Our bodies change with age, and getting older isn’t always the most pleasant of experiences. Menopause can be a time of great stress and physical discomfort for many women – Insomnia, rapid changes in mood, hot flashes, dry skin, and more.
With symptoms such as those in mind, it seems little surprise more and more women are turning to cannabinoids – both THC and CBD – to help alleviate their menopausal symptoms.
In today’s article we’ll be going over menopause and cannabis use: Why more women are trying it, exactly how it may be able to help, and what you should know if interested in seeking cannabis treatment for menopause yourself.
What is Menopause?
As the body ages, for women and men both, our natural levels of hormones change – First increasing throughout our younger lives, as our bodies produce either estrogen or testosterone to help us change and grow from childhood, eventually peaking and evening out as we transition into being an adult.
Our associated growth hormones typically slow down in their production over time – Both female and male bodies will likely experience a down-turn in their hormonal production as they age. Specifically for women, the hormones estrogen and progesterone both begin decreasing as one reaches middle age and beyond (typically somewhere around the mid-40s to mid-50s, with an average age of 51 in the United States).
Menopause is often naturally induced by aging, but can be caused by surgical and other medical procedures as well. Surgical treatments that remove the ovaries (a procedure known as an oophorectomy) will immediately trigger menopause in the patient, as the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle are produced by the ovaries themselves. Likewise other non-invasive procedures, such as cancer-fighting chemotherapy, may induce a temporary (or even permanent) form of menopause that can last beyond the treatment’s regimen.
There is no set start or end date to menopause; as mentioned earlier, mid-40s to mid-50s is a general range when most women can expect to begin menopause, but there’s no guarantee that symptoms may not begin earlier or later in life.
Dr. Melanie Bone, Chief Medical Officer for the High There editorial staff, reminds us that it’s important to remember that menopause is a “phase of life, like adolescence,” and that “when it starts and ends varies from person to person.”
“Most women begin to experience menstrual changes, hot flashes, flushes and mood disruptions by their mid-forties, while others do not have any complaints until their late fifties,” says Dr. Bone. “The formal definition of menopause was arbitrarily set as the end of ovarian function signaled by one year after the cessation of menses. In practice, the term “perimenopause” is often used to describe that period of time when some of the common complaints of menopause come and go, while periods also continue, even if irregular.”
And though menopause is typically brought about by age, premature menopause (with symptoms appearing before the age of 40) can occur. In such cases hormone therapy is often recommended as a treatment route, to help prevent any aging-related changes to other areas of the body such as the skeletal and cardiovascular systems.
What Are the Symptoms of Menopause?
Menopausal symptoms display a wide range of effects, acting on body and mind alike. Some symptoms include:
- An increase in irregularity in the menstrual cycle
- Joint pain
- Rapid shifts in body temperature (hot flashes/chills)
- Incontinence, urinary infections, and vaginal dryness
- Decreased sexual interest
These symptoms aren’t always the same from one individual to the next, nor do they last for a set length of time – How menopause affects each woman will always be different.
As humans, our bodies are often made from the same rough components and in the same general fashions – We are all the same “human-shaped” creatures. But, yet, we are not.
Each individual person has differing balances of chemicals that, in part, make us who we uniquely are – Our temperaments, our personalities, our overall sense-of-self. When experiencing symptoms derived from and dependent on those chemical balances, each person’s experience will be as unique as they are themselves. This also means that treatment must often be custom-tailored to fit the individual’s needs.
Where Cannabis Use Comes In
Medical marijuana can be a good supplement or alternative to traditional therapies. As said above, each person has different requirements for treatment, based not only on their bodily makeup but their own personal wishes as well – For some, pharmaceutical medications may not be a viable option, while for others certain forms of treatment may not be effective.
Our bodies contain what is known as the “endocannabinoid system”, a series of cell receptors that interact with “endocannabinoids”, the natural cannabinoids our bodies produce. This system then helps to regulate body temperature, blood sugar levels, and other chemical/physical elements that must be maintained for our day-to-day existence.
The natural endocannabinoids our bodies create are well-recognized by our endocannabinoid system, and don’t have any particular “special effect” when the two interact (outside of the whole “keeping us alive” aspect, which is generally pretty special on its own). However other cannabinoids produced outside of our human endocannabinoid system, such as phytocannabinoids (IE: cannabinoids produced by plants) will interact with the receptors located through-out our bodies, and in ways that the endocannabinoid system doesn’t typically expect.
The endocannabinoid system and estrogen are also highly linked. By regulating certain types of acids that break down specific cannabinoids, estrogen works to help regulate the emotional centers of the brain, and studies have shown that increased levels of estrogen may result in an increased sensitivity to the impact of CBD, particularly when taken for pain management.
Can Cannabis Help With Menopausal Symptoms?
There is no blanket “yes” or “no” answer to this question. For some women, yes – Cannabinoid use, either alone or in conjunction with other medications, can offer relief for some of the symptoms brought about by menopause. However, differing cannabinoids can offer differing effects, and what may be helped by use of CBD may not be aided by the use of THC.
Both THC and CBD affect bodies in very different ways, with THC primarily interfacing with the CB1 receptors located in our brains, and CBD working as an antagonist on the CB2 receptors located through-out our immune system. CBD is often known for anti-inflammatory effects, relaxing muscles through-out the body, and aiding with soreness and physical fatigue. THC is… well, THC, and known for both its physical and its psychotropic effects.
Which Cannabinoids Help With What Menopausal Symptoms?
Disclaimer: Again, what works best for you can only be dictated by your medical professional and your own experiences. Our general overview is just that: A general overview, with some typical experiences and effects. If trying cannabinoids to aid with any health-related issue, menopausal or otherwise, always follow the advice of your personal health care provider.
Though there are other cannabinoid products on the market, the two most commonly-found and recognizable are CBD (or “Cannabidiol”, and THC (most usually “Delta 9 Tetrahydrocannabinol”)
CBD generally has very subtle but very physical effects, often working to relax the muscles and relieve inflammation through-out the body. CBD is also known for being more mentally relaxing than it’s THC cousin, despite (or perhaps because of) CBD’s inability to get someone high.
While CBD may lack the chemical composition to bind to our CB1 receptors (as does THC), CBD will antagonize and activate other receptors through-out our body, such as our PPARs (peroxisome proliferator activated receptors) and serotonin receptors. This is believed to give CBD it’s strong effects on pain relief and relaxation, as well as helping it act as a sleep aid.
Increases in anxiety or stress levels are a common trigger for some symptoms of menopause, hot flashes being one of the more typical stress-related responses. For many, CBD can work better at reducing stress than THC (and may even be a way to help reduce a particularly intense high) due to the lack of psychoactive effects involved – The “high” sensation of THC can cause further stress and disorientation that can leave the user feeling worse than before.
For those able and willing to use THC-based cannabis products, adding in a bit of THC to a primarily CBD-focused routine can occasionally aid in the CBD’s overall effects; research shows that interactions between CBD and THC can enhance the medicinal qualities of both, and THC can aid in ways that CBD can’t, particularly in regards to shifts in mood and issues with insomnia.
Should I Use Cannabis To Help With Menopause?
Cannabis use isn’t for everyone, and with such a long-standing social stigma around cannabis in its entirety there are those who feel uncomfortable using either THC or CBD as a treatment option. However, more and more women are being reported as using cannabis as part of their menopausal treatment regimen.
A 2020 study conducted by the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) showed one in four women – all military veterans – in Northern California used cannabis as a way of alleviating symptoms related to their menopause (worth noting, this study did not differentiate between CBD and THC). However, this doesn’t mean that cannabinoids alone can offer effective treatment for everyone, or for all physical changes brought about by menopause.
Though CBD and THC can both be effective at treating issues such as insomnia, pain, and loss of sexual desire, hormone replacement therapy can offer more reliable results in some, and can also help to offset bone density loss and other potential side effects, such as heart disease and osteoporosis, particularly present in those who experience early or premature menopause.
As per the recommendation of Dr. Bone, a combination of both cannabis use and hormone therapy is often the most effective path for treatment. “While I believe cannabis can be very helpful for things like menopause,” says Dr. Bone, “I don’t think it’s as helpful when used alone as when it’s used in concert with hormone therapy. […] There are times when it needs to play second fiddle to other treatments.”
“As a gynecologist I think it might be a good idea to look at women who transition through menopause seamlessly. Is it their genetics? Their diet? Their socio-cultural heritage? All of these working in concert?
Suffice to say that some groups are more “tuned in” to their bodily functions than others and may be more sensitive to the hormonal fluctuations than others. Whatever the case, it behooves us to support those struggling through to make this passage as smooth as possible.”Dr. Melanie Bone, Chief Medical Officer for High There
Though there is plenty of scientific evidence that cannabinoids can offer effective treatment and relief for menopause in women, ultimately the choice to use CBD or THC lies within the individual.
However, as the benefits of cannabis use become better known, and acceptance of cannabis both recreationally and medicinally spreads through the United States, it makes a natural sense that more and more women are turning to CBD and THC, both to help relieve issues related to menopause and beyond. Whether or not one of these women should be you? Is a question only you and your health care professional can answer.
We hope today’s article has left you feeling more informed – and more comfortable – about the conversation around menopause and cannabis use. For more on this topic and other topics related to cannabis use and women’s health, please see our upcoming article “Cannabis & Women’s Health: An Overview” for further reading. Until next time, take care and all the best!