Around a third of the UK female population are thought to be going through the menopause, but many report feeling isolated and unsupported by their doctors. Can medical cannabis help manage symptoms?
“Hot sweats? It was more like a nuclear reaction,” says Lauren, a 48-year-old former mental health nurse.
“It’s awful when you’re thrown into that, you feel low and weak, it’s as though your life force is ebbing away.”
Lauren was plunged into the menopause suddenly after a hysterectomy at the age of 38.
“I literally came out of surgery, they took me up to the ward and 10 minutes later I felt as if I had an infection in my body, I was burning up,” she says.
“A doctor came over and said ‘you can’t be experiencing any symptoms yet, you’ve only just had the operation’. He just disregarded how I was feeling.”
Working on a mental health ward for three decades, Lauren saw first hand how women were dismissed as having mental health issues, despite presenting with clear menopausal symptoms.
“We had patients on the ward aged 50 and above, experiencing suicidal thoughts, having made suicide attempts, all which [can be] linked to a chronic lack of oestrogen in the body,” she explains.
“But that was seen as a mental disorder rather than considering that it could be because they’re going into the menopause or perimenopause.”
In her own health journey, she continued to feel unsupported by clinicians and stigmatised by others who failed to understand the extent of her symptoms.
“There was a lack of understanding of not just the physical but the psychological and the emotional aspect of it. Your hormones are depleting, it’s going to affect the way you think and feel about yourself and the world,” says Lauren.
“Even at work, in the NHS, the menopause procedure from HR was to give me a fan to put on my desk. How patronising and condescending is that?”
The impact of menopause
According to the British Menopause Society (BMS), menopausal symptoms affect more than 75 per cent of women and over 25 per cent describe severe symptoms. These last an average of seven years, with one in three women experiencing symptoms beyond this.
While hot sweats are commonly linked to the menopause, many people are unaware of other symptoms, which include low mood, anxiety, depression, insomnia, low libido, poor memory and brain fog. These, amongst others, can be debilitating and have a huge impact on a woman’s daily life. And the lack of awareness and understanding mean sometimes women themselves may not realise why they are experiencing them.
Perimenopause or ‘menopause transition’ can begin years before the final menstrual period and may last for four to eight years.
Women experiencing perimenopause in particular, are less likely to be aware of what’s happening to them as the emotional symptoms can begin before any physical changes to the body, according to Dr Dani Gordon, a medical cannabis prescriber who specialises in women’s health.
“Women will come to me saying, ‘I feel like an alien is taking over my brain. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m tearful all the time, or on edge and I just can’t seem to get my emotions under control’,” she says.
“These emotional dysregulation symptoms can come before the night sweats and before the periods start to get irregular, so you could still have a pretty regular cycle and still be entering into the beginnings of that transition.”
Symptoms can be so debilitating that a survey of almost 4,000 women, published in October by not-for-profit Newson Health Research and Education, highlighted that 99 per cent felt their perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms led to a negative impact on their careers.
In a BMS National Survey in 2016, 47 per cent of those who needed to take a day off indicated that they would not tell their employer the real reason behind their absence.
Despite this, menopause and perimenopause symptoms are poorly understood in the modern healthcare system. A documentary hosted by Davina McCall earlier this year started a viral conversation, the fact that it hit a nerve highlighting just how many women feel unsupported by their GPs who are often a first port-of-call for those experiencing symptoms.
Lack of understanding
According to Dr Gordon – who has heard first hand from patients and her own peers – women are frequently told to “manage their stress better”, “lose some weight” or “do more exercise” when seeking medical treatment for menopause symptoms.
“There’s so many reasons why [symptoms] may be poorly treated,” she explains.
“One of them is cultural and the fact that we don’t talk about menopause. Our culture is based on this obsession with youth and women after a certain age don’t want to talk about the transitions that they are experiencing, even though they’re completely natural and normal and everyone goes through them.”
The other factor is the medical system itself. Earlier this year it was revealed that 41 per cent of UK universities do not have mandatory menopause education on the curriculum at their medical schools. The BMS does offer additional training courses for GPs on the menopause, but these cost time and money which many simply don’t have considering the increasing pressure they are already facing.
Rachel Mason had a hysterectomy at the age of 30 after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She describes trying to access support with perimenopause as “horrendous” despite receiving excellent care during her cancer treatment.
“With everything else I can’t fault the care, it has been amazing but when it comes to the menopause there’s no support there,” she says.
“I tried to move my menopause clinic appointment forward as I was in a really bad place but was told they only run it once a month – can you imagine how many women need to go to that?”
As GPs have no formal training in this area, women can wait up to a year for a diagnosis, according to Dr Louise Newson, a GP and renowned menopause specialist, with only around 37 percent being offered hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Dr Gordon believes this may be down to GPs not feeling confident in the prescribing of this treatment.
She explains: “Many GPs, it seems, are not confident in the differences between body identical HRT and more traditional progestin containing HRT.
“After speaking with patients who had tried to have these conversations with their GP about wanting to try body identicals or about the specific non-drug approaches they can take for different symptoms, or about the latest research into what supplements may or may not be helpful.”
The role of cannabinoids
Dr Gordon has successfully treated many women experiencing menopausal symptoms with cannabinoids and is in the process of opening her own private integrative medicine clinic, Resilience Medicine in the UK.
“When women are going into the perimenopause phase, their ability to regulate stress usually gets worse, because the hormones are more difficult to balance, and when you throw extra stress hormones into the mix it makes the imbalances worse in the female hormones as well,” she says.
“Women are told, ‘oh just learn how to manage your stress better’, but if your hormones are raging all over the place and you have high cortisol, the stress hormone, it’s really hard to manage your stress because physiologically you’re going to be on edge, irritable, anxious, tired but wired. What cannabinoids can do is give people a tool to help get those symptoms under control.”
While menopause isn’t currently a primary indication for the prescription of cannabis-based medicines in the UK, the symptoms such as anxiety and sleep components can respond well to the treatment.
“Even if someone can’t take HRT they can still usually take cannabinoids to help with symptoms,” continues Dr Gordon.
“We have cannabinoid receptors in our womb, in our uterus, throughout our female reproductive tract, and also in the brain area, the hypothalamus that deals with the stress response. This is called the HPA axis and it also controls what’s called the HPO axis which is how the brain talks to the ovaries.
“When we introduce a high-CBD during the day and then a little bit of THC to help people sleep at night, the perimenopausal symptom clusters respond well to this in the majority of cases, because CBD can help reduce the stress response.”
Several overseas studies suggest increasing numbers of women are turning to cannabis to help manage their symptoms. A study from the University of Alberta in Canada found that one in every three women near the menopause transition uses cannabis for symptom management. Likewise, the North American Menopause Society reported earlier this year that out of over 200 women in California, who participated in the Midlife Women Veterans Health Survey, around 27 per cent reported having used or were currently using cannabis.
Lauren had been taking a high dose of HRT for around a decade when she became unwell and doctors halted the medication, fearing she was having a stroke. After being prescribed medical cannabis for primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) – which she was diagnosed with last year – she found it was actually helping her menopause symptoms too.
“MS is bad but some of the symptoms from the menopause were actually 20 times worse,” she says.
“Medical cannabis has given me a new lease of life. I take it in the morning and it gives me the energy to get out of the house and go to the gym.
“In the evening, if I’m having problems sleeping or with hot sweats, I take an indica strain and that just relaxes my body so I don’t feel stressed and anxious about the symptoms I am having.”
Experiencing the benefits of cannabis also gave her the confidence to speak more openly with her GP about what she was going through. She now volunteers with PLEA (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) to help improve awareness so others can access cannabis-based medicines.
“I know how good it’s made me feel, so I’m more able to put my foot down and say ‘this is helping me, I know what I need’. Life is too short to feel unwell when there are things that you can do, you’ve got to take back the power for yourself,” she says.
“I would like to see GPs point women in a direction where they can have a discussion about medical cannabis. It might be something that they’ve never tried or they’ve been against, but it’s just about having that advocacy and giving the information to the healthcare professionals so that when they are offering choices to women they’ve got this in their toolbox.”
Tackling the stigma
Despite the fact that there are around 13 million menopausal women in the UK, it can be an isolating experience, particularly for someone going through perimenopause in their 30s as Rachel was.
“I was really scared to go through the menopause, I didn’t tell anyone because there’s such a stigma attached to it, regardless of your age, I was worried how people would react,” she admits.
“I think if I had a group of friends who were all going through it at the same time, we would talk about it and you wouldn’t feel so alone, but none of them have the same experience.
“My biggest concern was if I would still enjoy going out and socialising. I was so confused about the person I would be, but I can honestly say I don’t feel like I’ve actually changed at all.”
Rachel went on to set up her own CBD brand, focusing on women’s health. Speaking about her situation has encouraged other women in her life to open up.
“My dad’s partner was having horrendous hot flushes, she suffered for two years and didn’t know who to talk to. She was embarrassed. When I started opening up about my situation she did too and I got her started on CBD, she said they virtually stopped,” Rachel says.“Once you break through that stigma it is beneficial for everyone.”
Lauren agrees, she adds: “For me the biggest thing is the mental and emotional feelings that come with menopause, you can feel isolated, but we are 50 percent of this country, we shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. Our voices need to be heard.”
Lauren, Rachel and a panel of clinical experts will join us to discuss the experiences of women who find medical cannabis helpful in managing symptoms of menopause on Tuesday 30 November at 7pm.
Register for FREE here
Study: Can cannabis help you have better sex?
Those who use cannabis regularly may have better orgasms and over sexual function.
Cannabis consumption may improve sexual function, arousal, and orgasm, according to a new study.
Young people who use cannabis frequently may have better orgasms and overall sexual function, findings from a new observational study have revealed.
A team of researchers in Spain examined impact of alcohol and cannabis on sexual function in 274 men and women, aged 18 to 30 years old.
Sixty eight per cent of participants identified as female, while 32 per cent identified as male.
The study analysed the effects using three commonly used surveys, designed to identify alcohol and cannabis use disorders, as well as changes to a person’s sexual functioning, Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, Cannabis Abuse Screening Test (CAST), and Changes in Sexual Functioning Questionnaire Short-Form.
The findings revealed a higher score in sexual function, as well as arousal and orgasm, in participants who were identified as being “high risk” of having cannabis-related problems and addiction associated with alcohol consumption.
Sexual function and arousal was found to be generally higher among heavy consumers compared to non-consumers, which the authors have indicated could be linked to the lesser feelings of anxiety and shame, as a result of the effects of cannabis.
There was no significant difference in results between men and women, indicating that young people who use cannabis frequently, regardless of gender, have better overall sexual function.
These results are consistent with previous findings involving 216 people, who used cannabis to improve their sexual experience.
Researchers concluded: “Sexual function is improved in young people who are high-risk cannabis consumers with a moderate risk of alcohol use, resulting in increased desire, arousal, and orgasm. This improvement is usually associated with a reduction in anxiety and shame, which facilitates sexual relationships.”
Women’s sexual wellness
Previous findings have also suggested that cannabis may increase sexual desire and orgasm intensity.
But while this study has revealed positive effects on both genders, others have focused on the role it could play in improving sexual wellbeing in women.
Its effects are thought to help relieve discomfort in women, particularly those with gynaecological conditions such as endometriosis, leading to a more enjoyable experience.
In a study of almost 400 women in 2019, most reported increases in sex drive, improvement in orgasm and a decrease in pain after consuming cannabis, and concluded that cannabis “appears to improve satisfaction with orgasm”.
Why three quarters of endometriosis patients still access medical cannabis illegally
72 per cent of Australian and 88 per cent of New Zealand patients reported self-administering cannabis.
Three quarters of endometriosis patients who access medical cannabis still do so illicitly, according to new findings from Australia.
A new study from researchers in Australia has revealed that three quarters of endometriosis patients who reported using medical cannabis, access it via the legacy market.
Researchers exploring the role of medical cannabis in the treatment of endometriosis say that while many patients report positive outcomes for cannabis in managing symptoms of the condition, many are using it without their doctor’s supervision.
Endometriosis is a complex and difficult to manage condition, affecting one in 10 women in the UK.
It occurs when the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) grows outside of the uterine cavity in other areas of the body, most frequently involving the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and pelvic lining, however it can affect any of the organs in the body.
The primary symptoms are pelvic pain before and during menstruation, pain during sexual intercourse, nausea, fatigue, and infertility.
High levels of medical cannabis use have been recorded among endometriosis patients, with many reporting its efficacy in reducing pain and other symptoms, including sleep, nausea and vomiting.
Researchers led by Justin Sinclair surveyed over 200 patients with an endometriosis diagnosis in Australia and New Zealand, to examine legal versus illicit cannabis use, their understanding of access and their interactions with healthcare professionals.
Results showed that 72 per cent of Australian and 88 per cent of New Zealand patients reported self-administering cannabis illicitly.
Only 23 per cent of Australian and six per cent New Zealand respondents accessed cannabis through a doctor’s prescription, despite it being available legally in the countries.
In addition, around 20 per cent reported not disclosing their use of cannabis to their doctor, citing concern over “legal repercussions”, “societal judgment”, or their “doctors’ reaction and presumed unwillingness to prescribe” medical cannabis.
Researchers stated that the potential consequences of using cannabis without medical supervision were of “particular concern” and recommended the need for improvements in doctor and patient communication.
They concluded: “While evidence for a substantial substitution effect by cannabis was demonstrated in these data, of particular concern are the clinical consequences of using cannabis without medical supervision, particularly with regard to drug interactions and the tapering or cessation of certain medications without that supervision.
“Improving doctor and patient communication about MC use may improve levels of medical oversight, the preference for legal MC adoption over acquisition via illicit supply and reducing cannabis-associated stigma.”
What is the best way to take CBD for period pain?
There is nothing worse than struggling with PMS symptoms during a busy day.
We examine the best way to take CBD during your period to target the different symptoms such as cramps, muscle pain, sleeplessness and acne.
There is nothing worse than needing to get through a busy day while struggling with period pain.
There are many different ways to take CBD for period pain from oils to edibles. However, are some more effective than others?. While taking an oil or edible does work, there are plenty of alternative options out there. We examine what methods could work best for cramps, sleeplessness or even acne.
CBD hot chocolate: best for comfort
Chocolate is a very normal craving to have during your period. The sugar, fat and carbohydrate content increases our serotonin which is responsible for feelings of well-being.
Period cravings usually start within the seven to ten days before your period starts along with all the other PMS symptoms such as bloating or acne. While there is nothing wrong with having a big slab of chocolate if your body is craving it, why not try mixing it up with a hot drink?
It’s not all bad as dark chocolate can contain anti-oxidants and minerals that the body needs. Hot drinks can help to relax tense or sore muscles too. These drinks are usually infused with nanoparticles of CBD which are absorbed by the body. Although, there is very little research to suggest how much is absorbed this way.
It can be fun to experiment by adding a drop (or two) of your own oil into a drink. However, oil and water don’t mix so you may notice the CBD sitting on top of the drink. It can still be absorbed this way though or alternatively, water-soluble CBD is also sold.
CBD patches: best for cramps
CBD patches are great for targeting the exact area that is experiencing pain. They can be left on overnight too meaning they won’t wear off after a few hours as oil or tinctures might. A slow, steady release of CBD is absorbed into the system meaning you can go to work without worrying.
A case study and literature review from 2020 suggests that CBD patches may be helpful for decreasing inflammation and blocking pain for patients recovering from back or nerve pain.
CBD bath bombs: best for cramps and lower back pains
Muscle aches and tension can be a common symptoms of pre-menstrual tension (PMT) leading to pain. The uterus contacts when getting ready to expel its lining. It is triggered by hormones that give it the signal to start the contractions. While most people with periods experience cramps, some may experience them severely especially those with endometriosis or pelvic pain.
Some people may find a hot bath helps to relax and soothe cramps. It can also help if the pain is keeping you awake at night. CBD bath bombs work in a similar way to topical creams or lotions. The CBD is absorbed through the skin. They also release fragrant essential oils which help with relaxation.
Terpenes, which give plants their smell, can also boost the effects of CBD. Linalool, the terpene in lavender would be a great choice for a bath bomb to help with sleep or relaxation. While alpha-bisabolol and chamazulene are terpenes found in chamomile that have similar effects.
CBD tampons: best for direct application
Okay, hear us out on this one!
Vaginal absorption is one of the fastest ways to get a dose of CBD into the system. The walls of the vagina (the mucous membranes) absorb the CBD immediately into the bloodstream where it can get to work. So if you are feeling the effects and need a fast fix, then tampons may be a good option.
For those who may not want to or cannot insert a tampon, there are different topicals that can be applied in intimate areas. It may cause irritation to use your normal CBD oil or products that have not been designed for that area. Alternatively, CBD suppositories also work in both the vagina and anus.
The usual rules about changing tampons regularity still apply with the CBD versions. Toxic shock can still occur despite CBD’s antibacterial properties.
CBD skincare: best for acne
Our skin changes during our period and starts to become more oily. Sebum is natural oil produced by our bodies that increases during our cycle. Excess sebum, dirt and bacteria can build up to block pores creating acne or breakouts.
A study on women with oily skin showed that there was an increase in sebum during the week leading up to menstruation and the first week of their period. This then decreased to its lowest level during the second week of their menstrual cycle.
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