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Does Weed Actually Work for Period Cramps?

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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Menstrual pain could soon be a condition that qualifies for medical marijuana.

Could weed be used to treat period pain?

There are reports cannabis will be approved by New York legislators to treat period pain. The evidence is unclear, but that doesn’t mean the drug can be ruled out

A review into medicinal uses of cannabinoids states there is no research showing that cannabis relieves period pains, though a lack research does not equal no evidence it doesn’t work. Photograph: Jim Hollander/EPA

A review into medicinal uses of cannabinoids states there is no research showing that cannabis relieves period pains, though a lack research does not equal no evidence it doesn’t work. Photograph: Jim Hollander/EPA

Last modified on Mon 21 May 2018 11.13 BST

According to reports this week, marijuana is about to be approved to treat period pains by legislators in New York. Cannabis is already allowed for medicinal use in 29 American states for a variety of conditions such as cancer, HIV or Aids, severe nausea, seizures and persistent muscle spasms (for example with people who have multiple sclerosis). Could period pains really be joining that list, and is there any evidence that it works?

Solution

It is certainly clearly stated in bill number A582: “Medical marijuana can alleviate many of the painful effects of dysmenorrhea.” The bill also states that “Not only will this improve women’s wellbeing and productivity during menstruation, but it will advance New York State in one of the country’s fastest growing industries.” So cannabis will help women, and industry too. It’s win win.

Except that Dr Penny Whiting, the lead author of a large systematic review in Jama on the medicinal uses of cannabinoids confirms my suspicion that there is no research showing that cannabis relieves period pains – though she points out that because of the lack of research, there’s also no evidence it doesn’t work . Her review found moderate evidence that cannabinoids work for chronic pain and spasticity (severe cramps such as in multiple sclerosis) and “low quality evidence” that it relieves nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy and sleep disorders. Another review published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found similar results.

Period cramps are caused by the release of prostaglandins that trigger muscle cramps in the uterus. These cramps reduce the blood supply to the uterus and cause painful spasms. There’s not much in the medical armoury to help dysmenorrhea. There are oral contraceptives that stop ovulation and therefore prostaglandin production, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (that inhibit prostaglandins being made) or paracetamol. Meanwhile, in Colorado and California women can use ‘marijuana tampons’ made by Foria – which smell of cookie dough. The tampons combine two active ingredients from cannabis – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The cells lining the vaginal wall absorb the cannabinoids and may block the nerves from carrying pain signals to the brain. Local absorption is also meant to reduce any psychoactive high from the drug.

There’s anecdotal evidence from women that these cannabis tampons work within 20 minutes. However, they are not available legally in the UK. And like any drug, cannabinoids can have side effects. Writing in the BMJ, Dr Giles Newton-Howes, of the University of Otago in New Zealand argued the case for making it easier to conduct trials for the use of cannabis at medicine. He says that we can only speculate on their usefulness for dysmenorrhea. But its welcome speculation at that.

There are reports cannabis will be approved by New York legislators to treat period pain. The evidence is unclear, but that doesn’t mean the drug can be ruled out