CBD for PMS? A Gynecologist Tells Us What’s Up
I t is 2019, and if you are not regularly grabbing a cannabidiol (CBD)-infused water before work, chewing a CBD gummy before bed or even dropping some CBD tinctures into your afternoon coffee, you might be missing out. Even dogs are using CBD. But let’s get one thing out of the way first: CBD will not make you high. Although it is an extract of the cannabis plant, CBD does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the mind-altering ingredient found in marijuana.
Proven as a natural remedy for anxiety, stress and insomnia, the CBD industry is booming. In fact, Brightfield, a cannabis research firm, says the CBD market is expected to reach $22 billion (yes, billion) by 2022. That is a lot of people feeling good about themselves. So good, that the 2018 Farm Bill was passed at the end of last year, making hemp — a form of cannabis with less than 0.3 percent THC, from which you can extract CBD — an agriculture crop instead of an illegal substance. (Two things to note: Recreational marijuana is legal in 10 states and the FDA still has regulations on CBD in food.)
But if the magic oil/pill/gummy/tincture seems to be a cure-all for these problems, it begs the question: Can it help with women’s health, like cramps, PMS symptoms and mastalgia? Could a suppository be the answer to period pain? Oil for breast tenderness? Lube for pain during sex?
Could a suppository be the answer to period pain?
Unfortunately, the answer is murky — at best.
“The benefits of CBD for women’s health are still controversial. There is a serious lack of trials [and] evidence-based data proving or disproving the benefits of CBD for women’s health disorders,” says Adeeti Gupta, M.D., founder of Walk In GYN Care.
But what about the products — like The Good Patch for PMS, Whoopi & Maya’s Medical Cannabis Bath Soak for menstrual relief or Foria Vaginal Suppositories for period pain — circling the wellness world? Gupta says there are no trials proving CBD is helpful for PMS symptoms. And, while it may seem like the answer for natural pain relief, Gupta warns against it. “One can use it and it is being used off label now at various places but there is no clear evidence in medical studies thus far that it helps or if it has just a placebo effect . Theoretically, CBD oil should help as a co-analgesic, meaning it can be used in addition to regular pain medication to help. However, studies have shown that CBD and THC used in low doses improve the pain scale only by 0.5 ( on a scale of 1-10). So, although there are theoretical benefits, we do not have clear data to support the benefits yet.”
And speaking of THC — the ingredient CBD is supposed to be formulated without — Gupta says, “we need to be wary of are any contaminants in the formulation that would contain THC.” The safest form is hemp oil formulations, but “if the CBD is not pure and has THC (marijuana) mixed in it … one can also experience withdrawal symptoms with prolonged use,” she adds.
While she does not recommend these products as a treatment option at this time, Gupta does have hope. “Even though at this point, we do not have adequate data and literature giving us support and clear guidelines as medical professionals to prescribe CBD for various conditions, we are hopeful that with time we will have more studies allowing us to utilize these if found to be an effective panacea for a lot of chronic, debilitating women’s health pain syndromes ,” she says.
Can CBD oil help with PMS?
CBD oil – derived from cannabis plants – is gaining cult status amongst the wellness set; but its pain-relieving, mood-boosting properties have serious science backing, and could relieve period-related symptoms.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is turning heads in the natural health and wellness sphere owing to the growing list of health benefits, including relief from PMS. It’s an active compound found in cannabis, but don’t let the association with weed fool you. You won’t get the mind-altering high because it contains little to none of the main psychoactive component, THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). Instead, the oil, which is extracted from the cannabis plant and mixed with carrier oils like almond or coconut, has been shown to help with pain relief, in early stages of research.
How CBD helps with PMS
As a result, many women are turning to it specifically for help with PMS symptoms, including mood swings. “When I first started using CBD, it was game changer,” says New York executive Karla Vitrone. “It works really well when you’re ovulating and feel a bit more anxiety. I found that it helped me totally switch off and transition to night. It makes you feel totally relaxed and has none of the side effects of marijuana, which was my biggest fear as I have a small child and I didn’t want to feel ‘high’ or have negative side effects. It’s really subtle.”
Ana Reyes, a designer who works for the US-based CBD company Wildflower, agrees. “For PMS (and occasional generalised anxiety), I find CBD makes me feel more calm, with fewer headaches and anxious thoughts, a big decrease in mood swings and a general feeling of well-being. It is also a powerful anti-inflammatory so it’s helpful with cramps as well.”
Science backs both women up – while not specifically testing for PMS, there have been studies that show CBD has had positive results with those suffering from depression and anxiety.
What’s more, it can be helpful treating cramps, too, according to Dr Julie Holland, whose background is in psychopharmacology and is the author of The Pot Book , a non-profit project that helps to fund therapeutic cannabis research. “CBD can be immensely useful in treating the irritability and discomfort that comes during the premenstrual phase of our cycles. Because it has strong anti-anxiety properties and is also a muscle relaxer, it can help with the overall tension, both physical and psychic, as well as menstrual cramps that can come later,” she says.
And those irritating hormonal spots? CBD can offer hope: its proven anti-inflammatory properties have been found to calm down breakouts and reduce sebum production.
The science behind CBD
So how does it work? The body has its own endocannabinoid system (ECS) and internal cannabis receptors (the body’s internal cannabinoid system was named after the plant, which led to the discovery in the 1980s). There are cannabinoid receptors throughout the body – from the brain and central nervous system to the gut, connective tissues and nerves – and they work with the endocannabinoid system as a homeostatic regulator, meaning that the body is trying to maintain a state of balance in all its cells. In an indication of how that should actually feel, scientists named one of the key endocannabinoids ‘anandamide’ – sanskrit for bliss.
How does CBD oil fit in to this? Well, interestingly, researchers have found that taking CBD oil promotes the body’s own internal cannabinoids to function more effectively – helping to reduce stress and inflammation within its own cells.
And whilst further research is needed into applications for women’s health specifically (isn’t it always), scientists have found that those who suffer from endometriosis also have low levels of cannabinoid receptors, leading experts to suggest that CBD oil could offer relief from the condition.
Things to look out for
All this comes with a note of caution that as yet the research into CBD is not complete; while there have been lots of anecdotal evidence around the use of CBD for PMS symptoms, and some preliminary research into pain relief, Dr Holland points out there there have not yet been double-blind, placebo-controlled studies into the topic, and it’s important to check with your doctor, qualified nutritionist or herbal medicine practitioner first that CBD is right for you.
And when it comes to choosing brands, Andy Sun from Wildflower (which is currently only available in the US) cautions, “there are many new CBD companies so it’s important to do your research.
“It is always a good sign when the company takes the time to source Non-GMO hemp that is naturally grown, without the use of fertilizers or pesticides. It is also important to seek out CBD products made with full-spectrum (or whole-plant/CBD-rich) extracts. Studies suggest that full-spectrum CBD is much more effective than CBD isolate. Finally, in order to guarantee the quality and consistency of the product, companies that use third-party labs to test their products will be able to ensure that consumers get the purest CBD.”
Where to buy
The US is way ahead of the UK in terms of stockists – “It’s super common in NYC, and is very normal to see listed in ingredients in smoothies,” Karla says. But from the start of the year Holland & Barrett became the first high street store to stock medical cannabis oil in the UK, and a new CBD-dedicated boutique has recently opened in Camden, London, while Moody stocks Nature’s Plus phytocannabinoid .
The final word
The current research, while not explicitly focused on PMS, certainly seems to suggest that if you’re looking for something natural and effective for your PMS-busting toolkit, it’s worth a shot. “It’s an exciting time for CBD oil,” Andy says. “Every day, there are more studies about the potential medical and daily wellness applications for CBD (and cannabis in general), whether to treat particular medical conditions or to help improve your emotional, physical, and mental health. Of course, these new studies are often confirming the anecdotal, lived experiences of many cannabis-smart consumers.