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Why cannabis could play a vital role in women’s health

Millions of women in the UK are living with symptoms, which could be helped by medical cannabis.

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Women's health

Millions of women in the UK are living with debilitating physical and mental health symptoms, many of which could be helped by medical cannabis.

It’s no secret that the current medical system has generally failed women.

Last year a Government inquiry uncovered that serious medical conditions were commonly dismissed as “women’s problems”, contributing to a string of healthcare scandals over several decades.

The UK government is now launching a review in an attempt to better understand women’s experiences of the modern healthcare system, including how pain is treated, which it says will create the first-ever government-led Women’s Health Strategy. 

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It’s hardly surprising that research has found increasing numbers of women looking for alternative options, from yoga and acupuncture, to medical cannabis.

Many women have found that the rebalancing of their endocannabinoid system can be helpful in the management of conditions ranging from endometriosis, bladder and nerve pain, gynaecological pain and PMS to mental health conditions such as anxiety, insomnia and depression.

But we need more research, specifically focused on the impact of cannabinoids in women.

Here’s what we know so far.

Menopause

According to the British Menopause Society (BMS), menopausal symptoms affect more than 75 per cent of women and last an average of seven years. These include low mood, anxiety, depression, insomnia, low libido, poor memory and brain fog, which can all have a huge impact on a woman’s quality of life.

A recent study found that one in every three women near the menopause transition uses cannabis for symptom management. Dr Dani Gordon has successfully treated many women experiencing menopausal symptoms with cannabinoids, which help to rebalance the hormones. 

She said: “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. 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.”

Period Pain and PMS

As many as three in four women suffer from mild premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms in the weeks leading up to their period, with the most common cycle-related issues being two-fold – both mental, including anxiety and mood swings, and physical, such as cramps and headaches caused by a fluctuation in hormones.

Medical cannabis can help with both elements. Low mood, depression, anxiety and stress are all linked to low serotonin levels and by interacting with the serotonin receptors in our brain, cannabis may be able to regulate mood and promote happier feelings. On top of this, many people report that cannabis is an effective painkiller, with its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to desensitise pain receptors around the body.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a debilitating condition, where cells similar to the ones in the lining of the womb are found elsewhere in the body, causing a wide range of symptoms including painful and heavy periods, fatigue and bladder and digestive problems and potential infertility.

Despite around 1.5 million women in the UK living with the condition, it takes an average of seven years for them to be diagnosed.

While research is still in its infancy, increasingly women are finding medical cannabis helpful for managing their symptoms. Women with the condition are thought to have fewer cannabinoid receptors in their pelvis, meaning their body isn’t equipped with the tools that would normally prevent the growth of aberrant cells and destroy them. 

Studies have shown that when certain cannabinoid receptors are activated (either by the body’s endocannabinoids or THC found in cannabis) this could prevent cells from multiplying, while compounds such as CBD may stop the cells from migrating. 

Pelvic pain

Thousands of women in the UK are thought to suffer from pelvic pain – a cover-all term that can range from chronic low level, to agonising pain, felt by women that arises from the pelvic area. It can have a massive impact upon the individual’s ability to engage in pain free sexual intercourse and can cause great psychological suffering and depression. 

The current pain management strategies for pelvic pain focus mainly on medical treatments such as hormonal therapy, pain medicines or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or surgical re-sectioning. 

But Dr Sally Ghazaleh, a pain management consultant at Integro Clinics says her patients have found success with cannabis medicines, she commented: “Patients stated that as well as reducing pain, they felt that medical cannabis considerably decreased gastrointestinal symptoms, sleep problems, feelings of depression and anxiety. Most importantly an appreciable number reported they were able to reduce some of their traditional medication.”

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Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister titles, Cannabis Wealth and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email sarah@handwmedia.co.uk / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag

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