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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. 

Womens health: A banner advert for The Medical Cannabis Clinics

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.”

Women's health

Medical cannabis and pregnancy – what you need to know

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Endometriosis – how a prescription for cannabis “changed everything”

Amy Bowles was diagnosed with endometriosis in her late 30s

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Endometriosis - how a prescription for cannabis "changed everything"
Amy Bowles, 42, is a musician and trainee music therapist.

After decades of living with unbearable pain every month, Amy Bowles was diagnosed with endometriosis and adenomyosis.

For most of her life Amy Bowles thought she just had “bad periods”. 

Every month for several days the pain would be so unbearable that she couldn’t walk or function at all. Sometimes the pain was so bad she blacked out.

I’ve had heavy periods all my life and a lot of pain and discomfort,” says Amy, 42, a musician and trainee music therapist.

“I’d go to my GP, but I’d just be given painkillers. I moved around a lot when I was younger so no one noticed that I was saying the same thing.”

For Amy, being bedridden with pain every month was normal, but in her late 30s when she met her partner, he became concerned at how much she was suffering.

“He would tell me what had happened because I’d black out or not remember things, and he became really upset about it,” she explains.

“I thought this was just how periods were – I’d really normalised what was going on with me.”

US research programme studies cannabinoids in ovarian cancer

Amy was finally referred to a specialist after her partner attended a GP appointment with her and refused to leave until she was taken seriously. 

In August 2019, at the age of 40 she underwent a laparoscopy and was diagnosed with stage four endometriosis and adenomyosis, with a number of cysts and fibroids discovered on her organs.

“It was a huge fight to get that diagnosis,” says Amy.

“It was a relief and hugely validating to suddenly find myself in a room with doctors where I spoke the same language as them, because previously women’s pain hadn’t seemed like it was taken seriously.”

But despite the validation of finally getting a diagnosis, the realisation that treatments were limited and services stretched, followed closely behind.

Amy has been on the waiting list for surgery since August 2019 and she’s not alone. Recent data revealed that since the pandemic, gynaecology waiting lists have soared by over 60 per cent. According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, over 500,000 women are currently waiting for help.

Amy was prescribed liquid morphine while she waited.

“It does deal with the pain, but it’s highly dissociative,” she says.

“I don’t like not being present in my life just because I’m in pain.”

When she came across The Medical Cannabis Clinics, a private clinic prescribing cannabis medicines to thousands of patients in the UK, she feared she wouldn’t meet the criteria as endometriosis “isn’t widely acknowledged as a chronic illness”.

But despite her fears that she wouldn’t be taken seriously, her first appointment with Dr Farrah Ayob couldn’t be further from those she had experienced in her years of being dismissed by mainstream medicine. 

“I think I cried during my first consultation,” says Amy.

“It was the first time I had had such a detailed conversation with a medical practitioner, who was interested in my pain, but also in my mental health and that was a revelation. She listened to me and it was hugely validating.”

Amy says her cannabis prescription has “completely changed everything”.

“Before my appointment I didn’t really know what to expect or what I was really asking them for, I thought I was asking them for pain management, but the doctor wanted to talk a lot about my mental health, which I thought was great,” she adds.

“I’ve never been asked by a nurse or doctor how I am.”

Amy is prescribed a sativa flower for pain management, but it has also helped with her anxiety.

She explains: “The main difference I have noticed is that I was trapped in a cycle of chronic pain, between the actual pain itself and the fear of the pain. Those two things just kept feeding into each other, so my symptoms were just getting worse and worse. Since I’ve started using cannabis it has broken that cycle.”

Combining medical cannabis, which Amy uses as and when she needs it, with an organic vegan diet, exercise and as much good rest as possible, some months she doesn’t even need to reach for the morphine.

“My endometriosis can be quite unpredictable and can flare up without much warning. With the best will in the world, I can get eight hours of sleep a night, eat really well and try to reduce stress, but then one thing can trigger it. The cannabis is there when I need it,” says Amy.

“I’m not saying it has got rid of everything. It’s part of a multifaceted approach that I have taken to my health, but that treatment has enabled me to connect to the body and mind and realise that those things aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s enabled me to care for myself in a different way.”

And she’s now starting to open up more about her condition to those close to her.

“Endometriosis is a very lonely disease. It’s only those who have it who really understand what you’re going through, so it’s very, very hard for many women and their partners,” she says.

“I didn’t tell anybody about it for a long time, but I’ve become a lot braver in the last year and I’ve started sharing it with people wider than my immediate family.

“I’m being reminded of times when I wasn’t able to walk or screamed the place down and woke everybody up, which I can’t even remember because every month when the period is over, you store it away and forget about it because you just don’t want to be ill.”

She’s also sharing her experience with medical cannabis, in the hope of helping other women.

“I’m very vocal about it, but it’s important for people to make their own decision. There’s a lot of stigma around cannabis and until it’s more widely accepted within our society, I don’t think women will seek it out or even know about it,” she says.

“I’m very lucky to have been able to pay for this, but now I would sacrifice other things to be able to access it, because it affects my quality of life so much.

“There needs to be a more holistic approach to women’s health, the way things are, doctors [in the NHS]  are only treating the pathology, not the person and that’s really what seems to be missing.”

Find out more at www.themedicalcannabisclinics.com

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Cannabis legalisation not linked to adverse birth outcomes – study

Researchers studied the relationship between the liberalisation of cannabis laws and key indicators of child health

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Cannabis legalisation not linked to adverse birth outcomes - study
Studies assessing the potential impacts of cannabis exposure during pregnancy are mixed.

Legalisation of cannabis in the US is not linked to any significant adverse outcomes for  child health, according to a recent study.

New data shows that changes in legal status of cannabis in US states is not associated with increases in adverse clinical birth outcomes.

Researchers at Purdue University studied the relationship between the liberalisation of state-level cannabis laws and two key indicators of child health – birthweight and gestational age.

Their findings were published in the journal Population Research and Policy Review.

US research programme studies cannabinoids in ovarian cancer

While the authors reported a trend which indicated a reduction in average birthweight and gestational age for some groups of women following the relaxation of cannabis penalties, they acknowledged that these changes were not linked to any “increases in clinically meaningful birth indicators associated with adverse child health.”

The findings are similar to those reported in a 2021 study which found “no statistically significant effect of medical cannabis laws on the proportion of newborn hospitalisations”. 

The authors concluded: “Our findings indicate that cannabis policy liberalisation may be contributing to lower average birth weights and reduced average gestational age, but not in a manner that has increased low birthweight (<2500 g) infants or preterm (<37 weeks) births. 

“These results indicate that while cannabis policies have not led to increases in adverse clinical birth outcomes overall, these trends are worth monitoring to ensure that increases in clinically relevant child health outcomes do not emerge as the nationwide trend toward liberalised cannabis policy persists. “

They added: “Although our study does not show substantial changes in adverse birth outcomes, policymakers should be attentive to opportunities to strengthen child health by considering policies that minimise consumption, particularly heavier forms of consumption, by prospective parents.

While the evidence base around the effects of cannabis use during pregnancy on perinatal is growing, studies assessing the potential impacts of cannabis exposure are mixed.

Some observational data has identified a link between exposure and low birth weight and/or an increased risk of preterm birth. However others have failed to substantiate these claims once adjusting for other factors, such as tobacco smoking.

The majority of the existing studies have been done on recreational cannabis, accessed through the illicit market, which tends to contain higher levels of THC than that in medicinal cannabis.

There have been very limited, if any, studies exploring the effect of prescribed cannabis on perinatal health, as advice from clinicians is that women should refrain from using cannabis medicinally or otherwise whilst pregnant or breastfeeding.  

 

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