The USA’s government website on women’s health describes menopause as “Menopause is when your period stops permanently. Menopause is a normal part of a woman’s life. It is sometimes called “the change of life.” Menopause does not happen all at once. As your body transitions to menopause over several years, you may have menopause symptoms and irregular periods. The average age for menopause in the United States is 52.” Accompanying this description is a beautiful silver haired woman smiling slyly like she is hiding a secret. I will let you in on that secret… menopause is bull$h!t. Just like the irritating maxi-pad commercials experienced during puberty, going through menopause is not akin to riding a horse on the beach wearing white pants. What many women do not know, is that before menopause, there will be a transition period called perimenopause.
WebMD defines Perimenopause, “Perimenopause, or menopause transition, begins several years before menopause. It’s the time when the ovaries gradually begin to make less estrogen. It usually starts in a woman’s 40s, but can start in her 30s or even earlier. Perimenopause lasts up until menopause, the point when the ovaries stop releasing eggs. In the last 1 to 2 years of perimenopause, this drop in estrogen speeds up. At this stage, many women have menopause symptoms.” Thankfully, this description is not accompanied by an asinine photo of a silver-haired model smiling slyly at the camera.
Perimenopause and menopause is not simply just the cessation of your menstrual cycle (that is a side effect many women celebrate!). There are a vast multitude of symptoms that women can experience during this time. The most common side effects are hot flashes/night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood changes, sexual dysfunction (including loss of libido), memory and concentration changes, headaches, and joint and muscle complaints. Around 80% of women will experience symptoms, lasting an average of four years. So when you see the beautiful mature woman grinning with a secret, here is… this will not be fun.
Many women never consider perimenopause (or the symptoms) until they are in the throes of menopause. The lack of education around this taboo topic—including continuing to call menopause “the change of life”—leads many women (and medical doctors) to misdiagnose the symptoms of perimenopause. Not calling something by its real name (menopause or perimenopause) continues to perpetuate the taboo and prevent a proactive approach to symptoms.
Our current medical system is underprepared to help many women with perimenopause or menopause. Mothers and grandmothers of generations past remained silent about their bodies and unknowingly perpetuated the taboo that is a woman’s body and proactive women’s health. But, women across generations are now standing up and saying “the change” needs our medical attention. The “suck it up, buttercup” diagnosis in response to complaints about female health and discomfort is not going to fly any longer. So many women, like the mothers and grandmothers of previous generations, are relying on traditional herbal medicines, including cannabis, to provide relief for the symptoms of normal, regular female health.
Cannabis for Menopause & Menopause-Related Symptoms
What are the top three reasons women seek cannabis for relief? Menstruation Issues, Menopause, and Sex. This is a list of research (with links to the originally published data) that shown a key component of cannabis, Cannabidiol (CBD) which has been shown to help with medical issues such as:
Does this list sound familiar? That’s because these are the exact symptoms of menopause.
Let’s take a look at the root cause of menopause. The culprit? Estrogen.
Estrogen plays a crucial role in structural characteristics of the human body; metabolism, fat stores, uterine growth, vaginal lubrication, bone formation, protein synthesis, blood clotting, water retention, bowel motility, lung function, ovulation and sexual libido. To understand how estrogen is involved in these body functions, it can be helpful to think of estrogen as a “pulse system.” Each month, the body gradually increases estrogen production, signaling the release of a mature egg and thickening the uterine lining for implantation. Eventually, menstruation stops and the monthly bursts of estrogen taper off… entering menopause. Easy peasy, right? Menopause is not an ON/OFF switch, and stopping estrogen production does not just stop menstruation. A few years before menstruation stops altogether, you will experience perimenopause. Your body’s estrogen levels will fluctuate up and down in an attempt to overcompensate for the loss of regular pulsating bursts of estrogen. These mechanisms are not just the result of a loss of estrogen, but are instead a cascade of molecular signals turns the body from a smooth race track into bumper cars at the state fair.
So, how can cannabis help with menopause and perimenopause?
Cannabis for Joint & Muscle Pain
During menopause, you may notice that your body hurts more than it used to. It is easy to just chalk it up to “old age,” but in reality this is directly connected to estrogen loss. Stopping production of estrogen, the body produces an inflammatory response. Specifically, an increase of a protein called tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα). TNFα is a cellular signaling molecule involved in inflammation. The primary role of TNFα is to regulate your immune system, but an increase in TNFα can lead to painful inflammation and the aches and pains of muscles and joints. So it isn’t just getting older—your aching back is directly connected to hormone regulation. Cannabidiol (CBD) has been scientifically shown to reduce inflammation and lower the level of TNFα.
Cannabis for Mood Changes: Anxiety & Depression
Anxiety and depression affect a large portion of the USA. Almost 20% of adults have an anxiety disorder, with a higher prevalence among females. A common symptom of menopause that many women experience is anxiety or depression. This may be one of the first signs of entering perimenopause. Estrogen has been shown to regulate the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in the brain. This is a big area for the pharmaceutical industry, from selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac, or benzodiazepines like Xanax (tranquilizers). These pharmaceutical options can be effective, but not always ideal, requiring constant dosage adjustments, or producing intolerable side effects. CBD, a non-psychoactive component of cannabis, can be an alternative option for dealing with anxiety and depression.
Medications like Prozac (SSRI) work by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin, thereby increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain, reducing anxiety symptoms and elevating mood. CBD’s effects on anxiety and depression is regulated through the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor. In 2016, an animal trial of CBD was able to show that CBD enhances 5-HT1A signaling and can affect serotonin levels faster than prescription SSRIs. Targeting 5-HT1A is thought to play such a significant role in anxiety disorders, that there is a prescription medication (Buspirone) that binds to 5-HT1A. This helps validate the use of CBD as an option for anxiety.
Anxiety and stress do not fall under a simple “one-size fits all” diagnosis. There are constant sources of stress from daily life, especially from a woman’s perspective. There are work and home life stressors and the added biological stress from the natural hormone cycle. A hormone cycle that is thrown out of balance during menopause. More and more medical doctors are recommending a combination of traditional approaches (psychotherapy and pharmaceuticals) with holistic approaches (yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and herbal supplements, such as cannabis). All of this is to say that cannabis can be another option to help with the anxiety or depression of daily living.
Cannabis for Hot Flashes & Night Sweats
The most well-known symptom of menopause is hot flashes. A hot flash is not an “I’m hot, open a window” kind of symptom. Experiencing one can make your skin crawl, heart race, and drip sweat, disrupting your daily life and sleeping patterns. Hot flashes are shown as humorous commentary in TV and movies for older women, but they are no joke. Women can experience hot flashes and night sweats so severe that they will need to change their pajamas and bed sheets multiple times a night. Hot flashes or “night sweats” are a type of vasomotor symptom associated with the hypothalamus area of the brain. The hypothalamus is the body’s internal thermostat. It controls blood vessel dilation and sweat response. Women in menopause trigger the hypothalamus when body temperature is changed by 1.5 degrees. Women not experiencing menopause will trigger a hypothalamus response when they experience a body temperature change of 3 degrees. So, during perimenopause or menopause women can be particularly sensitive to temperature changes (hot or cold). So, how can cannabis help? The endocannabinoid Anandamide is known as the “bliss” molecule. Anandamide plays a role in pain, depression, appetite and memory. Anandamide also plays another role in body chemistry: temperature control. Cannabis studies show that consuming THC can lower body temperature. Many doctors will prescribe SSRIs or antidepressants for women experiencing severe hot flashes. Considering the anti-anxiety effect CBD on 5-HT1A, in conjunction with the lowering of body temperature by THC, this explains why many women report tremendous relief using THC and CBD to reduce hot flashes experienced during menopause.
Cannabis for Sexual Health
Sex is a taboo topic. Menopause can make the topic of sexual health even more complicated. Many women do not think about sexual health as taking their vagina to the gym for cardio or strength training. But regular sexual activity helps to keep the vagina healthy and promote an active sex life. But, if menopause is known for a drop in libido, how can cannabis help promote an active sex life? Once again, the major component to sexual health is estrogen. Estrogen does not just promote ovulation, it dilates blood vessels to increase blood flow to the vagina to deliver oxygen and other nutrients necessary for healthy cellular function. Estrogen is also the molecule that promotes an increase in libido, maintain proper pH balance, and protect from urinary tract infections. Without estrogen, sexual intimacy may come to a screeching halt. To compound the loss of libido, the loss of estrogen in the vagina begins to trigger the growth of pain receptors and proliferate nerve cells that make can make intercourse very uncomfortable. This leads to a vicious cycle—if sex is painful, you do not engage in sexual activity, which leads to further degradation of the vaginal tissue. So it is important to find ways to keep blood flowing to the vaginal area. The first thing a medical doctor will tell you; lubricants! Not just for sexual activity, but applied multiple times a week to help keep the vagina moist and allow for sexual activity. Just like a daily facial moisturizer, topical vaginal creams keep the skin from drying and becoming irritated. But it’s not just about moisturizing, regular sexual activity is also important. Just like the penis, sexual activity triggers the swelling of vaginal tissue with blood, delivering fresh oxygen and nutrients to cells and increasing elasticity and natural lubrication. For women who are suffering from painful vaginal dryness, there are cannabis-infused lubricants that contain both THC and CBD to help with the pain and inflammation experienced with sex both during or after menopause. Cannabis lubricants bind directly to the endocannabinoid receptors in the vagina and vulva, completely skipping the brain, so there are no intoxicating effects, just ease and enjoyment!
Cannabis for Self Care During Menopause
Taking a proactive approach to your body and health is very important during menopause. Observe how your body is changing, and seek help from friends, family and medical professionals. With the legalization of cannabis in California, this list now includes your neighborhood cannabis consultant. Talk to a consultant in a legal cannabis dispensary about the new changes in your body. They will be happy to show you the multitude of cannabis products designed specifically for an individual going through menopause. You are welcome at Torrey Holistics, and if it would help you feel more at ease, ask to speak to a female consultant. At Torrey Holistics, we want you to feel welcome and free to get the education you need in order to feel comfortable about your cannabis journey. If you are shy, you can book an appointment with Dr. Beth, a private cannabis consultant and cannabis science specialist who can help guide you through the amazing cannabis products now available in California.