As cannabis grows in popularity, many are wondering if it might be a helpful treatment for those experiencing menopause. In fact, there is a strong connection between menopause and the endocannabinoid system, suggesting that may likely be a possibility. Unfortunately, there isn’t much research looking at how cannabis affects menopause. Still there is strong research suggesting that cannabis can help with many of the symptoms experienced in menopause, such as pain, hot flashes, mood swings and insomnia.
Research on menopause and cannabis
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much research on using cannabis for menopause. While it’s been used as a treatment for menopause pain as far back as 1924, no researchers have been able to set up the kind of rigorous studies we’d like to see.
One study looked at whether acute cannabis use impacted luteinizing hormone levels — a marker for menopause that usually rises after ovaries stop functioning. They found that cannabis use didn’t cause any immediate changes in LH levels, but this doesn’t tell us much about whether cannabis might be beneficial in other ways.
Still, while we are lacking in much direct research on using cannabis for menopause, there are studies showing that cannabis can be beneficial for many of the symptoms that arise in menopause, such as insomnia, hot flashes, pain, anxiety and depression.
For example, research suggests that THC (a common chemical in cannabis) can actually lower your body temperature. This could be a big help for hot flashes. Of course, it should be noted that only high doses of THC have the cooling impact. Lower doses may actually raise body temperature, so using cannabis for this symptom may require honing in on the ideal dose for your needs.
Pain is another common symptom of menopause that could be helped by cannabis. In fact, the endocannabinoid system is tasked with regulating pain sensation throughout all the stages of pain processing and research has regularly found that cannabis can help with pain. In a 2017 review on the cannabis literature, the National Academies of Science and Engineering reported that there is substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults, and tends to produce a moderate level of relief. Cannabis was also found to be effective for pain in a 2019 review of the literature.
Cannabis may also help with the emotional changes during menopause in other ways. Estrogen levels can have a big impact on emotionality, and this is modulated by the endocannabinoid system. Loss of estrogen can cause some serious anxiety and depression. Luckily, cannabis is also known for its ability to reduce anxiety and depression, and even leave patients with more resilience against anxiety in stressful situations.
For one thing, studies show that cannabinoids like THC can actually stimulate serotonin — which is a target for antidepressants, potentially helping relieve anxiety and depression.
A 2016 review of the literature for using cannabis with depression found that cannabis use generally led to improvements in depression symptoms. Studies on cannabis and anxiety have found cannabis can lower anxiety and even lead to blunted stress reactions and lower cortisol levels (a hormone that indicates stress) for those undergoing stressful situations.
This could be a huge support to those suffering from menopause related mood swings. Still researchers caution that cannabis also has the potential to increase depression and anxiety, depending on the dose and the person. What works well for one patient, may cause problems for another, so it’s important to note how it is impacting you.
Cannabis may also aid those suffering from sleep disturbances during menopause. Research has found that THC significantly decreases the time it takes healthy insomniacs to fall asleep, and decreases the amount of time subjects wake up in the night.
CBD and menopause
CBD may also help with mood swings in menopause. Like THC, CBD has the ability to increase serotonin levels, offering relief from anxiety and depression. Recently the World Health Organization reviewed the literature and found CBD can help with anxiety, specifically reducing tension, restlessness, fatigue and social anxiety. While there is less research on using CBD for depression, animal studies have found a single dose of CBD could induce fast and sustained antidepressant-like effects.
How cannabis works on menopause
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) exists in all vertebrates and helps regulate crucial functions such as sleep, pain, and appetite. The human body produces its own cannabinoids, which modulate and activate its various functions, but as its name suggests, the endocannabinoid system can also be modulated and activated by cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Because the entire system was only discovered in the past 30 years, scientists still have much to learn about the myriad ways cannabis affects the human body.
When it comes to menopause, researchers have noticed some important connections between the condition and the ECS. For one thing, estrogen (an important hormone which declines in menopause) is tied to the endocannabinoid system because it regulates FAAH, an enzyme responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids.
As estrogen levels rise and fall, so do endocannabinoid levels. So it’s not all that surprising that falling levels of estrogen would lead to negative symptoms for functions regulated by the endocannabinoid system such as pain, sleep, mood, and temperature.
You might think that this could be fixed by just adding more estrogen with hormone replacement therapy, but this route is not always as effective than we’d like. It seems that there is a window of time in which hormone therapy can be effective, and after that it doesn’t work as well. But some scientists suggest that the endocannabinoid system may be a tool in increasing this window.
Potential side effects of cannabis use
Despite the positive potential for cannabis and menopause, the side effects of cannabis can be a deterrent for some. Generally, cannabis can cause a wide array of side effects such as temporary cognitive deficits, short term memory loss, impaired coordination and respiratory symptoms (such as coughing and increased phlegm production) when inhaled.
It can also have longer lasting risk factors for some — such as increasing risk of psychosis for schizophrenic patients, or increasing the risk of certain cardiac conditions. For a minority of patients, it can lead to addiction.
In studies on menopausal women using cannabis, common side effects were increased pulse rate, increased feelings of being intoxicated or confused, and decreased feelings of arousal.
In addition, patients with menopause should be aware that while cannabis can help with symptoms like anxiety and depression, hot flashes, insomnia and pain, it can also cause these symptoms to worsen for some.
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