As cannabis use explodes both in the United States and around the world, exciting new research is being released every month focused around how cannabinoids can be used as medical treatment for a wide variety of ailments.
However, interestingly, cannabis use may have a particular impact on women’s health issues, offering therapeutic benefits for a number of health concerns – physical and mental alike – that affect women’s lives.
In today’s article we’ll be going over some of the basics of cannabis use & women’s health. We’ll discuss some of the history of treating women’s health with cannabis (often via hemp), why cannabinoids may play a vital role in the female reproductive system, and whether or not cannabis use is always a good idea for those expecting to be expecting. There’s a lot to go through so let’s dive right in.
Cannabis Use & Women’s Health Through History
Cannabis use in the west is only recently seeing a resurgence in popularity, but historically humans have used cannabis in a number of ways – Ceremonially, recreationally, and as medication alike. In particular, references to using cannabis as treatment for female medical conditions date back to the 7th century BCE, in Ancient Mesopotamia; hemp seeds were mixed alongside beer and other ingredients for treating issues during childbirth, as well as other, unspecified ailments.
European references to cannabis use stem back to the 11th century Old English Herbarium, wherein a mixture of hemp and fat is recommended for treatment of swollen or sore breasts; this same advice appears in a manuscript of either Italian or Roman origins, depicting a bare-breasted woman underneath a clearly-recognizable cannabis plant.
Western medicine became more aware of cannabis as a treatment option in the mid-1800s, after extracts and tinctures of “Indian hemp” became widely available. In particular cannabis concentrates were sought-after as remedy for difficult childbirths, with one researcher noting “There appears little doubt, then, that the Indian hemp may often prove of essential service in promoting uterine contraction in tedious labours.”
Though cannabis prohibition spread across the globe in the 1800s/1900s many citizens still chose to use cannabis-related remedies; despite hefty legal penalties it was still common practice in parts of Soviet Russia to use cannabis as a marital aid or for the prevention of leukorrhea – Likewise in India, where researchers had once noted “[cannabis resin] is considered a sovereign remedy for relieving pain in dysmenorrhea and menorrhagia, and against dysuria”, use of cannabis as a common folk remedy extended well past nation-wide criminalization.
(Editor’s Note: For references and further reading, please see the work “Women and Cannabis: Medicine, Science, and Sociology” by Russo, Dreher, and Mathre.)
How Does Cannabis Affect Women’s Health?
Moving into the modern era, cannabis – both THC and CBD – has become a rather common treatment path for many ailments, many of which are either directly or partly related to women’s health issues. Though cannabis is not a cure-all, and may not be a suitable treatment for issues experienced during pregnancy/breastfeeding, there are a multitude of ways cannabis use can have a positive impact on women’s lives.
Skin & Joint Care
Both hemp seed oil and CBD can be powerful aids in fighting sensitive or dry skin. Hemp seed oil in particular is known for its hydrating effects, carrying large quantities of fatty acids that may help ease pain associated with cracked skin or scar tissue.
CBD, with it’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties, has been known to work on both skin and underlying joints/musculature. Patients have reported success treating psoriasis and eczema with CBD, and there has been research done showing that cannabidiol can potentially help with extreme cases of acne. Likewise, joint and muscle pain brought on by stress or strains can possibly be helped by applying a CBD-rich ointment or cream to the area of tension.
Though there has been little research done that conclusively links cannabis use to cancer-fighting properties, that doesn’t leave cannabis without a role in cancer treatment, particularly forms of cancer specific to women. Cancer in itself is a ravaging disease that comes with a myriad of side effects and issues, including pain, nausea, insomnia, and depression; all of which are candidates for mitigation with cannabinoid therapy.
In a survey completed by the Pennsylvania-based breastcancer.org, roughly 42% of all respondents who had been diagnosed with breast cancer reported having used medical marijuana products to help ease symptoms either directly related to cancer or side effects from their treatment. Of those, 75% found cannabis use to be either “very” or “extremely” helpful.
Early research also shows cannabinoids being potentially beneficial for types of cancer that affect the female reproductive system; with the endocannabinoid system found to be vital in hormonal production/regulation, as well as one of the mechanisms helping to regulate the early stages of pregnancy, early trials have shown CBD as a potentially powerful agent against certain types of uterine cancer.
Among the myriad of symptoms that accompany menopause both CBD and THC can be effective in offering relief. CBD and THC can both work as stress relievers, helping to alleviate hot flashes and assorted aches and pains in the muscles.
Though both CBD and THC can offer effective relief on their own, recommendations to take a specified ratio of the two are not uncommon, as both can act in concert to provide stronger benefits than when taken on their own.
Cannabis use as treatment for mental health issues is widely-known, with prescriptions for PTSD, depression, anxiety, and many others not uncommon. Mental health issues are typically identified more in women than in men, with an average of 1-in-5 United States-based women reporting mental health conditions in the year 2018.
Though treatment via THC is common for many mental health issues anxiety may not be best mitigated with the psychoactive nature of tetrahydrocannabinol; instead, either a pure or high-ratio CBD medication might work best, as CBD is known to act on the receptors located in our bodies that help to regulate serotonin, providing a natural calm without the brain-fogging “headiness” that THC can induce.
Much as with other mind-altering chemicals, sexual interactions while on THC can become more pleasant and arousing when in the proper, consensual atmosphere. Comfort and safety are both essential factors in any sexual encounter, and though for some the sensation of being high can cause stress and anxiety, for others the relaxing properties of THC make entering a sensual mindset easier and more pleasurable.
A 2018 study from St. Louis, Missouri surveyed 373 female patients at an obstetrics & gynecology practice and found that 34% reported having used cannabis prior to sexual activities; roughly 1/3rd of all patients surveyed. Those who used cannabis before sex were found to be twice as likely as those who did not to have “satisfactory” orgasms, and overall reported higher satisfaction, less pain, and greater lubrication.
Worth noting, though, is that while marijuana use can increase the physical pleasure of sexual encounters, cannabis may not be the best thing for those either attempting to become or who already are pregnant. Research into cannabis and fertility is somewhat lacking (and what little exists is unfortunately contradictory) but trends toward cannabis use decreasing the likelihood of conceiving.
Also worth noting, these same studies did not test or evaluate the women’s sexual partners, and cannabis use can lead to vastly decreased sperm counts (as well as other infertility issues) in men; this ultimately means infertility issues in those surveyed may have had nothing to do with the active participant or their cannabis use.
Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
Of particular note is cannabis use while pregnant or breastfeeding. Though historical use of cannabis may have often targeted easing difficult pregnancies and relieving soreness related to breastfeeding, current scientific evidence is unclear on the effect that cannabis use – either CBD or THC – may have on a developing child.
We discuss this topic in greater detail in our article “Cannabis Use & Pregnancy” but, at the moment, research has pointed to cannabis use while pregnant being linked to developmental disorders, health risks, and more in the growing child. Though this evidence is far from conclusive, and has even been refuted by some, many doctors ultimately recommend against the use of cannabinoids while pregnant or breastfeeding, as clear proof of the safety of cannabis on a growing child has not yet been presented.
Should I Talk To My Health Care Professional About Cannabis?
This is a question with a wide array of answers. Are you currently using cannabis, either recreationally or in a self-administered medical fashion? Then yes, absolutely, your medical provider should be aware of your usage. As discussed in our article “Cannabis & Pharmaceutical Drug Interactions” there are instances (albeit limited) where cannabinoids can have harmful interactions with certain prescription medications, and your physician can’t advise you to steer clear of medications that interact with cannabis if they don’t know you’re taking it.
If you live in an area with legalized cannabis use and have questions about treating your medical symptoms with cannabinoids, your doctor will likely have information and recommendations available. Important to note, medical cannabis treatment does not necessarily have to involve “getting high”, and rarely ends with the doctor’s recommendation to “go home, roll up a phattie joint, and call me in the morning”. Even when being treated with THC many doctors will recommend alternative forms of intaking cannabis, either as some fashion of edible or potentially vaporized.
As Chief Medical Officer to the High There team Dr. Melanie Bone reminds us: “You don’t have to “smoke weed” to use marijuana as a medicinal treatment. You can use other form factors – Vaping, topical, sublingual. There are many ways to get the cannabinoids into your body, which avoids the smoking part.”
“When we control what goes into the marijuana that goes into the body,” says Dr. Bone, “we can control the effect – I can give [someone] marijuana that will calm them down but not get them high. Because we have the ability to control the strength of the product, the dose of the product, and the form factor, there are very few people that I encounter where we can’t find some way to use cannabis to improve their quality of life.”
Likewise CBD, which has no psychoactive properties on its own, can be used as effective therapy for a variety of ailments without causing the potential discomfort of a high. Though, as mentioned earlier, recommendations for a ratio of CBD:THC are not uncommon, CBD is one of the few agents that can help reduce the sensation of being high, making it a way for some to take THC without feeling a full-on (and potentially anxiety-inducing) high.
Also important, while cannabis may be an appealing and effective treatment on its own, that doesn’t make cannabis use alone the best treatment available. Many doctors will recommend cannabinoids be taken with other forms of medicine, providing allopathic/pharmaceutical medication alongside whatever form of cannabis they may suggest.
Cannabinoid use as medical treatment is an exciting field of study, and one with a wide variety of potential applications. Though research on exactly how cannabis can best aid in women’s health areas is still somewhat lacking, new studies and papers focused solely on the interaction between women’s health and cannabis are appearing frequently, and are likely to become more and more common as cannabis legality itself becomes more commonplace.
Just remember, always speak to your health care provider about your cannabis use, either existing or potential – Having an honest, open dialog with your medical professional can help you avoid unpleasant experiences (and possible harmful drug interactions), as well as open new doors for treatment if medical cannabis is legalized in your area.
We hope our overview has provided you with the information and confidence you may have needed to speak with your doctor further about adding cannabinoids into your health care routine. Be sure to check out our links both above and below for further reading on how cannabis affects women’s health topics, as well as other medically-related articles. Until next time!