February 24, 2021
CBD and Hormonal Health

Hormonal health issues can seem like an overwhelming topic, often played off or brushed under the rug, yet so many women silently suffer from them. As a cannabis nurse, who also happens to be a proud feminist, one of my passions is to help women learn how to utilize CBD and cannabis to alleviate the issues they face.

Hormonal health issues can seem like an overwhelming topic, often played off or brushed under the rug, yet so many women silently suffer from them. As a cannabis nurse, who also happens to be a proud feminist, one of my passions is to help women learn how to utilize CBD and cannabis to alleviate the issues they face.

Hormonal health issues include menopause symptoms, weight loss & gain, flares of chronic discomfort, disturbed sleep, emotional distress, discomfort during sex, decreased libido, and uncomfortable menstruation. Many women don’t feel comfortable bringing these issues up with their healthcare providers at all. Some women who do take the step report that they are quickly dismissed and left with no guidance about what to do. This gap in both knowledge and empathy for women suffering from uncomfortable chronic hormone-related disorders is what drives my passion to be an advocate for women, participate in nursing research, and encourage them to try CBD and cannabis to help with many of these symptoms.

Prior to prohibition and the 20th century, whole-plant cannabis (and therefore CBD as well as other cannabinoids) was used frequently as medicine for sexual health, menstrual discomfort, and even during childbirth. Could you imagine giving birth after smoking cannabis or drinking cannabis tea? Cannabis was first used as a medicine in China where it was added to the pharmacopeia in 2727 BC and used for a multitude of ailments including disorders of the female reproductive system. It was subsequently used throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East and it eventually spread to Europe and the Americas. In Europe, during the middle ages, cannabis was used frequently by doctors and midwives. In fact, in the 1300s the Catholic Church became so upset by its frequent use in women that it began accusing women who used or provided cannabis to be witches. (I would have DEFINITELY been burned as a witch). The accusation was that women/witches would smoke cannabis under a full moon to have flagrant sexual intercourse…looking at this through the lens of history the reason for this accusation probably had a lot to do with women having agency over their bodies and enjoying sexual relations. Additionally, cannabis was also being utilized and enjoyed by Muslims as medicine around this time, which happened to coincide with the Crusades – adding a political angle to the sexist one.

CBD and Hormonal Health

So, seeing as how CBD and cannabis have been used for thousands of years to treat female reproductive and hormonal issues, can we expect to get relief for things like uncomfortable menstrual cycle symptoms and endometriosis? Is there any science that supports this practice?

Let’s get into the research.

Not surprisingly, the number of studies lags far behind what there should be for this important issue affecting so many. There are some weak studies from the 80s where scientists assert that there is an interaction between cannabis and hormones – but the lack of details or understanding of the mechanism leaves a lot to be desired. More recent publications have done better – demonstrating complex interactions between the ECS (Endocannabinoid system) and the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis, as well as an intricate balance in the communication between the ECS and hormones.  

A study from 2019 that looked at what happened to women’s menstrual cycles that used cannabis and tobacco showed a shortened luteal phase (the week in between ovulation and your period – where the egg has been released and fertilization could occur). Now a caveat – this study was flawed. The group studied was small, the participants used both cannabis AND tobacco, and the menstrual periods and cannabis use were all self-reported.

CBD and hormonal health
Image of Menstruation Cycle with Estrogen and Progesterone changes. Photo Credit: Northeastern Reproductive Medicine

Because most of these studies were conducted with self-reported cannabis use, specific/individual cannabinoids have not been studied. Also many were conducted with unregulated cannabis that may have had other additives or were grown in poor conditions. Since cannabis is a porous plant, are the menstrual cycle changes due to the cannabis itself or from chemicals from the soil or other additives added to the product later? Our ecosystem, food, birth control, and pharmaceuticals are full of endocrine disruptors from many other sources, so we need more information.

But what about Uterine Pain? Endometriosis? Cramps? Can CBD help?

Well, the answer is most likely “yes.” Since the endocannabinoid system is part of the central nervous system, it works in conjunction with neurotransmitters and hormonal regulation – there is research that proves CB1 plays a role in hormonal regulation (Hillard, C.J. 2015). Hormones don’t work on just our reproductive organs; they literally regulate and modulate our bodies’ response to nearly everything, as does the endocannabinoid system. Hormones regulate our heart rate and blood pressure, affect how much we eat, our stress responses, sex drive, and how our brain works day in and day out. When you break it down, if it sounds like all humans are a hormonal, chemical, puddle of saltwater… you’d be right. It doesn’t take much to throw off this delicate balance – and when it’s off you feel bloating, pain, emotional stress, increased menstruation symptoms, fatigue, and a whole list of uncomfortable side effects.

So how can cannabis and CBD help?

THC is a powerful analgesic and CBD has anti-inflammatory properties. Together they work as a COX-2 inhibitor which works by decreasing prostaglandins, a hormone-like substance that causes inflammation. This is also how NSAIDs like Ibuprofen work, but with more side effects than CBD (Takada S. et al 2008). CBD and THC also decrease cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that is released when our bodies are stressed mentally or physically. Increased cortisol leads to increased bloating, stress, and discomfort. Using CBD could mean decreased discomfort overall during your period or throughout the menstruation cycle.

There are many more studies to unpack and research to expand on. Continue to look out for more on this topic from me. In the literature, CBD and cannabis have many effects on serotonin receptors, insulin, oxytocin, neurotransmitters, and hormones. As usual, it is clear that we need more studies on the interplay between women’s health, CBD, and cannabis to fully figure out how these products can assist with our hormonal health. In the meantime, there’s strong evidence to support that using CBD is likely to decrease your menstrual cramps, bloating, and stress. Read more here about how to discuss cannabis and CBD use with your health care providers, and what to do if they are not supportive.

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This blog originally appeared in Equilibria Women.

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Rebecca Abraham RN, BSN

Acute on Chronic founder and President
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