Does Weed Actually Work for Period Cramps?
Menstrual pain could soon be a condition that qualifies for medical marijuana.
Simone Golob/Getty Images
Soma, a marijuana dispensary in Crested Butte, Colorado, only stocks a few dozen of a product called Foria Relief at a time, and they don’t sell them as quickly as some of their other items. But people who come in looking for them know exactly what they’re looking for, and typically say they heard by word of mouth how well they work, according to the store.
Foria Relief is for periods. They’re cannabis-filled suppositories, meant to be inserted directly into the vagina, and sold as holistic treatment for menstrual cramps. It’s one of a handful of pot products claiming to ease period pain—Whoopi Goldberg, for one, has a line of topical ointments, tinctures and bath salts marketed for period pain.
Is there evidence that weed ca help treat period pain?
There’s a solid body of evidence on the pain-relieving properties of marijuana, so using pot for this particular type of pain seems to make sense. In some states, lawmakers are pushing to add menstrual pain, or dysmenorrhea, to the list of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana.
However, there are a few factors to consider before turning to weed each month, and when selecting your weed delivery system. Even though anecdotal evidence, easily found online, points to pot as a period cure-all, there hasn’t actually been any scientific research on it. There’s one scientific case study done on cannabis and period pain—but it was published in 1847.
Just because there hasn’t been any research done on the subject doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work. It does mean, though, that doctors aren’t likely to list it as a medically approved option. “I can’t fully recommend it, because we don't know everything about its efficacy and safety,” says Leena Nathan, an obstetrician-gynecologist at UCLA Health.
It’s not ideal that there isn’t much research on the subject, says Jordan Tischler, an emergency physician who oversees InhaleMD, a cannabis clinic in Massachusetts. “Is cannabis effective for menstrual pain? The answer is, anecdotally, yes. The flip side is, ‘has anyone studied this in a rigorous, scientific manner?’ And the answer is no.” But that doesn’t discount it entirely, Tischler says. “For the right condition, and severity of discomfort, I think cannabis is a good bet.”
Doctors and scientists also don’t know how, exactly, weed might interact with the causes of period pain. Cramps are largely caused by hormones called prostaglandins, which are released from the lining of the uterus and signal it to contract. The hormones also cause inflammation, which contributes to pain. Birth control pills, which can help with painful periods, reduce the amount of prostaglandin produced during the menstrual cycle. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, like aspirin and ibuprofen, do as well.
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Weed has anti-inflammatory properties, which is one potential way it could help period pain, Nathan says. Feeling relaxed, in general, and dampening pain, might have some effect. And cannabinoids might be able to interact with prostaglandins, though there’s not enough evidence to say for sure. “It’s hard to say, just based on how cramps during menstrual cycles work,” she says.
Are cannabis suppositories safe?
If cannabis is still your drug of choice during that time of the month, it’s worth considering how you’re taking it. Foria’s cannabis suppositories are probably the most out-of-the-box pain relieving products, and Nathan says they raise some red flags. “I’m not sure how safe that would be,” she says. We don’t know how, or how much, of the active ingredients might be absorbed into the vagina, or how that entry point might be different from the lungs. (Experts such as gynecologist Jen Gunter have expressed similar concerns.)
Creams, rubs, butters, and bath salts—topical treatments that you don’t ingest—are also advertised as cramp-relievers. In mice, studies show they relieve pain caused by inflammation, but there’s very limited research on how effective they might be overall.
“Part of what we’re talking about is trying to sort out marketing hype from good doctoring,” Tischler says. He sees patients struggling with menstrual pain, and if they’re interested in using cannabis, he recommends they stick with basic, tried-and-true smoking. “A fairly simple approach, just a low dose of vaporized flower,” he says. “It’s effective, and without a lot of risk.”
If the standard treatments for menstrual cramps like over-the-counter painkillers don’t work, Nathan says people should talk to their doctors before trying something new. “There are other medications that can help,” she says. “There are lots of methods we can use that are evidence proven. People who don’t necessarily talk to doctors might be hearing things anecdotally, and going with that information.” It’s hard to know what’s reliable, she says, and what’s just someone’s opinion.
Nathan guesses that some patients might be scared, or embarrassed, to tell their doctor if they’re using something like marijuana to treat a medical problem themselves. “But I would encourage everyone to be open with their physician, even if it’s something out of the ordinary.”
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