One of the more interesting outcomes of expanding legalization is that people feel empowered to consider cannabis as an alternative to prescription medications for managing their illness and ailments. This is especially true when addressing recurring issues like chronic pain, insomnia and mood disorders like depression, for which many consider cannabis an accessible, consistent, and reliable solution.
With our culture’s increased focus on self care, cannabis – with its non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD in particular – has taken off as a growing trend in women’s health thanks to its balancing interaction with the body’s endocannabinoid system. Every woman on the planet will ultimately go through menopause when she reaches a certain age, and because cannabis has the ability to create homeostatis in the body, more women are exploring weed to help ease the symptoms of menopause.
WHAT IS MENOPAUSE?
Menopause is what happens when the ovaries no longer release an egg every month. It officially begins one year after a woman’s last menstrual period, typically around the age of 45, but this varies and can start as early as a woman’s 30s or as late as her 60s. In the years leading up to this change, the ovaries start producing less estrogen during what’s known as perimenopause. This hormonal decline can be swift and unpredictable, initiating a slew of symptoms that can significantly impact a woman’s life for years.
“Essentially, we spend our adult lives as women learning to navigate the world with the ebb and flow of hormones and their effects on the bio-chemicals that influence our mood and thinking,” said Elizabeth Moriarty, Clinical Herbalist and Founder of hemp cannabis brand Empathica.co over email. “Fairly abruptly, we find ourselves adrift in a sea of emotional, physiological and cognitive chaos, with no rudder.”
Estrogen has a direct impact on the body’s endocannabinoid system, which counts maintenance of mood, pain, body temperature, sleep, and reproduction among its many responsibilities. Less estrogen means reduced endocannabinoid signaling in these key areas, resulting in many of the most commonly known menopause symptoms including hot flashes, headaches, fatigue, depression, decreased libido, mood swings, insomnia, vaginal dryness, and even osteoporosis.
HOW CANNABIS HELPS EASE MENOPAUSE SYMPTOMS
“Cannabis is an exceptionally valuable part of a holistic approach to addressing the transition into menopause,” said Moriarty, who has formulated and produced botanical therapies for nearly 3 decades. A practitioner of Western medicine with extensive knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Moriarty explained how cannabis is able to provide relief for several common symptoms of menopause.
“Arguably, the most impactful effect of these bio-chemical changes arises from disruption to our sleep,” she said. Sleep provides us with the time our brains and bodies need to process and recover every day, and as it is a lot of us aren’t getting enough of it. “Even in the absence of hormone changes, sleep deprivation is maddening,” Moriarty continued. “It causes brain-fog, exhaustion, labile emotions and an over-arching inability to manage stress, which affects our moods as well as our health.”
CBD is a useful tool for women undergoing menopause symptoms because it’s “a gentle but potent promoter of sleep,” she said, “and what’s crucial, the sleep it promotes is restorative.” And this helpful cannabinoid doesn’t just combat the insomnia common to The Change. “CBD is well documented in the treatment of general anxiety and irritability – hallmarks of the transition to menopause,” Moriarty said. “Further, in the long term, CBD is useful in supporting bone health, which is a very important health concern for menopausal women.”
As effective as CBD is on its own, we know from the entourage effect not to discount THC’s ability to also help pain, mood and stress. “Another common condition is the beginning or worsening of migraines, and studies show that migraines are among the common complaints treated with cannabis,” Moriarty said. “So yes, the transition through menopause is stressful, exhausting and painful, and THC offers a welcome moment of relief and opportunity to down-regulate the pain of stress and regroup.“
Every woman is unique and while some have no issues at all, reportedly 85% of menopausal women experience at least one symptom of menopause. Because much of what we know about how cannabis helps ease symptoms of The Change is anecdotal, we decided to ask real women about their personal experiences.
CANNABIS & MENOPAUSE: STORIES FROM REAL WOMEN
For Ana Izquierdo, the onset of menopause began immediately after ending the hormone replacement therapy (HRT) initiated by her hysterectomy 2 years ago. “For the last 2 weeks, I have had hot flashes, rapid mood swings, loss of sex drive, fatigue, and night sweats,” the 36-year old explained over email. Founder and President of The Cannabis Diversity Council and Alliances, Izquierdo was well aware of cannabis’ healing properties, having taken it for a variety of ailments over the years. “After I reached 3 years sober, I used cannabis to realign my mind, mellow my anxiety and help with anger,” she explained. “I battled severe endometriosis; cannabis would help with the pain and depression linked to it. After my hysterectomy, cannabis and specifically CBD helped with relieving my swelling and pain. No need for pharma.”
Izquierdo found that cannabis also relieved the mental and emotional struggles that accompanied HRT. “The hormones would give me bouts of what I called the ‘crazies’. I was always insecure about life, it seemed,” she said. “Cannabis tamed the beast and helped to create a balance inside my mind.” It’s a regimen that she immediately tapped into when menopause symptoms started kicking in.
“When I experience fatigue, mood swings and depression, I will use a Sativa strain for an uplifting and energetic feeling,” said Izquierdo. “When I have insomnia or lack of sex drive, I will utilize an Indica strain which will have an increased body high and relaxing euphoric feeling. Cannabis helps symptoms become manageable.”
She credits Durban Poison with providing energy and uplift first thing in the morning, and Northern Lights for relaxation and sleep. “I am a flower girl all day long,” said Izquierdo, but she cautions that the high THC sativa strains she loves may not work for everyone. “When picking strains for wellness, be mindful of what you are trying to remedy!”
Writer and speaker Eileen Workman, age 60, also counted “hot flashes, night sweats, sleeplessness, emotional mood swings” as her symptoms. Working outside of the industry, she decided to try cannabis after seeing how well it worked for a friend. “She brought a vape pen when she came to visit and I tried it before bed,” said Workman. “Best night’s sleep I’d had in about five years!” Now, her regimen consists of edibles before bedtime – Cali Gold chocolate bars and Chill’s cannabis infused chocolate bars are her favorites because they’re consistent and easy to dose – topicals to address her arthritis, and flowers “for when I really wish to relax,” she said. “I sleep through the night without sweats or flashes, feel more balanced in my moods.”
BEST STRAINS FOR MENOPAUSE
The women we spoke with used trial and error to determine that cannabis could help their symptoms, but as Moriarty explained, “There are currently no strains of marijuana cannabis that contain a sufficient CBD content recommended for alleviation of the symptoms and conditions commonly found in the transition into menopause.”
As a result, she suggests trying solutions that combine both marijuana and hemp. “For concentrated CBD, I suggest liposomal sublingual delivery to promote restorative sleep and address conditions of anxiety and depression,” she said.
If flower is more your thing, “I suggest White Widow for daytime,” said Moriarty. “While it doesn’t offer much in the way of minor cannabinoids, the sativa-dominant strain is flush with relaxing myrcene, linalool and humulene, along with uplifting limonene and nerolidol.” And as she reminds us, the THC can be extremely helpful. “In menopause, a little euphoria is fine thing.”
To help at bedtime, Moriarty suggests, “Indica-dominant William’s Wonder. It has exceptionally high amounts of the minor cannabinoid CBG (cannabigerol), which research shows to be valuable in the treatment of depression and stress-induced anxiety. The terpene profile offers a calming lift, and it’s noted for management of pain, headache/migraine, and PTSD.”
The reality is that when it comes to women’s health, and particularly menopause, Western doctors have little to offer in the way of solutions, electing instead to inform women that the menopause symptoms they’re experiencing are simply normal. “To the many women who will be assured by their physicians that menopause is not a big deal: it’s unholy,” Moriarity said. “I highly recommend discovering the benefits of cannabis sooner than later for all women moving into menopause, whatever the speed of transition.”