“They are just cramps.” Said no woman ever. The symptoms of menopause can catch women off guard. Even though you know that the transition is coming, you are never really sure when it will arrive. And while you hear menopausal ‘war stories’ from older family members and friends, you can’t be sure how menopause will be for you.
It could be a cakewalk. Or it could feel like a hormonal apocalypse. Or both, depending on the day. For decades the medical community has not focused on research into menopause. Or alternative medicine approaches to help women manage their symptoms. And since menopause isn’t a life-threatening condition, it hasn’t been given much attention in clinical study until now.
According to Harvard Health, the average age of menopause for American women is fifty-one (51) years. However, some women may start to experience perimenopausal symptoms in their middle to late forties. By the time a woman reaches sixty years or older, they are likely to have experienced menopause.
Women who have had a hysterectomy with ovary removal are more prone to early onset of menopause. And the change in life can also be triggered by lifestyle habits like smoking, or radiation therapies. But when the symptoms hit, menopause can impact every aspect of daily life, and present some challenges to mood, quality of sleep, sexual desire, and weight management.
What Happens to a Woman’s Body During Menopause?
The first change that happens to women during menopause is a significant hormone shift. Estrogen is the primary female hormone. Estrogen is responsible for the health and function of reproduction, and it maintains the flexibility and natural moisture of the vagina. One thing that doctors do not understand is why estrogen levels can decline or accelerate, during the perimenopausal state.
As estrogen levels fall, other changes start to occur. Women begin to lose elasticity in their skin and natural moisture. Dry skin is more prone to lines and wrinkles, signs that can accelerate after menopause. On the scalp, less natural oils are produced, which can lead to dry and brittle hair.
Some of the most common symptoms of menopause include:
- Night sweats
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal Dryness
- Reduction in libido or sex drive
- Weight gain
- Mood variances (irritability or feelings of sadness)
After menopause, the risk of a heart attack or stroke increases. The loss in elasticity can also impact arterial cells. Estrogen helps to keep arteries supple and flexible so that they can expand, and adjust to blood flow. Without sufficient estrogen, the arterial walls can harden, leading to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Elevated blood pressure or hypertension is a symptom that women may experience during menopause. And the body loses some ability to produce and process HDL cholesterol (good fats). An increase in LDL cholesterol also happens (bad fats) as well as increased triglycerides.
How Do Cannabinoids Fight Inflammation?
Most of the symptoms that women experience going through menopause can be connected to inflammation in the body. What if we told you that your digestion can be impacted by inflammation? And that weight gain or loss is also related to chronic inflammation in the body? It’s a big deal, and when normal levels of estrogen start to drop, chronic inflammation can occur.
The human body has an endocannabinoid system. Yep, we have built-in cannabis receptors. Clinical studies have suggested that cannabis is highly effective at reducing inflammation. The entourage effect, or the combination of terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids, also provide relief for conditions like chronic pain, swelling, edema (fluid retention), and other health problems.
Cannabinoids can be ingested with edibles, or inhaled through vaporizing or smoking cannabis. They can also be administered through a topical agent, such as a cream, ointment or dermal patch. Many people who have joint pain report improvement after using cannabinoid-infused creams. Strains of cannabis that have a high CBD content are more effective in clinical trials. And unlike other types of medication, cannabis has few contraindications with most prescription drugs.
Cannabis and Other Inflammatory Diseases Like Covid-19
How effective are cannabinoids at reducing inflammation? A new study in 2020 was conducted by Pathway Research Inc., the University of Calgary, and the University of Lethbridge. The researchers created artificial human skin in a lab and then created a sunburn on the samples, to mimic inflammation. Then they treated the skin samples with different strains of cannabis, with CBD ratios to see if it would reduce the inflammation. And it did.
The results from the study were looking at the potential for cannabis to combat cytokine storms. This is a condition where the human body is triggered into a Defcon 1 response to infection. And boy, does the body respond. It unleashes a literal storm of inflammation to try to kill the invading virus or bacteria.
Unfortunately, the cytokine storm can also substantially weaken the immune system. This is one of the clinical puzzle pieces that researchers are evaluating specific to the Novel Covid-19 coronavirus. Because we have no prior exposure to the virus, our bodies have no roadmap or memory of Covid-19. That scares our immune systems, which overreacts. This further inflammation is one of the reasons that people with chronic inflammation have a higher mortality rate from Covid-19.
Does Cannabis Have an Impact on Female Hormones?
As researchers can now complete clinical trials involving humans, one pressing question is about female hormones and cannabis. Is it safe? Whether cannabis interacts with hormones in the female body is already known. They do. But the extent to which cannabinoids mingle with sex hormones is yet to be discovered.
Physicians know that THC can alter neurotransmitters. That is the messaging sent out and received by the brain, through the hypothalamus. This is the hardwire data center, repository, and place connecting the entire nervous system to the endocrine system. The endocrine system produces and regulates human hormones.
Do you know how women typically have a higher pain threshold than men? It’s not a rumor; it’s a fact. And Professor Rebecca Craft of Washington State University completed some research that discovered a fascinating fact. Women are 30% more sensitive to THC than men are. And if a female is ovulating, when female sex hormones are plentiful, women can be even more sensitive to cannabis.
Professor Craft’s study also suggested that cannabis does not interfere with the regular reproductive cycles. The higher the hormones, the stronger the response to THC. So, if you have puffed on your pre-roll while you have your period and ended up staring blankly at the fridge, you know what happened.
Why Cannabis May Be Safer Than Estrogen Replacement Therapy (ERT)
A new study was presented at the 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) that shed some interesting insights. A survey of American female veterans revealed that one in four had used (or were using) cannabis to address menopausal symptoms.
While medications exist to help women transition through menopause, some American women are self-medicating with cannabis. That trend could be developing for a variety of reasons. First, that medical cannabis (and adult-use) is more readily available in the United States. Second, that some prescription medications can be far more expensive. Particularly specialty non-generic brands. Cannabis may be more affordable for women.
And then, there is the potential for certain cannabis strains to provide relief from anxiety and depression symptoms. Women who are going through menopause can experience uncomfortable and unpredictable mood variances. Energy levels can also vary, with unexplained chronic fatigue as a transient symptom.
Cannabis may be a practical medicinal approach for menopausal women. Specific clinical studies have stated that cannabis may not work for every woman. And in some rare cases, cannabis could also increase feelings of paranoia, anxiety, and fatigue.
Talk to your primary care provider (PCP) first for a review of symptoms and medications. It is important to make sure that cannabis will not conflict with any of your current prescriptions. If you live in a state where cannabis is legalized, consider getting your medical card. Create a contact with a physician who has experience recommending cannabis for patient care.
Authored By: Lori Reese
Lori Reese is from Toronto, Canada, and a passionate advocate for patients with rare and chronic diseases, and access to alternative medicine. She has a background in pharmaceutical and health regulation in Canada and the United States. Lori is the Content Marketing Manager for MarijuanaDoctors.com, America’s leading medical cannabis online resource since 2010.