Can Cannabis Help With Menopause?
May 11, 2020
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.
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.
The Cannigma content is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult with an experienced medical professional with a background in cannabis before beginning treatment.
Menopause is not a disease or a medical condition. It’s a natural state that refers to the total end of menstruation. It’s defined as when you haven’t menstruated for the last 12 months. In the lead-up to menopause, your menstrual periods become disrupted and you may experience many new physical symptoms. This is called perimenopause, or the transition to menopause.
Most women begin to enter menopause between the ages of 45 and 55. In the US and the UK, the average age is 51, and the median age worldwide is 50-52 years, but about 1% of women begin menopause before the age of 40. This is called premature menopause. It takes an average of seven years to complete the transition to menopause, but can take as long as 14.
After menopause, your body produces lower amounts of estrogen and progesterone hormones, which causes various physiological changes throughout the body as well as the absence of menstruation. Although menopause is a natural biological process, the transition, and symptoms, can be uncomfortable. To deal with the change, there are various treatments to help you deal with these symptoms.
The primary symptom of menopause is a change in the pattern of menstruation. Your periods could become lighter or heavier, you might skip periods and then restart menstruation, and the timing of your periods can change significantly.
Other common symptoms of menopause include:
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness and a reduced sex drive
- Irritability and mood swings
- Night sweats and/or insomnia
- Increased weight gain and a slower metabolism
- Dry skin
- Thinning hair
- Difficulty concentrating
- Stiff or aching joints
- Recurring urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Everyone experiences the symptoms of menopause in a different way, and for different amounts of time. If you enter menopause suddenly, because of cancer for example, your symptoms will probably be much more severe.
Complications of menopause can include:
- Increased risk of bone fractures due to osteoporosis
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Loss of urinary continence and increased UTIs
- Increased weight gain due to your changed metabolism, which can lead to obesity
If you’re having any symptoms of menopause, you should consult your doctor. Usually, they’ll diagnose perimenopause or menopause based on your symptoms and medical history. If you have atypical symptoms, your doctor may do a blood test to check your levels of precursor hormones to estrogen including follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and estradiol (E2), to rule out other possibilities.
Menopause is caused by a drop in the levels of estrogen and progesterone hormones in your body. This happens naturally as you age, but it can also be caused by:
- A hysterectomy that removes your ovaries (total hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy), immediately stops your body from producing estrogen and progesterone, triggering menopause.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can induce menopause by disrupting hormone production, but sometimes that can be reversed once therapy ceases.
- Primary ovarian insufficiency is when the ovaries fail to produce normal levels of hormones. Sometimes it’s caused by genetic factors or autoimmune disorders, but it can often occur without an obvious cause.