Why are women using CBD products — and do they work?
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil and other products containing CBD are being touted as a natural, organic remedy for a wide range of women’s health concerns. Sellers of these products make many claims: CBD has calming effects on sleep, mood, and anxiety; eases hot flashes and improves bone density by balancing hormonal changes of menopause; and has anti-inflammatory properties that clear skin, cure acne, and calm rosacea. It’s promoted for PMS symptoms like bloating and mood swings. And CBD-infused lubricants claim to boost arousal and enjoyment of sex. So, how much of this is true?
First, what is CBD?
CBD is a major ingredient in cannabis plants (like hemp and marijuana). It comes in different strengths and forms, often as CBD oil, but also in pills and powders. It can be absorbed through the skin, ingested, or inhaled. (Vaping it, however, may not be safe, as this blog post and web page from the CDC explain.)
Unlike marijuana, pure CBD products don’t make you feel high. A different ingredient in marijuana called THC makes people feel high.
Does CBD have proven benefits?
So far, there’s not much evidence on the medical benefits of CBD, partly because laws on marijuana made it difficult to study. Until we learn more, it’s wise to keep in mind that few high-quality studies have been done.
- In 2018 the FDA approved a drug derived from CBD to treat rare forms of childhood epilepsy. This medication was shown in randomized clinical trials to reduce the frequency of seizures (see here and here).
- A few studies have found CBD may improve anxiety, but the studies were small and of poor quality (see here and here).
- Some laboratory research on human cells suggests CBD may have anti-inflammatory effects on oil-secreting glands in the skin. This might have implications for acne and other inflammatory skin disorders, but further research is needed to confirm this. And while CBD in skin products is unlikely to harm you, most dermatologists agree that there are more effective and better-studied medications and treatments for acne and inflammatory skin disorders.
Other potential benefits of CBD aren’t clear. No high-quality research shows that CBD improves sex drive, decreases pain, treats depression or mood disorders, decreases PMS symptoms like bloating and cramps, or relieves symptoms of menopause like hot flashes. This may change as more studies are done, but for now, the jury is out.
Are CBD products safe?
The short answer is this: pure CBD seems to be safe for most people. However, we don’t have rigorous studies and long-term data to prove whether or not a wide range of CBD products are safe for everyone. For example, there is no evidence to suggest that CBD is safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding, or for people who are immunocompromised.
Because CBD products aren’t regulated by the FDA in the way that drugs are, there is huge variation in quality and, quite possibly, safety. In 2017–2018, counterfeit CBD oil was found that contained synthetic cannabinoids and led to a poisoning outbreak in Utah.
Testing shows purity and dosage can be unreliable in many products. One study found less than a third of the products tested had the amount of CBD shown on the label. Another study of 84 CBD products bought online showed that more than a quarter of the products contained less CBD than stated. In addition, THC (the component that can make you feel high) was found in 18 products.
Does CBD cause side effects?
CBD can cause side effects like dry mouth, diarrhea, reduced appetite, and drowsiness. Additionally, it can interact with certain medicines, such as blood thinners and antiseizure drugs. If you would like to start using CBD products, it’s best to first talk to your doctor.
There are a lot of extravagant product claims out there about the benefits of CBD for women, but little high-quality research supports them. CBD oil and other CBD products aren’t well regulated. It’s possible what you are buying is counterfeit or contaminated. Before using CBD — especially if you plan to vape or ingest it — first talk with your doctor or healthcare provider to learn whether it could be safe and helpful for you.
About the Authors
Rose McKeon Olson, MD , Contributor
Rose McKeon Olson, MD, is a resident physician in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She has special research interests in gender-based violence, social medicine, and global health equity. See Full Bio
Eve Rittenberg, MD , Contributor
Eve Rittenberg, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a primary care internist at the Fish Center for Women’s Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Her interests include women’s health, trauma-informed care, … See Full Bio
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I am a 55 year old woman who has suffered with neuropathy since 2004 (amplified by a trauma in 2011); as well as a sciatic nerve issue and other complication since my trauma. One thing I found out (very quickly!), many of the drugs (natural or not) are either recomended for short term relief and used very long term, or the probable cause of added, often more sever, side effects. I don’t believe, for me personally, any medication that has the potential to do more harm than good, especially when it can only treat symptoms and not the cause, would be ideal, unless there is ‘no other option’ or perspective hope. Limited and controlled ecersizes along with diet, seem to have worked best for me personally; but, yes it is very difficult many days. However, I plan to watch my grandchild grow-up, and I plan to do that watching with as clear a mind as possible for today and tomorrow. Side-effects of CBD have been relatively unstudyed or unpublished for lack of verification. That is not promising. All of that being said, I am sure for some people CBD oil could be a God send of relief, most especially for some seizure and cancer patients.
Cannabis Sativa and Hemp are two different plants. Marijuana is not a plant, it’s a slang term used by rhetoric spewing racists seeking to profit from a new prohibition. How can you publish this when you clearly don’t know the basics?
As a woman with a cervical level spinal cord injury, who has experienced many benefits through the use of CBD … this article had absolutely no relevance to its title.
CBD for PMS: How It Helps with Cramps & Other Symptoms
Research has shown CBD oil can alleviate pain & cramping, support mood, & alleviate other common side effects of PMS.
Learn how it works, how much to take, and what side-effects to watch out for.
If you’re one of the 95% of women who experience premenstrual syndrome, it may come as a pleasant surprise that cannabidiol (CBD) may alleviate headaches, cramps, irritability, anxiety, insomnia and other annoying symptoms .
It’s not a magic cure-all, of course, but research shows that CBD may be effective as an anti-pain, anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety supplement.
One of the problems with PMS is that it’s extremely complex. Every woman (and every person) has slightly different hormone levels and a unique genetic makeup.
This article will cover everything you need to know about using CBD for premenstrual syndrome. We’ll cover how PMS works and what the current research suggests for supporting this condition.
MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY
Updated on October 19, 2021
Table of Contents
- Can CBD Oil Help With PMS?
- How Hormone Changes May Lead to PMS
- The 3 Stages of the Menstrual Cycle
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Can CBD Oil Help With PMS?
PMS has a wide range of symptoms and involves the flux of two reproductive hormones — estrogen and progesterone.
CBD has little effect on these hormones directly but offers a variety of benefits that help alleviate symptoms involving pain, cramping, and mood.
The key benefits of CBD oil for PMS include:
- Relieves stress & anxiety symptoms
- Can help balance mood
- Alleviates pain
- Reduces nflammation
- Relaxes muscle tension & cramping
1. Relieves Stress & Anxiety Symptoms
CBD is considered a non-allosteric modulator — which is a fancy term that suggests it works by indirectly inhibiting certain activities in the brain. It uses the endocannabinoid system as the intermediary to stop the brain cells from firing, as opposed to allowing them to send signals.
While research on the endocannabinoid system is still being explored, this inhibitory behavior may explain why cannabidiol is known for being an anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsive, and anti-epileptic therapy .
2. May Help Balance Mood
While PMS is too complex of a topic for any single therapy to work as a cure-all, cannabidiol may be a good alternative to treat some of the symptoms related to serotonin — such as fluctuations in mood.
Since serotonin levels are thought to be affected by the changes in hormone levels during the luteal phase , cannabidiol’s interaction with serotonergic receptors may help relieve some of the symptoms arising from low serotonin levels .
Specifically, depression and anxiety are two negative emotional side effects that may benefit from taking cannabidiol through this interaction with serotonin.
3. Alleviates Pain
Cannabidiol has also been shown to relieve pain by blocking the signaling pathway for pain .
While the current research mainly focuses on cancer pain management and bone or joint problems (osteoarthritis), it isn’t too far of a stretch to think that cannabidiol may help relieve the muscle aches that happen as a result of PMS as well .
The endocannabinoid system regulates both the central and peripheral nervous systems. Since pain is transmitted via these nerves, ingesting cannabidiol has been shown in rats to help with reducing pain and inflammation .
Unfortunately, a review of clinical experiments in people shows conflicting results .
4. Reduces Inflammatory Load
Inflammation associated with premenstrual syndrome might also respond to cannabidiol.
However, inflammation is a complex immunological process involving many chemical cascades, feedback loops, and various cells from both the innate and the adaptive immune systems.
More research, specifically double-blind studies involving larger sample groups, need to be conducted to see if the cause of inflammation during PMS corresponds with the anti-inflammatory actions of cannabidiol [9, 10].
5. Alleviates Muscle Tension & Cramping
Most of the research on CBD and muscle has to do with treating spasticity in those with multiple sclerosis. Going back to the fact that CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system and muscles are controlled by nerves, it is a logical step to think that CBD could have an effect on reducing muscle spasms .
Since the uterine cramping and spasms before and during menstruation, CBD, could in theory, affect and reduce cramping.
What is PMS? What Causes It?
Premenstrual syndrome happens before the menstrual phase (hence the name). If you’re not familiar with the phases of the menstrual cycle, don’t worry, we’ll cover it in greater detail below.
PMS symptoms usually begin to develop after ovulation, within a week or so before menstruation.
Scientists aren’t able to say exactly why the change in hormones causes both the psychological and physical symptoms, but the theory is that it has something to do with the link between estrogen and serotonin production in the brain .
The entire menstrual cycle is a rollercoaster of hormones, each one taking their turn to rise up before crashing back down again. All of this is a well-choreographed dance designed to prepare the body for falling pregnant.
How Hormone Changes May Lead to PMS
- Progesterone and estrogen rise and then drop quickly after ovulation
- During this rise is when you start to feel physical symptoms such as breast tenderness. You can think of this as the body getting ready for pregnancy
- Because estrogen is tied to serotonin, the drop in estrogen causes a drop in serotonin as well
- Drops in serotonin (the neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy) can then cause the psychological symptoms
The 3 Stages of the Menstrual Cycle
The menstrual cycle can be broken down into 3 phases: follicular, luteal, and menses.
1. Follicular Phase
Eggs develop in little nests in the ovaries called follicles. During the follicular phase, the follicle that will eventually release a mature egg produces the hormone estrogen. This follicle is stimulated by a pituitary hormone called the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) .
FSH also stimulates the production of yet another pituitary gland hormone called Luteinizing Hormone (LH), which causes the egg to go through meiosis (cell division).
As estrogen levels rise with the growing follicle, the uterus lining thickens with tissue and blood vessels to get ready for implantation of a fertilized egg and pregnancy. Once the egg is mature, there is a spike in LH and the egg is released from the follicle — this marks the point of ovulation. The body is now ready to conceive a baby.
Estrogen, LH, and FSH levels begin to drop while progesterone starts to rise as it’s released from the same follicle that released the egg previously.
2. Luteal Phase
After ovulation is achieved during the follicular phase, we enter the luteal phase .
Here, estrogen rises again with progesterone and the uterus lining continues to grow. From the ovary, the egg will travel to the uterus via the fallopian tubes.
If fertilization were to occur, it would happen during this period of 3-4 days.
If no fertilization occurs, there’s no need to continue to support the highly vascularized and dense tissue of the uterus (using up a lot of the body’s resources). The corpus luteum dies and both estrogen and progesterone levels drop once again.
3. Menses or Menstruation
Menstruation is the process through which the cells lining the uterus go through programmed cell death (apoptosis) and shed .
Blood and tissue are expelled from the vagina and women may suffer from cramping which is the contraction of the uterine muscles to help shed the lining.
Signs & Symptoms of PMS
Because there are four different hormones at play here, PMS can present itself in various ways. Not all women get all the symptoms and not every symptom occurs every month. Jet lag, sleep, alcohol and smoking, and stress can all affect PMS.
Psychological Symptoms of PMS
The emotional changes that happen post-ovulation, during the luteal phase, may include the following:
Physical Symptoms of PMS
Along with the changes in mood, physical symptoms will also occur.
These physical symptoms include:
Current Treatment Options for PMS
There are many ways to treat mild to severe PMS, including drugs, hormone therapy, acupuncture, hot packs, supplements, and much more.
The scientific evidence behind things like acupuncture is limited and most of the advice appears to be anecdotal . Even exercise, a commonly suggested way to relieve PMS symptoms, showed inconsistent results when tested. Some groups responded while others showed no significant reduction in discomfort .
Hormonal options involve taking estradiol and/or progesterone pills in order to better regulate the fluctuations of these hormones in the luteal phase. Some studies have shown that this method is effective, while others showed no difference in alleviating the symptoms of PMS [19, 20].
What Else Can I Do To Relieve PMS Symptoms?
Aside from taking CBD, making sure to keep your serotonin levels at a normal level can help relieve PMS symptoms. Things like exercise, sleeping well, keeping stress levels low, and eating dark chocolate are all ways to make sure your serotonin level doesn’t dip too low.
Key Takeaways: Can CBD Help With PMS?
While the research on the use of cannabidiol on PMS symptoms still requires further exploration, the hope is that this article gave you a bit more insight into the causes of PMS and how CBD can be used to reduce PMS symptoms.
We know that CBD doesn’t directly treat PMS in its entirety. However, certain symptoms such as cramps, anxiety, and pain can somewhat be lessened by taking CBD.
Unlike other conditions, PMS symptoms and the severity of them vary month to month depending on the level of stress and other uncontrollable life issues that may arise unexpectedly. So, while it’s impossible to fully eliminate PMS due to its close ties with fluctuating reproductive hormones, it is possible to target particular symptoms on a case by case basis.