Cannabis has proven to be effective in managing and relieving pain. As such, it makes sense that cannabis may also bring relief to women suffering from cramps, back pain, mood fluctuations and insomnia associated with their periods.
That said, brands are introducing products for women suffering from PMS and dysmenorrhea, or painful periods. Whether it’s cannabis-infused suppositories, bath salts intended to ease cramping, or a topical to soothe back or stomach pain, cannabis products have gained in popularity as a means of relieving the pain and discomfort that often comes with that time of the month.
If you’ve ever tried using cannabis just before or during your period, you may find that you need more cannabis than usual to achieve the same effects. You ingest the same amount as you did the week prior to your premenstrual week, but somehow it doesn’t get the job done.
Why is this the case? Well, it seems estrogen may have something to do with it. In a study by Washington State University, researchers found that female rats were 30% more likely to experience pain relief than male rats when their estrogen levels were at their peak. Estrogen is at its highest during ovulation; it then takes a big dip during your premenstrual week and stays low throughout your period.
Estrogen, a hormone most associated with a female’s menstrual cycle, has a unique relationship with cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in cannabis and occur naturally in our bodies. We have an entire system, the endocannabinoid system, designed to process cannabinoids and help regulate many of our biological processes, from sleeping and immune function to appetite, pain management and more.
When we consume cannabis, estrogen helps break down the THC, or the cannabinoid in cannabis that makes us feel high, into a more potent chemical compound for our bodies to absorb. This is great when our estrogen levels are high throughout our monthly cycle. High levels of estrogen make it easier for the body to process THC efficiently, allowing a smaller amount of cannabis to be more effective.
Unfortunately, our period comes when estrogen levels are at their lowest. That means there’s less estrogen available in your body to efficiently break down THC, so you may find yourself consuming more cannabis than usual to achieve the same results.
Estrogen has another very special relationship with a cannabinoid our body naturally produces: anandamide. Anandamide is an endocannabinoid that reduces the symptoms of anxiety and depression, helping us feel more calm and euphoric. Our bodies also naturally produce anandamide’s enemy: fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH).
FAAH is an enzyme that breaks down anandamide, the bliss molecule. But anandamide finds protection in estrogen, which makes it harder for FAAH to break down anandamide in the body. When estrogen levels are low, like they are just before and during your period, FAAH is freer to break down anandamide; this makes us more susceptible to depression, anxiety and mood swings.
Luckily, there are some pretty clear ways to battle the lowered effectiveness of cannabis just before and during our periods. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is increasing your cannabis intake when that dreaded week of the month comes around. With more product options available than ever before, you can keep your cannabis routine fresh and new. If you’re not keen on smoking cannabis, try dosing with a tincture or consuming a marijuana edible. Or look into a product from one of the many female-run cannabis businesses—such as Moxie Meds—that make options specifically for easing period pain.
Another option is mixing high-CBD products into your cannabis routine. CBD is a cannabinoid found in cannabis that helps block FAAH from breaking down anandamide, just as estrogen does. Remember, anandamide helps us feel good by alleviating anxiety and depression. When your estrogen levels are low during your period, it may help to supplement your system with more CBD. The CBD will do the work estrogen usually does, helping to regulate your mood and relieve inflammation.
Photo credit: @entersge