To celebrate International Women’s Day we’re taking a look at women’s health and wellness and how cannabis can benefit so many aspects of this.
Why is there a gap in Women’s health knowledge?
“There are a lot of reasons we don’t know more about women’s health. Most of the clinical research that built the modern medical model is based on men.”
There are ethical concerns about affecting women’s fertility which play a major role in the lack of research. Researchers also falsely believed that women and men’s bodies were similar enough to be able to generalize the research and just study men. This also means there is very little research into illnesses affecting only women.
Cannabis has been used as medicine for centuries across many cultures. Unfortunately it is still illegal in many countries which has prevented research into this as well. When cannabis research has been done, it seldom includes women. As a result many women aren’t honest about their cannabis use with their doctors. This is especially true during pregnancy and motherhood when they may fear children being removed from their care or the stigma attached.
“Even with all of those obstacles, there are women in the medical field who are pioneering the study of cannabis medicine and women’s health.”
We found a very useful article by the Miss Grass Team where they spoke to Dr Michelle Sexton about cannabis and women’s health. She looked at women’s health holistically over their lifespan and addressed some of the issues that don’t get the attention they deserve. We’ve summarized this for you below.
Read the full article here
Do you find your tolerance swinging back and forth during the month? According to Dr. Sexton, our monthly period cycle and the related cycling of hormones makes our biological relationship with cannabis more complex than men’s. Many anecdotal studies have found that women report that their THC tolerance varies depending on where they are in their cycles. Estrogen may have a relationship to THC tolerance. “ As with most issues related to women’s health, these changes are very understudied, and most studies examining effects of cannabinoids in women typically do not control for the menstrual cycle phase.”
Dr Sexton’s studies found that, “Women report greater pain benefit from cannabis than men. Women are more likely than men to report appetite decrease, rather than increase, more dizziness, and more improvement in a memory test than men. Women have reported using cannabis less than men (frequency and quantity) and women are twice as likely as men to initiate use after the age of 30.” Women were also “significantly more likely than men to report using cannabis to treat anxiety, nausea, anorexia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and headaches/migraines.” Dr. Sexton reports that men are more likely to use and become dependent on cannabis, but women demonstrate a more rapid progression from first use to cannabis use disorder.
Women’s Health Issues
Cannabis has the potential to really benefit women’s health over their lifespan. Here are a few ways Dr Sexton believes cannabis can be beneficial to women.
From cramps to headaches, bloating, sleep disturbance and poor concentration, symptoms of PMS can vary from person to person and change throughout life. According to Dr. Sexton, “Women using cannabis for PMS have reported good effectiveness for menstrual cramps, alleviating some of the mood elements and helping with sleep.”
“The relationship between cannabis and fertility has been one of the most difficult areas to research due to the ethical concerns mentioned before. However, many women who consume cannabis are of child-bearing age, so this is an important topic to address.”
Dr. Sexton’s research shows that, “Heavy cannabis use has been shown to affect the ability of a fertilized egg to become implanted in the uterus. This doesn’t mean that cannabis is a form of birth control, however! It likely means that some people could be sensitive to the impact of cannabis on hormonal signaling and fertility.”
“Endocannabinoids have been measured in ovaries, follicular fluids, amniotic fluid, and human milk.” Dr. Sexton concludes, “For those people who may be struggling to achieve pregnancy, foregoing cannabis may improve chances of success.”
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Dr. Sexton notes, “Cannabis use during the childbearing years can be tricky, especially if not using birth control. Cannabis use in pregnancy has not been shown to be 100% safe for the developing embryo or fetus.” Dr. Sexton says, “Just say no! THC crosses the placenta and also into breast milk. While there is the argument that cannabinoids are in breast milk (yes, this is true), these are the body’s natural cannabinoids which are much less potent than THC and in much lower concentration than THC (when inhaling cannabis, specifically). So, justifying that cannabis is safe because of this is not really a fair argument.” Other research shows hope that cannabis can be beneficial and non harmful during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
See our Cannabis and motherhood blog post for more research on this.
According to Dr. Sexton, “There are a variety of plant compounds, including THC, that may act as phytoestrogens by binding to the estrogen receptor, thus activating it similarly to how estrogen does. It’s a great idea to incorporate more and more phytochemicals into daily self-care, when approaching the peri-menopause and Wise Woman years. This time of life, and that after menopause, is a great time for cannabis as a medicine and for health! There are so many benefits, such as for joint pain, sleep problems, mood, stress regulation, anxiety, menstrual pain, and changes in sexual desire.”
Dr. Sexton explains that “It is likely that as we age, and endocannabinoid function overall diminishes, and estrogen levels decline, we become much more sensitive to cannabis than when we were young. So adjusting the dose based on these factors is reasonable. It’s a good idea to take a break from cannabis for a couple of weeks every few months, just to make sure your cannabinoid system is in good ‘tone.’
Research focused on helping women with libido has never been a priority. This isn’t ideal considering women are reported to experience issues with sexual function about twice as often as men but there doesn’t seem to be much hurry to develop this research in a meaningful way.
“Effects of cannabis on sexual functioning have been documented literally for centuries, including reports of increased arousal and sexual pleasure.”
“In a formal survey at a gynecology clinic of 737 women using cannabis prior to sex and reporting on their experiences, reported increases in sex drive, improvement in orgasm and decreased pain with intercourse (for those who had pain). There was no effect on vaginal lubrication (cannabis has been known to dry secretions). 68.5% reported that their overall sexual experience was more pleasurable, 52.8% reported an increase in satisfying orgasms, and 60.6% reported an increase in sex drive.”
Empowering women to take charge of their health!
“Cannabis and other plant medicines give women a chance to get around the biases and lack of research to teach and learn from each other how to manage the symptoms and stresses of the female sex”
About Dr. Sexton: Dr. Sexton is an Assistant Adjunct Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of California, San Diego. She is a naturopathic doctor/scientist with extensive clinical experience and basic, translational and clinical research. Her clinical research and work focuses on body/mind healing. Dr. Sexton has been helping her patients fine-tune their Endocannabinoid Systems since 2008.
Read the full article here
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