Women may have a new weapon in their arsenal against period pain. Increasingly, cannabis is being seen as a way to help women manage severe menstrual cramping and pain.
Extreme menstrual pain is an often overlooked but crippling and chronic condition. The condition, called dysmenorrhea, disables as many as 20% of women a month. It may affect up to 90% of women of childbearing age in various levels of severity.
Sufferers often cannot move. Many women must miss workdays or regular activities on a regular basis.
Cannabis is by now, fairly routinely prescribed for several kinds of other disorders with similar symptoms. This includes the managing of severe cramps and muscle pain for movement disorders. It is also used for chronic pain.
There are many reasons cannabis could be a wonder cure for menstrual pain.
WHAT IS DYSMENORRHEA?
Dysmenorrhea is the scientific name for extremely painful periods. It is not to be confused with Pre Menstrual Syndrome (PMS). However the two conditions can co-exist. This adds considerably to the discomfort if not chronically debilitating situation.
Dysmenorrhea occurs less often in those who exercise regularly. It also appears to be less frequent in women who’ve had children early.
The condition can exist by itself. This is particularly true in younger women. However it is also frequently a symptom of other underlying issues. The older women get, the more frequently it is associated with other problems. These can include things like uterine fibroids. It is more common in those who start menstruating before the age of 12. Women with low body weights are also susceptible.
Dysmenorrhea can also be mistaken for other conditions and vice versa. The condition has symptomology that is similar to ectopic pregnancy for instance. It can sometimes also be mistaken for pelvic inflammatory disease, interstitial cystitis and chronic pelvic pain.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF DYSMENORRHEA?
The first and main symptom of dysmenorrhea is pain. This is usually concentrated in the lower abdomen or pelvis, but it may also be felt in the thighs and back.
Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting or a sudden change, either way, in stool constitution. Symptoms can also begin immediately after ovulation. They can last through menstruation. That is why it is so frequently mistaken for PMS.
Onset of the condition is also frequently characterized with changes in hormonal levels. Some birth control pills can prevent the symptoms of dysmenorrhea. The reason? They stop ovulation.
The condition is caused by prostaglandins (molecular compounds) being released during menstruation, which causes the uterus to contract. The contracting uterine muscles constrict the blood supply to tissue. The contractions are actually the body pushing the old dead endometrial tissue through the cervix.
What a woman feels during this process is “cramps.”
Women who suffer from primary dysmenorrhea have increased uterine muscle activity. They also have more contractions and frequency of contractions. It is also easy to understand why they might suffer more severe symptoms.
TREATMENTS FOR DYSMENORRHEA
There are several kinds of treatments for this condition. The first one is simple rest. The second is using birth control. The hormones in these pills act as a preventative. Even if not primarily used for birth control.
Once the symptoms hit? Soaking in a hot bath or even a hot water bottle are all common therapies. So, increasingly is acupuncture. There have, yet, however to be serious, peer-reviewed studies been done on the topic. Acupuncture is known, however, to increase blood flow.
In between periods, more exercise is also a good way to lessen the impact of this condition.
But, so is medical cannabis. As a pain reliever if not cramp reducer, it has few equals.
Many cannabinoids, including CBD and THC appear to be effective and the knock-on effects are also significant. Further, this is also a condition where topical and internal applications also work well.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPACT OF DYSMENORRHEA
The physical impact of this condition is bad enough. However, it also comes with hormone fluctuations. These in turn cause other physical impacts. As a result, this condition can still be discounted.
However beyond that, the experience of being chronically ill, has another significant impact on ones life. Even if temporarily.
It can cause problems at work, school or socially. Skipping the same for this reason is so stigmatized it has become a stereotype.
This is by definition, a women’s health issue. That is another aspect of the isolation sufferers can feel. Historically, women’s health problems have been underfunded, understudied and undertreated. So far, Dysmenorrhea in particular, has yet to be recognized as a condition that medical cannabis should legitimately be prescribed for.
CANNABIS AND DYSMENORRHEA: THE SCIENCE
Using cannabis to treat this situation has also been highly stigmatized. However it may be one of the best possible treatments for the condition.
Not only are the reproductive health organs chock-full of cannabinoid receptors, this is also the area of the body that is capable of absorbing the most anandamide. Anandamide is the scientific name for the body’s bliss particle.
Flooding this part of the body with cannabinoids is one of the best ways to treat the worst symptoms of the condition. This starts with reducing pain but does not end there. It also means greater blood flow and less cramping overall.
While the science is still scarce, it appears that this is about to change.
A FOCUS ON WOMEN’S HEALTH
Weed and women’s health may actually be far more closely linked than current understandings indicate. This starts with the fact that cannabinoid receptors are found in high numbers on female reproductive organs.
It is also believed that cannabinoids can help raise oestrogen levels significantly. For this reason, it makes all the sense in the world that cannabis might help women manage menstruation. Especially those who have chronic pain and numbing cramps every thirty (or sometimes even less) days.
The growing interest in this issue comes at an interesting time. Particularly as cannabis is gaining significant traction as a mainstream treatment.
Both women’s health issues and cannabis share a lot of the same characteristics. They are highly stigmatized, if not smelly issues.
The fact that women might react differently to cannabis is still an understudied issue. That said, it is beginning to attract a great deal of attention.
And in the meantime, weed is slowly being redefined as a vital part of women’s health. The New York State Assembly introduced a bill in May 2017 that covers the condition under state medical use law. As a result, legal “card-carrying cannabis” users in New York might soon look a whole lot more female.
In most states, to date, there are only certain kinds of conditions covered by the cannabinoid law. This includes those suffering from HIV or AIDS, ALS, Parkinson’s MS, epilepsy. It also includes a few other conditions including chronic pain.
The inclusion of a uniquely female “condition” to the list is not only overdue. It also may herald a new definition of how “medical marijuana” is viewed and by whom.
Hopefully more research on this condition will follow and uncover the full potential of the different cannabinoids and the ways they can help women.