It’s that time of the month again — time to call in sick, cancel plans, curl up in bed with a hot water bottle, and try to distract yourself with a non-stop stream of movies and TV (Cannabis for Menstrual pain relief).
If this sounds like your monthly ritual, you are not alone. Up to 90% of reproductive-age women suffer from painful periods — the medical term for it is “dysmenorrhea” — and it can completely derail your daily life(Cannabis for Menstrual pain relief).
Cannabis has been a popular medicine to treat period pain and cramps from antiquity. Thanks to new research and increased public awareness, cannabis is now being rediscovered as an effective medicine for women’s health. Cannabis has specific mechanisms that help treat the causes of menstrual symptoms.
As early as the 9th century, Persian texts cite the use of cannabis to “calm uterine pains.” And a Chinese text in 1596 based on ancient remedies recommends cannabis for menstrual disorders. However, when it comes to using cannabis to ease menstrual pain, the most well-known origin story has royal lineage. It was widely known that Queen Victoria received monthly doses of cannabis indica for menstrual discomfort throughout her adult life(Cannabis for Menstrual pain relief).
Following 30 years of experimentation with the plant, the Queen’s personal physician, Sir J. Russell Reynolds, was convinced of its effectiveness.
Cannabis “is one of the most valuable medicines we possess,” Reynolds wrote in 1890 in the Lancet Journal, one of the world’s oldest and well-respected medical journals.
He described the plant as being “of great service in cases of simple spasmodic dysmenorrhea,” a clinical term describing painful contractions of the uterus, more commonly known as menstrual cramps.
Reynolds went on to write that cannabis benefits many conditions beyond menstrual discomfort, also citing its ability to quell spasms caused by epilepsy disorders.
There is convincing scientific evidence regarding cannabis’ ability to alleviate menstrual pain and cramping, although it is debated whether it can prevent the onset of pain altogether. Newer research, however, suggests that cannabis can potentially do both, functioning as a pain blocker and a preventative.
In his preclinical research, Ethan Russo notes that cannabis for treating menstrual pain may possibly work best due to a synergistic effect between THC and CBD. CBD (cannabidiol) is thought to have a pain-suppressing effect, while psychoactive THC acts as a muscle relaxant. This way, cannabis is believed to not just block the pain associated with cramps, but their onset as well. This, of course, makes the balance of cannabinoids within a potential medicine of the utmost importance.
Recently, scientists discovered that — similar to NSAIDs — CBD also inhibits the prostaglandin-producing enzyme. However — unlike NSAIDs — CBD preferentially inhibits COX-2 over COX-1, which means its anti-inflammatory benefits come without the gastrointestinal side effects.
Added bonus: Not only does CBD inhibit the COX-2 enzyme, but both CBD and THC physically stop your DNA from producing so much of this enzyme in the first place (via the PPARγ receptor).
By decreasing prostaglandin levels during your period, you can reduce inflammation, pain and cramps. However, you cannot entirely eliminate prostaglandins.
This means that you could benefit from combining a prostaglandin-reducing treatment with other treatments that target the discomfortscaused by prostaglandins.
CBD and other cannabinoids can also treat painful menstrual cramps in the following ways:
- Anti-inflammatory: Cannabinoids have many anti-inflammatory activities beyond reducing production of inflammatory prostaglandins. For instance, THC activates endocannabinoid receptors (CB2) located on your immune system’s killer cells (macrophages). When these receptors are activated, they prevent macrophages from releasing inflammatory proteins (cytokines).
- Pain-relieving: Although prostaglandins and other inflammatory molecules can make pain-perceiving nerves more sensitive, cannabinoids fight back by desensitizing these nerves. Both CBD and THC target nerve receptors that help decrease the sensation of pain (TRPV1 and CB1, respectively). Additionally, not only does CBD desensitize TRPV1, but those soothing effects can spread to neighboring pain receptors.
- Muscle-relaxing: Menstrual cramps are exacerbated by contractions of the smooth muscle lining the uterus — and cannabinoids are widely recognized to relax smooth muscles. THC and CBD both target different receptors embedded in the muscle tissue to relax contractions.
- Vascular-relaxing: Blood vessels are also lined with smooth muscle, and when cannabinoids trigger this smooth muscle to relax, blood flow increases. Increased blood flow could help provide relief to oxygen-starved tissues, further decreasing painful cramps.