Cannabis and the Menopause: Menopause Awareness Day 2022

Cannabis has been used as a medicine for thousands of years. Surely we should be making it available to those who want it to help alleviate menopausal symptoms.

by Ruby Deevoy

It’s about time we took the menopause seriously, and considered cannabis a vital medicine to help ease the transition. 

The menopause. This transformational time is rarely easy. As estrogen, progesterone and testosterone all plummet, marking the closing of the physically fertile chapter of life and the beginning of something entirely new, a rash of sometimes debilitating symptoms can take hold.

These range from the most commonly known hot flashes and ‘mood swings’, to the less familiar ‘burning tongue’ syndrome, skin conditions, brain fog, loss of bone density and much more. After all, these hormones play a huge role in so many bodily processes throughout life, so it’s inevitable that the impact of such a fundamental change will can a tidal wave of response. 

This is no small thing. In fact, the symptoms are often so challenging that 1 in 10 women experience suicidal thoughts as a result. Yet thanks to our alarmingly patriarchal healthcare system, which has been highlighted time and again for dismissing serious medical complications as ‘women’s issues’, not only are menopause treatment options lacking, but so is care and understanding.

The only real treatment available for menopause (and perimenopause) on the NHS is HRT – hormone replacement therapy. However, there has been a steep, global decline in use of this treatment in recent years due to safety concerns. Other than that, women tend to rely on folk medicine – traditionally used herbal remedies, such as black cohosh, red clover and, as it turns out, cannabis.

A brand new study, published in the Journal of The North American Menopause Society surveyed 250 menopausal participants and discovered that a staggering 86.1% use cannabis. 78.7% saying they would also endorse cannabis use to treat menopause symptoms. The most common modes of use were smoking (84.3%) and edibles (78.3%), and the top menopause-related symptoms for cannabis use were sleep disturbance (67.4%) and mood/anxiety (46.1%).

This, of course, is nothing new.

Back before the cannabis prohibition era, when this incredibly versatile medicine was commonplace on pharmacy shelves and readily prescribed by physicians, its use was widespread for several gynaecological conditions. This included as an “analgesic for menopause, uterine disturbances, dysmenorrhea, menorrhagia and impending abortion, and postpartum hemorrhage.” (Analytic Encyclopedia of Practical Medicine, 1927).

It was also used in the form of rectal suppositories to soothe “well-known symptoms, the various reflexes, the excitement, the irritability, and pain in the neck of the bladder, flashes of heat, and cold”  (‘On the use of belladonna and Cannabis indica by the rectum in gynaecological practice’ John W. Farlow, M.D. 1889). And the list goes on. 

With so many people already using cannabis to treat menopause symptoms, both legally where available and illegally when not, it’s clear that it must be doing something. So what do the modern-day experts say?

Dr Dani Gordon,  world leading expert in CBD, cannabis medicine and integrative medicine, vice chair of the medical cannabis clinicians society says:

“CBD and sometimes medical cannabis with small amounts of THC can help with many menopausal symptoms including anxiety and irritability, low stress tolerance, fatigue and disrupted sleep. Some people also find it helpful for managing food cravings, using mainly CBD in higher doses which can be helpful for stress or binge eating, which can worsen around perimenopause and also cause more weight gain from these habits due to shifts in hormones than it did previously when people are younger.”

Dr Gordon explains that cannabis can be prescribed to treat difficult symptoms where other first line drugs have failed, whether that’s for depression, anxiety, insomnia or other related conditions that are often also perimenopausal symptoms. 

For those who find HRT is a good option for them, cannabis can also be used as an adjunctive therapy. Dr Gordon describes this as “immensely helpful” and stresses that Menopausal symptoms do not exist in isolation to mental and physical health symptoms, so it’s using a holistic approach to treat the whole person where medical cannabis fits so well, specifically treating perimenopausal symptoms that have been difficult to shift or for which there are no good drug treatment options.

“Often people have tried sleeping pills or anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications and not found them helpful but respond incredibly well to cannabis. For chronic fatigue, which can worsen with perimenopause and has no good drug treatment options, the right medical cannabis product can also be helpful although there is not much published evidence yet, it’s something I have found clinically over many years of treating patients.”

With so few treatment options available, and so mange hard-to-manage symptoms, it seems obvious that cannabis needs to be made more widely available for Menopausal people in need.

Hopefully, as time goes on, we’ll see more studies to confirm what millions around the world already know – that cannabis can go a long way it making the experience of Menopause a whole lot easier. But if the history of menopausal and female reproductive health research is anything to go by, we’d better not hold our breath.

Ruby Deevoy is a U.K. cannabis journalist with years of experience covering CBD and cannabis in mainstream publications such as The Independent, The Mirror, The National, Elle, Red, Top Sante and Natural Health magazine. She’s also the U.K’s only CBD columnist, writing monthly for Top Sante magazine, cannabis agony aunt for Leafie, writes the Indybest CBD product lists, is founder of The CBD Consultancy and is the primary press member for The Cannabis Industry Council. Tweets @RDeevoy.

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