Premenstrual syndrome is a collection of symptoms that affect women before their period. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that at least 85 percent of menstruating women in the US experience at least 1 symptom of PMS, and those numbers are expected to be similar across the world.
While most women experience only mild symptoms, others don’t. For some women, PMS can be a monthly struggle that impedes on their lives and interferes with their daily commitments, responsibilities, and goals.
As cannabis is becoming known for its unique medical benefits (such as relieving pain and improving mood), some women are tempted to look to marijuana for relief from PMS symptoms. Could cannabis be a new viable treatment for PMS?
Premenstrual syndrome refers to a variety of physical and emotional symptoms that affect women prior to their period. The exact symptoms of PMS and their intensity vary from one woman to another.
PMS symptoms usually tend to show between 1 and 2 weeks before menstruation. They tend to become less intense and more manageable once bleeding starts, although this isn’t always the case. In total, PMS symptoms tend to last about 6 days.
The exact causes of premenstrual syndrome are unknown, but it is generally believed that the symptoms of PMS are caused by hormonal changes that occur after ovulation and prior to menstruation.
Chemical changes may also be an important cause of PMS. Caffeine and alcohol consumption as well as a high-salt diet may also play an important role in causing the syndrome. Other symptoms like stress and emotional problems like depression do not directly cause PMS but may make symptoms worse.
THE SYMPTOMS OF PMS
The exact symptoms of PMS vary from one woman to another, as does their intensity. For some people, PMS can just be a slight monthly bother, while it may have a severe impact on the daily lives of others.
Some common symptoms of PMS include:
- Swollen or tender breasts
- Feeling tired
- Trouble sleeping
- Upset stomach, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea
- Headache or backache
- Appetite changes or food cravings
- Joint or muscle pain
- Trouble with concentration or memory
- Tension, irritability, mood swings, or crying spells
- Anxiety or depression
Doctors will diagnose PMS based on the type of symptoms experienced by a patient, when they occur, and the effect they have on that patient’s life. Doctor’s are usually looking for a consistent pattern of both physical and emotional symptoms prior to menstruation that are severe enough to interfere with normal life to some degree.
Women who think they may have PMS should keep track of their symptoms and their severity for at least a few months. Using a calendar or PMS tracker can help do this and essentially makes diagnosis easier for a doctor.
Doctors will also need to rule out other conditions that may cause similar symptoms to PMS. These include:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Problems with the endocrine system
PMS treatment is focused on reducing symptoms and their severity. The exact process for doing so various from one woman to another, and there is no real one-size-fits-all approach to treatment.
PMS treatment usually encompasses 3 areas:
- Lifestyle changes: Patients with mild PMS symptoms may find that simple changes to their lifestyle are all it takes to keep their symptoms at bay. Regular exercise, for example, is believed to help relieve symptoms, as is a healthy diet and reducing salt, sugar, alcohol, and caffeine intake. Stress management techniques like yoga, massage, or simple exercises like writing in a journal or talking with friends may also help relieve stress and therefore reduce symptoms.
- Medications: Doctors usually prescribe regular over-the-counter painkillers (like ibuprofen, ketoprofen, naproxen, and aspirin) to help patients deal with physical symptoms like cramps, headaches, back pain, and tender breasts. In more severe cases, doctors may prescribe prescription medicines. Taking birth control pills, for example, has been shown to minimize symptoms like cramps, headaches, etc. Other hormonal medication like progesterone and gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists may also be used in severe cases.
- Alternative treatments: Alternative PMS treatments usually focus on dietary supplements. Tentative evidence suggests that vitamin B6 and chasteberry may help reduce certain PMS symptoms. Evening primrose oil may also be useful. Other alternative supplements include folic acid, calcium with vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin E, and black cohosh.
CANNABIS: A VIABLE OPTION FOR RELIEF?
The use of cannabis to relieve PMS symptoms is nothing new. In fact, the Pen Ts’ao, a Chinese botanical book dating back to the 1st century AD, listed marihuana or “ma” as an aid in dealing with menstrual cramps.
The book also stated that cannabis could provide relief from a range of other ailments, including rheumatism, gout, malaria, constipation, beriberi and absentmindedness.
In a 2002 literature review, Ethan Russo, a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington, found that hemp seed was used as far back as 2000 BCE along with beer, saffron, and mint to help women ease menstrual cramps.
In “Marihuana, The Forbidden Medicine,” authors Lester Grinspoon and Dr. James B. Bakalar dedicated an entire section to anecdotal evidence and case studies detailing cannabis’ role in helping treat PMS symptoms and labor pains. Patients found that cannabis offered them excellent symptomatic relief even at low doses that didn’t produce significant cognitive impairment.
In one Australian study titled “GPs are key informants in medicinal cannabis,” the authors found that 51% of the women surveyed as part of the study found cannabis to be useful in treating PMS related symptoms.
Unfortunately, there has been little research that specifically looks at cannabis and PMS together. However, there is a growing body of research that shows cannabis may offer effective relief from symptoms of other conditions that overlap with those of PMS.
For example, cannabis is known to offer very effective relief from a wide variety of pain. This gives it the potential to relieve the pain caused by symptoms like backaches, menstrual cramps, and possibly even tender breasts.
Research also shows that cannabis can help relieve sleep disorders like insomnia. Difficulty sleeping despite feeling physically tired is a common symptom associated in PMS, and one that cannabis may be able to help relieve.
Finally, cannabis may also help some of the emotional symptoms caused by PMS. Some women report feeling tired, unmotivated, or irritable as they approach their period. Others report feelings of anxiety, depression, or strong mood changes.
While the research isn’t entirely clear on the role cannabis plays in managing these kinds of symptoms, there is promising preliminary evidence out there; studies have found cannabis may help relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety, while others also found it helps improve mood.
Some users also report that cannabis helps them stay focused, motivated, and energetic. Again, these effects may all be beneficial for women experiencing PMS.
Unfortunately, a lot more research is needed in order for us to truly understand how cannabis may help women battling with PMS. So far, there has been no real clinical trials focusing directly on cannabis and the role it may play in treating PMS symptoms.
However, as research into cannabis continues, this lack of information will soon be dealt with and women will know for sure how they can use cannabis to get fast, reliable relief from PMS symptoms.
Note: We have taken the utmost care and precaution whilst writing this article. That being said, please take note of the fact that we are not medical professionals of any kind. Cannabis.info is strictly a news and information website. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.