Van der Pop

Flash Points


How cannabis can help with symptoms of menopause


“When I began going into menopause, I wasn't sure what to do,” says Aliza Sherman, “I was in a bad place after four miscarriages and giving birth at age 41, followed by a year of untreated postpartum depression. All I knew was that I didn't want to take hormones or any pharmaceuticals to treat what was a natural process of the female human body – the ceasing of menstruation.”

Sherman was dealing with menopausal symptoms like night sweats, hair loss, and insomnia, which was made especially worse by depression. She started looking into alternative solutions to ease her pain, including cannabis. What she learned changed her life.

Over the past several years, research into the use of cannabis for menopausal women has shown its potential to alleviate symptoms like those experienced by Sherman, and more. “We know at this time that cannabis can be an effective therapy for supporting and balancing some of the symptoms associated with menopause,” says Dr. William McDonald of Seattle’s Greenleaf Healthcare. “Specifically, the reduction of hot flashes, mood enhancement and depression relief, and reducing insomnia and fatigue.”

Regarding hot flashes – one of menopausal women’s most pressing complaints – the cannabis compound THC has been found to lower the body temperature. Studies have shown that THC supplements an endocannabinoid called anandamide, which, among its functions, serves as the body’s personal thermostat. When there’s an altered or insufficient amount of estrogen in the body, endocannabinoids start to break down and malfunction; the introduction of THC can help regulate, or replace, the lost neurotransmitters, thus cooling you down.

Concerning mood swings and depression, Dr. McDonald adds that cannabis can work as an antidepressant and anxiolytic. “THC can inhibit serotonin re-uptake, thereby increasing serotonin levels and stimulating dopamine release, while CBD can stimulate serotonin receptors,” he notes. More serotonin and dopamine (or at least balanced levels) equal a better mood, and these neurotransmitters are the ones to watch when depression sets in.

As for sleep issues, Dr. McDonald recommends cannabis, but notes that lower dosage levels of THC can be more stimulating, while more concentrated levels can have a sedating effect. Specific terpenes (a plant’s aroma molecules) like myrcene can contribute to relaxing the motor system to increase the sedative effects of THC.

Jill Donnelly, owner of downtown Seattle boutique Baby and Company, had been using cannabis recreationally for years when she started to employ specific strains to ease her menopausal mood swings and help her sleep. “I couldn’t have made it through without [cannabis],” she says. “I didn’t have hot flashes, but I would have these moments where I felt like I was on the edge of being out of control. I’d be thinking, ‘Am I going crazy?’” At the time, the adult-use legalized cannabis world was opening up in Washington state, bringing with it new research and sophistication on the properties of cannabis and its uses. “Now you can really curate your marijuana strains to complement your symptoms and goals,” says Donnelly.

When it comes to choosing dosage and strain, Dr. Elaine Burns of Arizona’s Southwest Medical Marijuana Evaluation Centers advises patients – especially those who are new to cannabis – to start with CBD. “Menopausal women with sleep and anxiety problems could get by just using a CBD product and not have to dip their toe into the water of THC,” she says. “A lot of people are concerned about using THC products because of the high, so CBD is a nice, safe entry point.”

She also suggests selecting sublingual methods (tinctures) that are delivered directly to the blood stream and can be dosed more accurately than, say, lighting up some flower. Choosing 1:1 THC to CBD ratios allows the CBD to offset the psychoactive effects of the THC. As for the dosage, start small. “Dosage is specific to the individual and their condition, but even two to five milligrams of a cannabis product has been found to reduce pain,” she says.

Speaking of CBD, there might be much more to their usage than a simple feel-good remedy. “Studies have shown that CBD can help with bone building in women who have osteoporosis or bone loss,” says Dr. Burns. “The body’s CB2 receptors are responsible for bone formation, and it just so happens that CBD is an agonist – a chemical that can attach to a receptor – for CB2.” The CBD compound acts to reinforce the CB2  receptors, meaning that the introduction of CBD to the system could help to prevent against future bone loss as well as to potentially reverse deterioration and create new bone formation associated with menopause and post-menopause.

Sherman has seen a world of improvement due to her cannabis use. “The first night I tried it, I slept through the night. When I woke up the next morning after a restful sleep, I cried from relief,” she says. “It has taken a mix of modalities to get my pain in order, but I believe that cannabis, combined with topical CBD, has been instrumental in my healing. I'm a lot calmer than I've ever been, and even in the face of major life stressors I feel more centered and grounded than in the past.” After starting her own cannabis journey, Sherman launched Ellementa, a women-owned resource that offers in-person gatherings and online articles. “It feels like all of the sudden we have menus and extensive research to tell us what type of strains are good for conquering what ails you,” says Donnelly, who uses review site Leafly to stay informed. “The use of cannabis as a therapeutic agent for menopause or any other condition does require that the patient is involved in the process, and to educate themselves,” says Dr. Burns. “We can’t yet rely on all physicians because a lot of them don’t understand it and don’t know what recommendations to make.”

Patients should talk to their doctor before consuming cannabis as a remedy, and seek out medical professionals who are educated in the cannabis sphere. “We need to keep in mind that, as the patient, we truly know our bodies better than anyone — and what works best for us,” says Dr. McDonald. “Having a conversation with your healthcare provider about cannabis is an empowering example of how we are in control of our own healthcare decisions. If resistance is met with that provider, follow your intuition. Is this person projecting their own personal dogma, or are they open to the possibilities of discussing the use of this plant as a therapy? If you get the impression pharmaceuticals are being pushed, without considerations for natural alternatives, seek a second opinion with someone that has more experience in this area, and has a little more open-mindedness.”

Story by Amanda Zurita

Van der Pop does not endorse or condone the illegal consumption of cannabis.

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