Most days, my morning ritual includes some light meditation, intention setting, a protein-rich breakfast, a good cup of coffee, writing a manageable “to do” list on some sticky notes, and channeling a heavy dose of self-esteem, confidence and ambition.
Once a month, as my hormones soar and my menstrual cycle enters its final stage, this ritual also includes a variety of cannabis-infused products carefully designed to ensure that no amount of menstrual pain cramps my style.
Despite what nearly 100 years of prohibition would have us believe, cannabis has been used for medicinal and recreational purposes for thousands of years. Historical records as early as 2000 BC indicate that cannabis was used to comfort women during childbirth, and it was used by Queen Victoria to help her with her menstrual cramping.
Modern cannabis innovation is continuing this long-standing tradition by providing women with alternative treatment options for managing female health issues like painful cramps. As the global cannabis industry grows, the days of painfully pretending that everything is “fine” as your uterus contracts into a million tiny spasms are finally over!
And, no, this isn’t just the latest fad designed to seduce market-decision makers — women still control the majority of purchasing decisions across most industries, p.s. — into hopping on the band-wagon for a hot minute. This trend is rooted in science and innovation, and led by fierce leaders on a mission to make our time of the month the best it can possibly be.
“As a female executive and mother, cannabis has saved my life and career.” says Kirstin Wood, Chief Ganja Goddess — or, Vice President of Marketing & Communications — at Canadian licensed producer of medical cannabis, Emblem. After many years of trial and error, Wood has figured out the perfect cannabis regimen for helping her deal with the debilitating pain related to her PMS. She opts for consuming small doses of cannabis on a continuous basis, or what is popularly referred to as “microdosing” to take the edge off, and help her better function in both her personal and professional roles.
But, how does cannabis actually work to provide relief during menstruation? The scientific basis for the use of cannabinoid-based treatments in women’s health is crucial for understanding the complex and nuanced ways we can take charge of our health and continue to empower ourselves.
“The endocannabinoid system is a part of every physiological system in the body, including the reproductive and hormonal systems,” explains Dr. Janice Knox, a founding member of the American Cannabinoid Clinics, offering specialized cannabinoid healthcare services throughout Oregon and Washington State.
Dr. Knox believes in the power of cannabis to help treat women-specific health issues, including menstrual pain and cramping. “The uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes all have endocannabinoid receptors, including both CB1 and CB2 receptors,” Knox says — a scientific fact that makes cannabis an excellent treatment option for dealing with the potentially debilitating symptoms experienced by many, many women.
As decades of research have shown, the cannabinoids found in cannabis and cannabis-based health products provide a variety of therapeutic relief by stimulating CB1 and CB2 receptors found in our body’s endocannabinoid system, and mimicking the naturally occurring endocannabinoids.
The famed cannabinoid, THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, typically associated with yielding a psychoactive “high”, is also a very potent analgesic and muscle relaxant, with an excellent track record for decreasing pain and helping diminish muscle spasms.
Another powerful cannabinoid, CBD, or cannabidiol, has been shown to decrease inflammation, pain and acts as a muscle relaxant without any of the psychoactive effects that might arise from consuming THC-based products. What’s more, CBD has the potential to mitigate the “high” feeling produced by THC, making it an excellent ally for managing pain and cramping when you’re on the go.
With novel formulations like suppositories, topicals, cannabis-infused bath soaks and CBD-rich products on the market, you can opt to manage your painful cramps without any psychoactive effects.
Sarah Gillies, a co-founder of Toronto’s Green Market, a cannabis-related pop-up series, relies on cannabis-infused vaginal suppositories to help manage the intense pain and cramping she experiences during the first few days of her period. “I also use a topical for immediate relief, and mostly rely on CBD oil to decrease the inflammation, take away the cramps and put me in a great mood,” says Gillies. She boasts about the superiority of cannabis to other products traditionally used for these purposes, such as ibuprofen. Gillies prefers CBD-dominant products to help her manage her PMS, as this powerful anxiolytic also provides the added benefit of helping improve her mood by decreasing anxiety.
California-based Whoopi and Maya, a company headed by Whoopi Goldberg and cannabis producing pioneer Maya Elisabeth, offers a variety of infused products aimed at helping women transform their monthly journey. Herbalist-inspired raw chocolate spread provides a rich dose of magnesium and antioxidants in addition to cannabis, for long-lasting pain relief and cramp control. Their cannabis-infused epsom salt soak is another great way to help your muscles relax and your body recharge, while the Rub – which also contains skin-friendly ingredients like olive, apricot and avocado oils, delivers topical relief right to the source menstrual pain.
“We’re inspired by the success of women who have had the chance to experience our products. We weren’t expecting that it would change women’s lives as much as it has,” says Elisabeth.
She is especially encouraged by the success she’s witnessed in patients using the Relax tincture, a THC-infused potion loaded with cramp bark, red raspberry, motherwort and passionflower to help “support the uterus” and calm the nerves. She recommends this product for those dealing with serious PMS issues to help improve the menstrual cycle over time.
Innovation within the cannabis industry is moving cannabis up the treatment ladder to a first-line treatment option, which, according to experts like Dr. Knox, is a welcome change to what has traditionally been available to women as a coping mechanism (see: opioids and a lot of internalized gloom).
“In my opinion, cannabis should be a first line choice and at the very least, a first line option for therapeutics of most diseases” says Dr. Knox. This is a revolutionary idea in the realm of female health care, where treatment options for menstrual pain, PMS, endometriosis – among other conditions – haven’t evolved in over 30 years (more on this next week!).
“The names of the drugs may have changed, but not the treatment choices. Most of these choices have side effects that are often worse than the problem,” says Dr. Knox. Indeed, for conditions like endometriosis, for example, cannabis provides an ideal alternative to irreversible procedures like hysterectomies.
According to Knox, cannabis is also a good long-term solution to a life-long problem. “Cannabis has no long-term side effects when used responsibly and appropriately.” Where the treatment of painful cramps is concerned, Knox believes that “once you find the appropriate cannabinoid and terpene (the oils that give cannabis - in addition to other things like fruit - its scent) profile, you can expect great relief without the side effects of NSAIDS (ibuprofen, for example), opioids, muscle relaxants and sedatives.”
With all this in mind, use your next period to advocate for yourself. Investing in a cannabis-infused product will help you take charge of your health and put your main priority – a calm and cool start, middle and finish to each day – back on the to-do list.
Ljubica Kostovic is a writer + cannabis expert based in Toronto.