“We frequently hear from many of our female medical marijuana patients that they have experienced relief from symptoms of a variety of women’s health conditions using CBD oil and other cannabis products,” says Dr. Munkacy. “We’ve been told CBD oil specifically helps with menstrual cramps and PMS.”
In addition to the recent data and anecdotal evidence, it’s also helpful to know that cannabis has some historical evidence, too. According to Dr. Munkacy, this type of treatment is nothing new. Cannabis has apparently been a remedy for women’s health issues “since at least Queen Victoria’s time. She used cannabis to treat her menstrual cramps.”
How Does CBD Differ From THC, and Is It Illegal?
Here’s the long answer: While CBD and THC are both active compounds in the cannabis plant, they have different effects on the body. Mainly, THC is psychoactive, meaning it causes a “high.” It’s the compound responsible for that euphoric, disoriented feeling associated with marijuana-use. This is because THC binds directly to the receptors in your endocannabinoid system, while CBD indirectly stimulates them.
“CBD is non-psychoactive,” Dr. Munkacy says. “It doesn’t produce the ‘high’ of THC, but many patients have reported that it diminishes their anxiety,” much like medical marijuana does. “Despite changes in states’ policies and the increasing pervasiveness of cannabis use, the federal government has not legalized cannabis and continues to enforce restrictive policies.”
Related: CBD vs THC
The short answer? Even though medical marijuana is now legal in most states, cannabis is still illegal under federal law—but the laws regarding CBD are unclear. It mostly depends upon which state you live in, but very few people have ever been persecuted for buying hemp-derived products online.
What Does the Data Say about CBD and Women’s Health?
According to Dr. Munkacy, “It is challenging for research institutions to obtain permission to do any formal scientific research on cannabis’ effects on any medical condition.” For that reason, there are limited studies surrounding cannabis and its derivatives, and the FDA has not approved marijuana for medical usage. This is likely due to the stigma surrounding cannabis because of its association with recreational drugs, namely marijuana.
Still, several recent studies point to CBD as a promising source of relief for inflammation, pain, and spasms. A 2014 study from the PLoS One journal reports a significant decrease of inflammation and degeneration in those suffering from intervertebral disc disease. Those who wrote the study called CBD “one of the most promising candidates… for clinical use,” since it’s able to block pain and reduce swelling without psychotogenic effects. (In other words, it helps you to feel better without interfering with your cognitive function.) A different study in Therapeutic Advances in Neurological Disorders recognizes CBD’s positive effects on spasticity—specifically for those with multiple sclerosis.
The aforementioned disorders obviously differ from issues within women’s health, but since menstrual cramps are ultimately a symptom of inflammation and muscle spasms, this seems like a promising solution—specifically for people who require a treatment that won’t interfere with their daily routines.
Additionally, it’s possible that the benefits don’t stop at just cramps; CBD might be able to help with other period symptoms too. Another study from 2016 notes the positive effects of CBD on psychiatric conditions (like addiction, anxiety, and depression), and says that ancient civilizations “documented the medicinal use of cannabis, outlining its effectiveness in the treatment of [menstrual cramps and mental well-being].” This is great news not only for people who experience pain, but also for those who experience psychological symptoms during their cycles.
“The brain has a high density of [endocannabinoid] receptors,” Dr. Munkacy says. As a result, cannabis-derived products prompt “a series of sensations that include euphoria, sensory stimulation, positive mood alterations, and even feelings of improved cognition,” which can be beneficial for those who experience other PMS-related symptoms, like mood imbalances, anxiety, and a lack of motivation.
Who Shouldn’t Be Using CBD for Period Pain?
“CBD is a very safe substance,” says Dr. Munkacy, “but any patient using it or THC to treat any medical condition should consult with their physician first.” After all, any substance that interacts with receptors in the body is capable of affecting existing conditions and interfering with medications. It’s important to note that CBD does have some mild reported side-effects, the most common being tiredness, diarrhea, and fluctuations in weight.
CBD has also been known to impact fertility levels, and may interact with estrogen receptors in the body. For that reason, women should take extra precaution if using oral contraception like the pill, as not enough research has been done to determine whether CBD can influence its effectiveness.