The Guide to Treating Menstrual Cramps with Cannabis

PMS Symptoms and Cannabis

Once a month, women go through their most dreaded part of the month: their menstrual cycle. This includes bleeding, cramping, bloating and fatigue. To top it all off, uncomfortable symptoms don’t always start when the bleeding does. PMS usually begins around two weeks before the bleeding, and can lead to mood swings, cramps and bloating as well. Cramping during a cycle is a very common issue among women, and pain relief is something that aids in helping these cramps not interfere in daily life.

Midol, Ibuprofen, Tylenol, and Advil are all common pain relievers that women turn to during their time of the month. But is there a more natural option available? These medications come with a few unsavory side effects, including nausea, vomiting, rash, nervousness and yellow eyes and skin.

If these medications are no longer an option for you, and heating pads just won’t do the trick for your pain, cannabis could be an alternative treatment for menstrual cramps. But how does cannabis work within the body to control pain, and how could this be helpful for women during their period? First, we need to understand a little about what happens when our bodies menstruate.

Menstruation is when a woman bleeds monthly. This is caused by the shedding of the uterine wall, or womb. This is a regular occurrence which typically happens around the same time every month and is, on average, a 28-day cycle. This is the body’s way to prepare for pregnancy each month. This cycle relies heavily on hormones. Hormone levels go up and down during the month, telling your body when a menstrual cycle should occur. This cycle can be broken down into different stages.

During the first stage, the female hormone, estrogen, will begin to rise. This increase in estrogen will make the lining of the uterus thicken. This thickening of the lining is preparing the womb to nurture an egg. When this is occurring, an egg will start to prepare to drop. When the egg leaves the ovary at around day 14, it is called ovulation.

Upon leaving the ovary, the egg goes through the fallopian tube and arrives in the uterus. During this ovulation stage is when a woman can most easily become pregnant. If the egg does not get fertilized by sperm, then the egg will break and the uterus will prepare to shed its lining.

This is when the period will begin. Let’s break the menstrual cycle down:

  1. After hormone levels have dropped, the body will begin to break down the lining of the uterus. Blood and tissues that line the uterus are then shed. This blood and tissue then flows from the uterus to the cervix and out through the vagina. A typical period usually last around 3-5 days, though this varies for many women.
  2. During this bleeding period, the ovaries develop follicles, which are fluid-filled pockets that each contain an egg. One of these follicles will develop to maturity.
  3. When the lining has thickened, it is ready to accommodate an egg.
  4. Hormone increases will cause the follicle to release the egg, which travels during the course of a few days to the uterus for implantation. This typically happens around day 14 of your cycle.
  5. If a sperm connects with this egg then the egg will attach to the uterine wall. If no fertilization occurs, then the egg will break apart and be shed.

Periods are different for every woman. Timing and symptoms vary with each body. Some women may experience PMS or Premenstrual Syndrome, and others may barely notice these hormonal shifts. Some may have debilitating cramps, and others may only feel a slight heaviness in their uterus during their period. Regardless of how it feels, the same steps occur with just about every cycle.

However, those who do experience PMS or period symptoms can have varying degrees of pain and discomfort in many different ways. This is when women will pop a few pain relievers to help bear the discomfort. Many women are also finding that taking cannabis can help to relieve the pain in a more natural way.

But what kind of pain do women typically suffer from during their cycle?

To learn about what cannabis strains work best for menstrual cramps, read The Best Weed Strains for a Menstrual Cycle.

Common Menstruation Issues

Menstrual cycle symptoms don’t stop at bleeding. Many parts of the body can be affected by your cycle. Migraines, cramping, backaches, fatigue and mood swings all like to make an appearance during your cycle. Just to add insult to injury, your skin may break out as well.

A few common issues that women face during their cycles include:

  • Cramps: A more proper term for menstrual cramps is dysmenorrhea. Whichever word you want to use, it all comes down to the same result: pain. Of course, some women may not notice cramps during their period, but 50% of women do suffer from them to some degree. About 15% of these women suffer from severe cramps, and 90% of adolescent girls report having menstrual cramps. In many cases, these cramps will get better with age. Menstrual cramps can range from very mild to severe. Cramps that are experienced during the actual menstrual period are different from those during PMS, though the period cramps may simply feel like a continuation of PMS cramps. With a period, the cramps occur when molecular compounds called prostaglandins are released during the shedding of the uterine lining. These compounds make the uterine muscles contract to squeeze the blood and tissues from the uterus. This contracting will cause cramping and pain during the period cycle. PMS cramping is a bit different. Though PMS isn’t well understood, it is believed that it occurs because of the decline in hormone levels during the week before your period.
  • Migraines: Migraines are intense. They don’t just cause the dull pain that comes from looking at a computer screen for too long. These headaches cause severe pain which can even become disabling. Those who have migraines will often suffer from not only headaches but nausea and vomiting as well. Light and sound may also make migraines worse. As if periods are not enough of a nuisance, some women suffer from migraines as well. Before your period begins, there is a drop in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This drop can bring on some pretty intense headaches. Some women have found that taking birth control helps to lower their chances of getting migraines due to it regulating their hormone levels. However, others simply depend on NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen to relieve their pain.
  • Fatigue: Though there isn’t a biological reason why women should be overly tired during their period, many feel completely drained during that dreaded time of the month. There are other reasons, however, that you could feel extra tired during menstruation. Often women get less sleep during their period due to waking up to change a pad or tampon, or to use the bathroom. It could be that cramps are keeping you awake as well. Other factors causing tiredness could include simply having a crummy diet. Cravings for salt and sweets are normal during this time of the month. Junk food, even though tempting, isn’t exactly nutrient packed and overindulging in these foods could contribute to low energy. The mental exhaustion of mood swings can also contribute to feeling run-down. In rare cases, however, you may be anemic . This can be treated by simply taking iron pills, or adding more iron-rich foods into your diet.
  • Mood Swings: For many women, mood swings are the biggest battle during their cycle. This symptom usually affects women during the week or two before their period and is more often associated with PMS. Mood swings can happen during a period as well. Whenever these mood changes occur, they can be hard to control. Oddly, the studies that have been done on women suffering from PMS mood swings indicate that hormonal levels are normal. This leads researchers to believe that it be certain hormone metabolites in the brain that are to blame. Women may simply metabolize their hormones a little differently. However, even though mood swings are still a bit of a mystery, there are some things that you can do to help avoid them. Avoiding things like sugar, caffeine, aspartame and MSG, which all impact the brain, can help to alleviate your symptoms. According to Dr. Christiane Northrup , author of The Wisdom of Menopause and Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom, “women can be, and many are, greatly affected by hormone fluctuations. Sometimes it gets to the point of feeling totally overwhelmed – as if for a time they have lost control of their life.” Due to the stress that mood swings bring, it’s worth the diet change to get some relief.
  • Backaches: Having cramps in your lower abdomen? Lower back pain might be creeping just around the corner. These pains are caused by your contracting uterus and can be very uncomfortable. Because everything is connected, when your uterus contracts it doesn’t just affect your lower belly; it can affect your lower back and even thighs and hips as well. When your uterus contracts too much it can put pressure on the surrounding blood vessels. This means that oxygen isn’t reaching your uterus as it should and will cause cramping, which can cause back pain. Rest, massage and taking a warm bath are some of the best remedies for these symptoms, but pain medication may be needed if the cramps become too painful.
  • Acne: After cramps, mood swings, migraines, back aches and fatigue, you’d think your body would give the adverse reactions a break. Unfortunately, your skin has to get involved as well. During your cycle, a few things happen hormonally, as explained by ob-gyn Elizabeth Gutrecht Lyster, MD. “In the first half of a woman’s menstrual cycle, the predominant hormone is estrogen ; in the second half, the main hormone isprogesterone. Then levels of both hormones fall to their lowest levels of the month as bleeding approaches,” she says. However, the male hormone testosterone is always the same level. This means that at some point during menstruation testosterone is higher than the other hormones. When the hormone progesterone rises, this stimulates sebum production. As a thick, oily substance, sebum acts as a lubricant for the skin. During this progesterone increase, pores also will shut due to the skin swelling. The higher testosterone levels will also make sebum increase. For some women who are not prone to oily skin, this may leave them with a healthy glow. However, for many others (63% of those with acne prone skin ), this will lead to breaking out. These breakouts don’t reflect a woman’s personal hygiene as it is all an internal effect. However, special attention to your skin is needed during this time. Things, like not smoking, avoiding touching your face, and cleaning your cell phone regularly, can all help with keeping bacteria away from your face. Doctors may also prescribe birth control to help with menstrual related acne.

Aunt Flo brings a lot of baggage with her when she visits, but that doesn’t mean we have to carry it all around with us. A lot has been mentioned about birth control being a treatment for things like acne and regulating periods, but this isn’t always a preferable option. Many women have adverse effects when taking birth control such as upset stomach, mood changes and even fertility problems. When you are taking a medication that trains the body to not perform a natural function, other problems are bound to arise.

Pain medications can also come with their own set of issues. It might make it hard to find an effective option that you feel is also a healthy option.

The good news is, there may be an all-natural treatment for your menstrual woes. Cannabis has the ability help with many period pains and discomforts.

CBD, which is a cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, has potential to be an effective acne treatment by regulating oil production in the skin. Studies have shown that cannabis can also be a viable option for treating migraines . To top it all off, CBD may help you to get a better night sleep when cramps and stress are keeping you awake at night. It also won’t leave you drowsy in the morning as it helps to regulate sleep/wake cycles. Mood swings may also be regulated, as cannabis can act as a mood stabilizer by increasing serotonin levels.

But what about cramps? What causes them, and how can they be relieved? Could cannabis be a pain relief option for cramping?

What Causes Menstrual Cramps and How You Can Relieve Them

Menstrual cramps may also be referred to a dysmenorrhea. It is characterized by pains in the lower belly or back. For some women, the cramping is mild and only an annoyance. For others, it can be debilitating and affect their daily tasks.

Some cramps may be connected to other problems such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids. In other cases, menstrual cramps can lessen over time or after a woman gives birth. Some symptoms of menstrual cramps include:

  • Pain in your lower belly in varying degrees
  • A dull but constant ache
  • Pain throughout your lower back and thighs

Other symptoms may accompany cramping such as:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness

If mild menstrual cramps are a regular thing for you, you probably don’t need to worry. However, if your cramps are disabling, getting worse with time or you are over 25 and just started experiencing severe pain, a trip to your doctor may be in order.

Periods happen once a month as your body’s natural way of shedding the uterine lining. Hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins will activate contractions in your uterus. If you have higher levels of prostaglandins, then you will most likely experience more painful cramping. More intense contractions can restrict blood supply to the uterus, which can cause cramping.

Underlying problems can cause cramping as well. Some conditions that contribute to cramps include:

  • Uterine fibroids: These are noncancerous growths that form on the uterine wall. These can be painful and make cramps worse.
  • Adenomyosis: This happens when the lining of the uterus grows into the muscular wall of the uterus. This can cause cramping, abdominal pressure and heavier periods.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease: This is typically caused by sexually transmitted bacteria, which leads to infection in the reproductive organs. This is typically treated with antibiotics, but if left untreated can cause serious symptoms such as shock, high fever, vomiting and severe pain in the lower abdomen.
  • Endometriosis: This is a particularly painful condition where the tissues of the uterus lining attach to the outside tissues of the ovaries, fallopian tubes and pelvic tissue.
  • Cervical stenosis: This is a condition where the opening of the cervix is incredibly small. This leads to a restriction of menstrual flow which can cause pressure and pain in the uterus.

Not every woman will experience bad menstrual cramps. Some may not even feel pain at all during their period. There are a few factors that may put you at a greater risk of experiencing menstrual cramps. Being under the age of 30, starting puberty at 11 years of age or younger, having irregular periods and heavy bleeding can all contribute to cramping. If cramping runs in your family, or you have never given birth, you may also be at greater risk. Smokers may also experience more cramps than non-smokers.

Menstrual cramps are typically nothing to be concerned about and don’t usually contribute to any other complications. However, they are uncomfortable and at times painful. Taking a pain medication before you begin your period, or at the first signs of bleeding, can help to alleviate the cramps before they start. Oral contraceptives are also given to women to regulate their periods and control their menstrual pain.

But, as noted, birth control and pain medications come with their own sets of risks. Some women are in search of a more natural option to control their menstrual cramping.

Exercise is one way to help moderate menstrual pain, as women who exercise regularly tend to have less cramping. I know, I know. Jumping jacks and mountain climbers are probably the last things you want to do while on your period. But gentle aerobic exercises and calming workouts such as yoga can help give you some relief.

Hot compresses applied to the lower belly region can help to ease pain as well.

However, if these things don’t do the trick, cannabis just might be the answer.

Though there hasn’t been a ton of rigorous research on using cannabis for menstrual cramps, the relationship between endocannabinoid receptors and the reproductive system could prove to be useful. This is due to the fact that cannabinoid receptors have been found in abundance within the reproductive system. The chemicals in cannabis, called cannabinoids, bind to these receptors. This has led some researchers to believe that marijuana could help women who suffer from dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps) and menopausal symptoms.

Do you want to know more about treating menstrual cramps with cannabis? Read Relieving Menstrual Cramps with Cannabis.

How Can Cannabis Help Your Menstrual Cramps?

Using cannabis as a medicine is kind of old news. It has had a place in the medicine cabinet for centuries. Studies have been conducted, proving that cannabis can be helpful in treating an impressive collection of illnesses , including muscle spasms, seizure disorders, poor appetite and Crohn’s disease, just to name a few.

The use of cannabis for women’s health can be traced back as far as ancient Egypt. Some experts believe that women would use cannabis as a sort of suppository to ease pain during childbirth. The Ebers Papyrus , which is an ancient record of Egyptian medicine, states that cannabis was “ground in honey [and] introduced into [the] vagina” to aid in childbirth. Cannabis was also being used in 9th century Persia to “calm uterine pains and prevent miscarriage.” The ancient Chinese used cannabis as a useful treatment for menstrual disorders as well. But perhaps the most well-known use of cannabis for menstrual treatment was by Queen Victoria. Her physician, Sir Joshua Reynolds, prescribed cannabis to Queen Victoria of England to help ease her menstrual cramps.

Even now, cannabis is known to help treat pain and inflammation. Unlike highly addictive opioids, cannabis is not a pain blocker, but rather helps to modify your perception of pain and can actually reduce inflammation.

Even though cannabis has seemingly been thrown by the wayside and replaced with Advil and Midol, it doesn’t seem to have lost any of its ability to treat menstrual pains.

In May of 2017, the New York Assembly Health Committee passed an initiative to add severe menstrual cramps to the list of conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana. The bill states:

“This bill will provide women with access to a means of treating dysmenorrhea by adding dysmenorrhea to the list of conditions for which a doctor may authorize medical marijuana use. Not only will this improve women’s wellness and productivity during menstruation, but it will also advance New York State in one of the country’s fastest-growing industries.”

Whoopi Goldberg, who owns a line of cannabis products called Whoopi & Maya, came out with a statement in support of this bill passing. She stated:

“Women have used cannabis for menstrual pain for as long as time, and this pain is real for a lot of us. I’m glad to see states like New York starting to get serious about this and when it gets to Gov. Cuomo’s desk we hope he recognizes and champions this conversation, and allows these decisions to be made between patients and their doctor by signing this very important bill Assemblywoman Rosenthal sponsored.”

Goldberg’s products are specifically for period pains. These products include marijuana-infused teas, creams, sipping chocolate and bath soaks. They are infused with either CBD or THC and are available to those in California and Colorado who have a medical marijuana card. In a release received by Merry Jane, Goldberg stated that her reasons for starting the company began with her own experience with cannabis.

“This was all inspired by my own experience from a lifetime of difficult periods and the fact that cannabis was literally the only thing that gave me relief,” Goldberg stated.

Goldberg is not alone, as others who have purchased her product to ease their menstrual pain feel the same way. One Whoopi & Maya customer named 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 bath salts. The tincture is the best, 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.”

To support claims that cannabis can be effective for period cramps, we always turn to the endocannabinoid system. Dr. Dustin Sulak describes the discovery of the endocannabinoid system as “perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health.”

Both humans and animals possess an endocannabinoid system in their bodies. This system is mostly found in the brain, but is also found in the reproductive organs. When it comes to menstrual cramps, cannabinoids could activate the endocannabinoid receptors and alleviate pain. A study conducted by Ester Pagano, showed that the endocannabinoid system changes between the oestrus and dioestrus phases.

This study was done on mice uteri. The study demonstrated that the uteri that were obtained during the dioestrus phase, but not the oestrus phase, showed contractions that were reduced by ACEA, which is a CB1 receptor antagonist. The CB2 receptor antagonist JWH133 also lowered these contractions, but on a smaller scale. Neither receptor antagonist reduced contractions brought on by exogenous PGE2 in the uterus during the oestrus phase.

The oestrus phase is when ovulation occurs. This is when the mouse is most fertile and will seek a mate, which dictates her cycle length. During the dioestrus cycle, which is the longest lasting phase, the corpus luthium is present. This is a temporary endocrine structure in the ovaries. This structure secretes progesterone in large volumes. This phase only lasts as long as the corpus luthium is present. At this point, the cervix constricts.

The study concludes that the CB1 (and to some extent the CB2) receptors can prevent certain parts of the uterus from contracting. These are promising results when looking at cannabis to reduce menstrual cramping.

Though this is done on mice and not humans, we can conclude that cannabis does have an effect on the reproductive system as both mice and humans have endocannabinoid systems. More research needs to be done to fully understand how cannabis works for menstrual cramps, however, women like Whoopi Goldberg just know that it works. And when you are doubled over from a menstrual cramp, all you really want is relief.

The lack of research on cannabis has largely to do with the fact that it is still federally considered a Schedule I drug. Multiple federal agencies must give the OK to obtain cannabis for research purposes, which can turn into a long, and sometimes unprofitable, ordeal.

What we do know is that cannabis can reduce pain and inflammation. We know that endocannabinoid receptors are found in the reproductive system. And we know that women are finding relief from their menstrual cramps with cannabis products, despite the lack of research.

Finding relief from menstrual pain isn’t always easy. Popping pain pills and walking around with a heat pack on your abdomen is a way of life for many women during their period. Cannabis can be, and is, an answer to many women’s menstrual pain.

If you are experiencing severe menstrual cramps that are interfering with your daily life, or are getting progressively worse, please consult your doctor about a treatment that’s right for you.

For more information on using cannabis for menstrual cramps, read Guide to Using Cannabis for Period Pain Relief.

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff
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