More women are using cannabis to seek relief from menopause and perimenopause symptoms, research suggests.
For instance, a 2020 study shows that about 1 in 4 female veterans use cannabis to treat menopause symptoms.
And now, new research, recently published in the journal Menopause, suggests that the number of both menopausal and perimenopausal women using medical cannabis for symptom relief could be much higher.
“This study suggests that medical cannabis use may be common in midlife women experiencing menopause-related symptoms,” said Dr. Stephanie Faubion, medical director of the North American Menopause Society, in a press release.
Still, experts caution that the effects of cannabis on menopause symptoms like anxiety, depression, sleep, and pain have not yet been fully established.
“Healthcare professionals should query their patients about the use of medical cannabis for menopause symptoms and provide evidence-based recommendations for symptom management,” Faubion added.
More women using cannabis for menopause relief
The new study involved more than 250 perimenopausal and postmenopausal women who were recruited through targeted ads about women’s health and cannabis use.
Over 83% of study participants said they regularly used cannabis to treat menopause-related symptoms, which was defined by researchers as at least once per month.
The study shows that cannabis was most commonly used to ameliorate sleep and mood or anxiety issues. The majority of participants (84%) said they smoked cannabis for symptom relief, with 78% of participants reporting the use of edibles.
Despite the seemingly positive findings, the study has a built-in bias since participants were recruited because of their interest in cannabis.
“There’s no value in terms of its numbers or validity,” Dr. Felice Gersh, an OB-GYN and founder of the Integrative Medical Group in Irvine, California, told Healthline.
“But it does bring up the important subject about the suffering that women go through in menopause with no assistance from the medical establishment.”
Cannabis use among menopausal women may be overestimated
Gersh said that very few of her patients report using cannabis to treat menopause symptoms.
“I call cannabis ‘green medicine,’” Gersh said. “This is a potential tool, but we have no data on efficacy or safety. It really is a medication that should be talked about with a physician, and patients should realize that there are more tested options, like hormone therapy.”
According to Gersh, the new research has possibly overestimated the use of cannabis.
Still, a prior 2020 study suggests that 1 in 4 female veterans used cannabis to treat menopause. In fact, the researchers found that more women were using cannabis to treat menopause symptoms than were using hormone therapy or other traditional types of menopause symptom management.
“This is disturbing because hormone therapy is the most effective therapy we have for menopause symptoms, and the benefits typically outweigh the risks for women in their 50s and within 10 years of menopause,” Faubion told Healthline. “Cannabis, on the other hand, is not a proven therapy for menopause.”
How cannabis may relieve menopause symptoms
Dr. Aaron Gelfand, an OB-GYN at ChoicePoint, an addiction treatment center in New Jersey, explained that numerous physiological systems are thought to be influenced by the endocannabinoid system, which is activated by plant-based cannabinoids like CBD and THC. These systems include:
- pain perception
- body temperature
- immunological response
According to Gelfand, cannabis is also used to help treat anxiety and depression, sleep, and even vaginal dryness among menopausal women.
“The amygdala is responsible for emotions, behavior, and motivation,” Gelfand told Healthline. “During menopause, all of these are heightened. Upon taking cannabis in any form, the response is suppressed, causing less anxiety and depression.”
Still, Gelfand said using cannabis to aid sleep may have mixed results in people experiencing menopause.
“While THC usually has a sedative effect, it can also have a stimulating impact on certain users, particularly those who are new to [cannabis] use or who are taking greater amounts,” he explained. “In these circumstances, smoking [cannabis] before bed may make it harder to fall asleep.”
Conversely, Gelfand said that at smaller doses, CBD seems to encourage alertness. At greater concentrations, however, CBD may induce sleepiness.
As for treating vaginal dryness, Gelfand pointed out that “the use of CBD-containing products in the vaginal or vulvar tissues has not been supported by any well-controlled clinical research.”
CBD as an alternative to cannabis
If Gersh were to recommend cannabis for menopause symptom relief, she said she prefers hemp-based products like CBD over products containing THC, the main psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis.
CBD and other cannabinoids like THC bind with receptors in the brain that are associated with memory, cognitive function, and pain.
“Women who are going through menopause often find relief from common symptoms of menopause for exactly that reason,” Mitchell H. Stern, president and CEO of California-based cannabis producer Burning Bush Nurseries told Healthline.
“Some CBD brands have begun to cater to the unique needs of this emerging market by infusing their products with things like hibiscus, sage, and other natural herbs that have been helping menopausal women find relief for thousands of years,” he added.
Further research is still needed
Experts have cautioned that the purported benefits of using cannabis to treat menopausal symptoms require further study.
“While there has not been adequate research into the use of cannabis for menopausal symptoms, I would be reluctant to advise the use of cannabis with THC for this purpose,” Dr. David Culpepper, clinical director of Telehealth company LifeMD, told Healthline.
“In my experience, most of the anti-inflammatory and other health benefits patients receive from cannabis products come not from THC, but from CBD, which is a benign, non-psychoactive compound. It’s possible that women using cannabis for menopause are reaping the benefits of the CBD, while unnecessarily intoxicating themselves with THC.”
As with other experts, Culpepper recommended that people experiencing menopause try CBD to help relieve their symptoms instead of cannabis products containing THC.
The proliferation of medical cannabis in the United States has contributed to an increasing number of menopausal and perimenopausal women using the drug to treat their associated symptoms.
But some experts say these numbers may be overestimated, and caution that research on safety and effectiveness is still limited.
Until more rigorous research is conducted, experts recommend hormone therapy as a first-line treatment or may suggest trying CBD products as an alternative.
If you are experiencing symptoms associated with menopause or perimenopause, ask your doctor about the safest treatment options available to help you find relief.