According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, more than half of women who menstruate experience period pain, or dysmenorrhea, one or two days before the menstrual cycle. Pain is caused by excessive levels of prostaglandins—hormones that make the uterus contract—which cause intense cramping and discomfort that can range from mild to debilitating. As we know, there are many remedies out there that can help ease the discomfort, like heating pads and ibuprofen. However, some recent studies have shown that one of the most effective antidotes to PMS is CBD, an active ingredient in cannabis that doesn’t contain any psychoactive component (i.e., it won’t get you high). While it may seem new to many of us now, people have long been using cannabis for period pain.
The practice of mixing the oil extracted from the cannabis plant with other natural essences like almond or coconut oil to relieve cramps is not new to the medical world. Marijuana was used in ancient times as medicine to ease different types of pain, including menstrual spasms and other ailments.
Hemp, mainly, was the golden remedy used by physicians to cure a broad range of gynecological conditions, including menopause and childbirth.
“It is not just something we came up in a lab, there is so much history behind the use of cannabis and hemp in ancient times to treat female problems,” says Dr. Melanie Done, a certified OB-GYN specializing in medical marijuana treatments.
In 2000 B.C., for instance, Persians would mix hemp seeds in beer to help with a series and unspecified female ailments. In 1596, Pen Ts’ao, an ancient Chinese remedies book, recommended cannabis for menstrual pain. Chinese Emperor Fu His once declared that “cannabis was very popular medicine that possesses both yin and yang.”
Canadian author Abel Ernest L. wrote in his book Marihuana; The First Twelve Thousands Years that marijuana (Ma) was used to treat absences of yin such as female weaknesses (menstruation), gout, rheumatism, malaria, beriberi, constipation, and absentmindedness.
According to Women and Cannabis: Medicine Science and Sociology by Ethan Russo, Mary Lynn Mathre, and Melanie Creagan Dreher, the use of weed as period pain relief goes back to ancient Egypt. At that time, women would blend cannabis into honey and introduced the creamy substance into the vagina. It was a natural antidote used to cool the uterus and eliminate its heat to ease cramps.
The royal medicine
In the 19th century, Queen Victoria was prescribed cannabis to help with her menstrual pain. Her private doctor and marijuana procurer was Sir Russell Reynolds, who, in 1890 wrote in the Lancet Journal, one of the world’s oldest and most well-established medical journals, that, “when pure and administered carefully, cannabis is one of the most valuable medicines we possess.”
At the time, cannabis was most commonly administered via tincture. Following 30 years of experimentation with plants, the Queen’s physician felt almost convinced of its effectiveness. In the same medical journal, Reynolds describes the plant as being of excellent service in cases of simple spasmodic dysmenorrhea, or painful contractions of the uterus.
Reynolds didn’t discover the healing power of cannabis by himself. His research was influenced by the studies of Dr. William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, an Irish physician famous for his work in pharmacology and chemistry. He was a member of the Medical and Physical Society, where he published one of his first papers on the medical application of marijuana. He conducted the first clinical trials of marijuana, treating rheumatism, hydrophobia, cholera, tetanus, and convulsion. In 1841 he returned to England, where he introduced the cannabis indica to Western medicine.
Now, inspired by these ancient remedies, some modern companies are giving these old marijuana medical uses an update.
More and more women are reporting that CBD and THC products are the best tools they have for treating menstrual cramps. And science is backing that up. Dr. John Thiel, the Provincial Head of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Saskatchewan in Regina, Canada, recently conducted a study of 134 patients with chronic pelvic pain who used medicinal cannabis and 60 percent reported a positive effect.
Why is cannabis so effective? The answer is encrypted within us. Our body carries the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), which is a biological system full of cannabinoid receptors that live inside the brain, organs, connective tissue, glands, and immune cells. When we use cannabis, the cannabinoids of the plant bind with the receptors in the body and help to promote homeostasis.
Modern Companies, Ancient Healing Properties
Taking advantage of this chemical process, Foria, a California-based company specializing in cannabis and hemp products, released Foria Relief, vaginal suppositories made from organic cocoa butter, CBD, and CO2-distilled THC oil. The product was formulated for relieving menstrual pain and discomfort as it relaxes vaginal muscles.
“The THC, the psychoactive component of the plant, offers a lot of pain management for many different things, including cramps. On the other hand, the CBD, the non-psychoactive part, is an excellent anti-inflammatory. When they combined together they get to the pain more than any other remedies. They, simultaneously, interact with the pain and the inflammation receptors, and they also ease the anxiety as well as the psychological turmoil related to the menstrual period,” says Dr. Done.
Humboldt Apothecary’s Sweet Jane tincture collection can also be beneficial for women who suffer from cramping, as it supports relief of pain, mild inflammation, and muscle spasms. The ideal dosage is one drop (1ml), that can be consumed with healthy fatty foods, like nuts, yogurt, or avocado, to minimize a delayed onset of desired effects.
“When talking about cannabis and its dosage, there are many approaches you can take. I usually tell women that if I don’t know what their endocannabinoid system needs to help ease the cramps, it is better to start low and then little by little increase the dose. One of my favorite way is to apply the suppositories because they go right at the target which is the pelvic space and they are absorbed by the vaginal mucus. It has a great positive impact on the pain,” suggested Dr. Done.
The notable medical marijuana brand Whoopi and Maya, launched by the actress Whoopi Goldberg and Maya Elisabeth, a force in the cannabis field, designed Rub, a body balm that has been specially formulated for menstrual relief. It is a blend of healing herbs and beneficial health ingredients, like olive oil, avocado seed oil and beeswax. Rub contains a beeswax base and blends of skin-nourishing oils, and it is free from chemicals and harmful components.
To be effective, all the ingredients must be absorbed through the skin, enter the blood-stream and circulate to the uterus where the cramps are produced. One of the best ways to use this product is to massage it directly on the lower part of the belly, where it has a fairly immediate effect on the pain.
If your skin is too sensitive or you’re worried about an allergic reaction, you can always opt for a hot beverage.
The California-based Kikoko teas are compared to any edible cannabis, but instead of eating it, you can sip it. A bag of Sympa-tea is a blend of 3mg THC and 20mg CBD, and it is combined with a series of spices like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, anise, and more. Drinking it gives you a general sense of wellbeing, and it eases menstrual cramps.
Cannabis for Your Healing Journey
Each body is different and has a different response to the combination of CBD and THC. Some women prefer topical balm as it is less invasive than suppositories, while others are looking for immediate relief. Sipping the tea could also be taken as a moment of reflection, contemplation and time off from the outside world. A moment of solitude that is usually needed during these days of the month.
All of these natural remedies can be part of a healing journey as they are tools for taking care of ourselves. When our body is ready to release toxins and negative emotions through the menstrual period, it is important to allow our physical, emotional, and mental systems to work in harmony and embrace the change that it happens each month with more awareness and loving-kindness. And cannabis has proven to be one of the best ways to support us in this journey.