difficult.
Cannabis is a renowned pain reliever that helps patients get back on their feet, and there are tons of great strains for pain relief. What’s more, unlike opioids, cannabis offers relief without severe side effects or addictive properties.
As established earlier, estrogen plays a part in utilizing endocannabinoids for the stabilizing of mood and emotional response. This same drop in endocannabinoid levels can contribute to anxiety or even depression.
Fortunately, many are finding that CBD and THC can step in to help. Studies show that cannabis can be used to regulate mood and mitigate feelings of depression or anxiety.
One of the more frustrating side effects of menopause can be low libido and vaginal dryness. Especially for women who have a high sex drive, watching your libido plummet during a time when your body is already undergoing drastic changes can make you feel personally out of touch.
However, some women may be able to find relief by using cannabis. While the debate is still ongoing, 67% of respondents in a Psychology Today poll reported that they believe cannabis has improved their sex lives.
Estrogen regulates the process of cell regeneration in the bones, so a dramatic drop in estrogen can sometimes lead to conditions such as osteoporosis.
Studies suggest an association between the genes that code cannabinoid receptors and post-menopausal osteoporosis. For those who have received an ovariectomy, there was also evidence of cannabinoid treatment reducing bone loss.
Other studies report that cannabinoids CBG, CBD, CBC, and THCV “stimulate bone growth and may be able to prevent osteoporosis after menopause.”
Gaining weight during menopause is common. This is due to age, lifestyle changes, and other unavoidable factors. But hormones also play a role. With a healthy diet and regular exercise, cannabis can be used in some instances to help maintain a person’s weight.
In fact, some studies have found that cannabis consumers have lower BMIs than non-consumers, and while THC is famous for the munchies, other cannabinoids don’t play those games. Opt instead for a high-CBD strain, or a high-THCV variety.
Further research will solidify and unveil the many ways in which cannabis can be an effective menopause treatment. With time, and the reform of antiquated laws, scientists will be able to answer these questions in greater depth and clarity. Until then, the evidence at hand already hints at how cannabis can bring millions of cis-gender women relief as they go through this life-changing event.
Excerpts published: Leafly – RAE LLAND