Hormonal contraception was introduced in the 1960s as a method for preventing unwanted pregnancy by manipulating hormones in the body. The most common hormonal birth control comes in pill form (“the pill”) but it can be administered using a multitude of different methods with varying effects. Hormonal birth control interacts with the body in many ways — including changes in weight, blood pressure, or appetite — and can hold additional benefits for women including relief from menstrual pain and even helping prevent certain types of cancer.
Recently, as CBD has gained mainstream press and attention in the health and wellness worlds, questions have been raised about its interactions with hormonal contraceptives. CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of more than 100 cannabinoids found in cannabis and hemp that can be extracted from these plants and made into CBD oil, a concentrate which is the basis for making health remedies that come in various forms such as tinctures, topical creams, and capsules.
CBD is becoming more popular because science suggests it’s a safer alternative to pharmaceutical drugs when treating certain health issues. CBD and other cannabinoids work by signaling the CB1 and CB2 receptors in our endocannabinoid system, a vital part of our brain which helps regulate many areas of the human body including our immune system, nervous system, and hormones. Although it’s a more natural option than most pharmaceuticals, CBD oil can affect patients differently and may still involve risks.
Although CBD itself does not cause harm, its adverse interactions with the female body, or with other medications or supplements a woman is taking, could be cause for concern when a patient is taking hormonal birth control.
Claims of CBD’s interference with hormonal birth control are widespread, with reported side effects ranging spotting, other menstruation problems or changes, or even unwanted pregnancy. But, these findings are inconclusive and there are many arguments to the contrary: Plenty of patients who have taken CBD and hormonal birth control simultaneously over a long period of time report zero negative consequences or side effects. The common thread throughout all of these claims is that they’re anecdotal and have little to no medical or scientific research to support them.
There are few recent studies on the interactions of hormonal birth control with CBD, but a study from 1983 shows how CBD competes with estradiol — a major female sex hormone — for estrogen receptors in the reproductive system, which could prevent estrogen-based contraception from working properly. According to Neurobiology of Disease, “cannabinoid receptors appear to play a major role in the ability of cannabinoids [like CBD] to influence hormone release”, and since hormonal birth control also affects hormone behavior, we need more research to determine how CBD and birth control interfere with each other.
While CBD could potentially affect hormone activity, one of the earliest pharmacological studies on cannabidiol (CBD) found a noteworthy side effect in another area of the body: “in the liver, CBD inactivates cytochrome p450 enzymes (which are involved in metabolizing most clinically useful drugs)” — in other words, CBD may prevent hormonal birth control from being processed correctly by the body, meaning it can’t do its job of preventing pregnancy. In 2011, the same conclusions about CBD’s role in preventing drug metabolism were published in the international journal Life Sciences. This more recent data confirms that using CBD oil alongside hormonal birth control could have unfavorable consequences for women.
The answer might seem obvious — don’t use CBD oil if you’re taking hormonal birth control. But due to the numerous benefits that CBD has for various health issues, and the growing number of people using it — often as a substitute for prescription medications and/or without the advice of a medical professional — the issue may not be so simple for all women.
Given that the effectiveness of both CBD and birth control could be inhibited if taken in tandem, women must weigh many important factors — CBD’s interactions with drugs, hormones, and body systems — when combining the two. If you’re currently on birth control and considering using CBD oil, be sure to educate yourself on the potential risks involved and speak with your doctor before beginning any treatment.
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