An edible for hot flashes? Some women use cannabis to manage menopause.
Participants in a study said the top three symptoms alleviated by marijuana were sleep problems, mood disturbances or anxiety, and low libido.
Many menopausal women are now choosing to relieve symptoms such as hot flashes, reduced libido, and sleep problems with medical marijuana, usually in the form of an edible or joint, according to the latest research.
The study, published by, Menopause: The Journal of the N. American Menopause Society, earlier this year, surveyed women either in perimenopause or postmenopause. The research sought to gather data about how women use medical marijuana to manage menopause symptoms. The study included data from 258 participants, most of whom had a history of regular marijuana consumption. Although the survey was not a complete sample group, it does provide insights into how some women consume marijuana to treat menopause symptoms.
Participants' top three symptoms alleviated by medical cannabis were: mood disturbances or anxiety, low libido, and sleep problems. Participants also used the drug to relieve hot flashes, body pain, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and pain and to increase pleasure during intercourse. The women reported consumption from both smoking cannabis and ingesting edibles as the most common methods of use to self-medicate for symptoms of menopause.
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The research did not consider the frequency of consumption, dosages, or whether the women had attempted other treatment options. Another limitation is that most women had a prior history of cannabis consumption, so the results may not apply to women new to medical marijuana.
One reason marijuana may be effective for women is that substances in the cannabis plant could imitate anandamide; a chemical compound produced by the ovaries whose production drops during menopause, according to Dr. Staci Gruber, executive director of the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery (MIND) program at McLean Hospital, and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts.
Anandamide is an endocannabinoid and the first to be discovered in the human body. Endocannabinoids are molecules produced by the body and found throughout our brain, organs, glands, connective tissues, and immune cells. Endocannabinoids are a bridge between the body and mind due to their complex interactions in our nervous system, immune system, and almost all of the body's organs. And cannabinoids found in cannabis are substances structurally similar to anandamide.
Endocannabinoids are part of the body's endocannabinoid system, which regulates sleep, emotional processing, and body temperature. It is also known to be active in the female reproductive system. For instance, anandamide levels correlate with estrogen levels, which are reduced with the onset of perimenopause and spur the onslaught of symptoms.
Javier Mejia-Gomez, a gynecological oncologist at the Women's Health and Menopause Clinic in Toronto, recently noticed an increase in patients consuming medical marijuana to treat symptoms. The trend prompted him to search for published research on the topic, but he found very little. Out of 564 studies mentioning menopause and cannabis that he initially reviewed, only three ended up making the cut for his systematic review.
Vanessa Fleeton, fifty-three, said she found cannabis effective for managing a slew of crippling perimenopause and menopause symptoms, such as body pain, anxiety, and problems sleeping. According to Fleeton, "medical cannabis is significantly better than anything else I've tried for menopause."
Hormonal therapy is one of the most effective treatments to minimize or eliminate menopausal symptoms. But the treatment, which often includes estrogen alone or combined with progestin, comes with an increased risk of breast cancer, blood clots, and stroke. Paroxetine, an antidepressant, also has been approved by the FDA to manage hot flashes.
But a lot of women choose to avoid hormone treatments or take antidepressants. Some try treatments such as herbal remedies, over-the-counter supplements, chiropractic interventions, and acupuncture that are mostly unproven.
Forty-nine-year-old Nola Blackburn of West Kelowna, British Columbia, said she doesn't want to use hormones. Instead, she takes marijuana (in pill form) daily to treat her menopausal symptoms. Blackburn finds she sleeps better and has fewer nightmares because of anxiety attributed to hormonal fluctuations.
Fifty-three-year-old Ilse Blommers, who lives in Thailand, consumes half a marijuana brownie before bed every evening. Her perimenopause symptoms started four years ago and included night sweats that would wake her up in the middle of the night. She decided to try medical marijuana. According to Blommers, she now sleeps like a baby, and her back pain and mood swings are much more manageable.
Experts caution that women interested in medical cannabis for managing menopause-related symptoms should consult their primary physician or healthcare professional.