Being a woman brings many unique joys – motherhood being a big one – but it also comes with its trials.
One of those is menopause, which is the body’s way of shutting down its reproductive system. That typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 and produces several unpleasant side effects, including hot flashes, sleep disturbances and mood swings.
Menopause can also cause other changes in your body that produce no symptoms yet affect your health. For instance, after menopause women’s rate of bone loss increases. That can lead to osteoporosis, a medical condition in which the bones become brittle or fragile, increasing the risk of fractures.
There are indications, however, that cannabis can alleviate some of those menopause symptoms and potentially avoid the health risks that accompany the treatment most often prescribed by physicians: hormone-replacement therapy.
Menopausal hormone therapy became popular in the 1950s and was for years promoted as the answer for many health conditions that women face as they age. In addition to helping prevent osteoporosis, it was seen as having the power to ward off heart disease and cancer, while generally improving women’s quality of life.
Beginning in July 2002, however, that view changed, as documented in this white paper by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, an agency within the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
In 1991 the institute had launched the Women’s Health Initiative, one of the largest studies of its kind ever undertaken in the U.S.
Estrogen and progesterone – combination therapy
It consisted of a set of clinical trials involving about 161,000 healthy postmenopausal women and examined whether the use of either estrogen alone – typically by women who have had a hysterectomy — or with another hormone called progesterone, or progestin in its synthetic form – for those who haven’t — actually protected against heart disease and other age-associated ailments.
The trials began reporting their findings 11 years later, and they were not good.
The combination therapy did show benefits in staving off osteoporosis and colorectal cancer, but researchers determined its long-term used poses serious health risks, including increased threat of heart attack, stroke, breast cancer and blood clots.
An ancillary study found that it also increased the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, twofold compared to women who received a placebo.
The estrogen-only therapy was found to increase the risk of stroke, blood clots and dementia. It also showed no benefit in reducing heart disease.
Because of the benefits, many doctors still prescribe hormone therapy for women going through menopause. But the U.S. government advises women to review their family medical history and discuss with their health care providers whether the benefits outweigh the risks. It also warns that it should be administered at the lowest doses for the shortest duration possible to reach treatment goals.
Marijuana and Menopause
Which brings us to cannabis, the natural active ingredient in marijuana.
Unlike hormone replacement, cannabis has not been conclusively shown to cause serious long-term side effects, though there are concerns.
A 2013 review of scientific literature published in the Current Psychiatric Report concluded that its long-term use may have biologically-based physical, mental, behavioral and social health consequences and is “associated with diseases of the liver (particularly with co-existing hepatitis C), lungs, heart, eyesight and vasculature.”
It noted, however, that the literature all dealt with subjects who smoked marijuana and urged that additional studies be done to attempt to show a causal relationship and to explore other forms of cannabis, such as edibles, tinctures or beverages.
Endocannabinoid system plays a role
Additional studies are being conducted, but the work as it relates directly to menopause is complicated by the fact that researchers have only recently begun to realize the important role that the body’s endocannabinoid system plays in the process.
As documented in this previous Greenlight post, the endocannabinoid system is a natural system in your body “involved in multiple physiological processes including pain-sensation, appetite, memory and mood as well as mediating the psychoactive effects of cannabis.”
But scientists are now beginning to understand the complex role it plays in regulating reproductive health in women.
Unfortunately, conclusive studies of cannabis and its impacts on menopause have not yet been conducted.
One of the very few studies done so far, conducted on menopausal rats, found that hempseed, a member of the cannabis family without the psychoactive effects, reduced elevated blood calcium and cholesterol levels after their ovaries were removed.
There have been numerous studies, however, showing that cannabis and its non-psychoactive component cannabidiol (CBD) are effective in treating some of the primary symptoms of menopause, including managing pain, helping patients with sleeping disorders and fighting moodiness by improving the ability to relax.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine also found that nabilone, a synthetic version of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that produces the “high” associated with the plant, helped ease night sweats in cancer patients.
Cannabis Improves Bone Density
Studies also have shown that cannabis can improve bone density, but the research done in this area has produced contradictory results.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research and a study published the same year by researchers in Israel both concluded that CBD enhanced the healing of fractured bones.
But a study published in the American Medical Journal in 2017 found that heavy cannabis consumption resulted in low bone mineral density and an increased risk of fractures.
As we wait for the scientific smoke to clear, you may want to consider trying medical marijuana to see if it helps relieve your symptoms.
If so, Greenlight Approved is here to help. We believe when you start something new, it’s best to start slow and to gather all the information you can to make a safe informed decision. That’s why we created our consumer education platform dedicated to “guiding the cannabis curious.” Let us direct you to premium product and brand options as well as participating retailers near you, at www.greenlightapproved.com.