Evidence suggests that marijuana can help women cope with their menstrual cramps.
Most women experience menstrual cramps at some time in their lives. Unfortunately, some have pain so severe that it affects their daily activities.
If over-the-counter pain relievers don’t help, some women may try birth control, which can have unwanted side effects.
Fortunately, there may be another drug that can provide relief: cannabis.
Both research and anecdotal evidence suggest that marijuana may be effective in treating period pain. And besides the traditional ways of consuming marijuana, you can now buy cannabis products specifically aimed at reducing menstrual cramps.
What are Menstrual Cramps?
Menstrual cramps are the lower abdominal pain some women feel before or during their period. The severity of these cramps can range from mild discomfort to excruciating pain that interferes with daily life.
Girls go through puberty between the ages of 10 and 15. During this time, a female will begin her menstrual cycle, which is a natural monthly process that prepares her body for pregnancy.
Before a woman gets her period, her uterine lining will get thicker. This will provide a home for a fertilized egg to grow into a baby. If a woman’s egg is not fertilized by a sperm, she won’t become pregnant—and there is no purpose for the lining.
Since it is not needed, the lining is shed. This process causes vaginal bleeding, and is known as a period. If a woman doesn’t get pregnant, she will get her period monthly or about every 28 days.
When a woman has her period, her body will release hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins. These compounds cause the uterus to contract in order to break down and release the uterine lining.
These contractions can be felt, and are known as menstrual cramps (or “dysmenorrhea”). Many women describe the pain as a tightening, aching or stabbing feeling in the lower abdomen or lower back.
How Common Are Cramps?
Unfortunately, menstrual cramps are very common. According to a 2012 study, they affect about 84% of young women. About 43% experience these pains every month.
Mild cramps are manageable and can be treated. However, high levels of prostaglandins can cause severe pain, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and — in extreme cases — fainting.
Cramps can become so debilitating that a woman may need to miss school or work. According to the same study, about 32% of women reported being absent from study or social activities due to their period pain.
Menstrual cramps are usually treated with over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Many women also use heat as a home remedy for their menstrual cramps, including hot water bottles, heating pads, and warm baths.
If these treatments don’t work and cramps are interfering with day-to-day activities, a doctor may prescribe an oral contraceptive (birth control pills). Birth control pills are thought to reduce the amount of prostaglandins, which reduces cramping and suppresses ovulation.
Although studies show that birth control pills can reduce menstrual pain, this isn’t the case for all women. Contraception expert Dr. Katharine O’Connell White told TIME that if a woman has very severe cramps, birth control pills are unlikely to make the pain go away completely.
Studies on Marijuana and Menstrual Cramps
There are currently no studies on how cannabis affects menstrual cramps. However, other marijuana research along with anecdotal evidence suggest that marijuana may be useful for treating menstrual pain.
Since the late 19th century, cannabis has been recommended for a variety of painful conditions, including period cramps and migraines. It is even believed that Queen Victoria’s physician, J.R. Reynolds, prescribed marijuana to her to help treat her menstrual cramps.
Today, the most common use of medical marijuana in the U.S. is to treat pain. Many studies have confirmed that marijuana has powerful pain-relieving effects.
In a 2010 study, participants suffering from chronic pain took a single puff of a 9.4% THC strain three times a day for five days. The marijuana was found to significantly reduce their intensity of pain.
Besides relieving pain, cannabis may relax the muscles and reduce spasms that cause menstrual cramps. Studies have shown that cannabis can relieve muscle spasms in patients with various conditions.
In a 2012 study, patients with multiple sclerosis experienced a 33% reduction in muscle spasticity on average, after smoking cannabis. Although no studies have looked at the effects of cannabis on uterus contractions, it’s possible that cannabis could reduce these types of cramps, too.
Apart from scientific research, there is anecdotal evidence suggesting that cannabis can help with menstrual cramps.
Many women report that using marijuana during their period is more effective than over-the-counter painkillers for their cramps. Surveys also show that menstrual cramps are a common reason for using medical marijuana.
There isn’t specific research to explain why many women find cannabis effective for their cramps. However, there is a link between the female reproductive system and the endocannabinoid system.
Cannabinoid receptors — receptors that respond to THC and other compounds — are found in the female reproductive system, including the ovaries, oviducts and uterus. This suggests that activating these receptors by using marijuana could affect the parts of the body involved with menstrual pain.
Cannabis Products To Relieve Period Cramps
In May 2017, New York state legislators were considering a bill that would allow women to be prescribed medical marijuana for period cramps. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who introduced the bill, received support from actress and medical marijuana advocate Whoopi Goldberg.
Goldberg and cannabis expert Maya Elisabeth teamed up to launch Whoopi & Maya in 2016, a line of cannabis products aimed at relieving menstrual pain. The product line includes cannabis-infused bath soaks, topicals, and tinctures.
But these aren’t the only products on the market designed to relieve period pain.
Foria, a California-based company, has developed vaginal suppositories that are said to increase muscle relaxation and reduce pain. The cannabis-infused suppository combines the medical benefits of both THC and CBD without making the user high.
Since the medicine is simply inserted into the vagina, the product is sometimes confused with a tampon. However, it doesn’t absorb any blood. Instead, it works by dissolving the active compounds into the body through the inner walls of the vagina.
There have been no clinical trials to assess the suppository’s effects. However, it has received many positive reviews.
Many women experience menstrual cramps each month during their period. Conventional treatments for cramps are limited to home remedies, over-the-counter pain relievers, and birth control. In cases of severe cramps, these treatments may not be effective and some women may miss school or work due to the pain.
There are no studies on the ability of marijuana to treat menstrual cramps. However, research on marijuana’s pain-relieving, anti-nausea, and muscle relaxant effects suggest it may help women during this difficult time of the month.