A normal and inevitable part of aging, menopause is a transitional period when menstruation ceases. Menopause can cause a wide range of symptoms, many of which vary from one woman to the next. Most often occurring between the ages of 45 and 55, this transition typically lasts around seven years.
During menopause, estrogen levels significantly drop, causing numerous symptoms. However, research is beginning to suggest that cannabis and the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS) may be able to help counteract some of these effects without the possible dangers of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Notably, combination HRT and estrogen-only therapy have shown to increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, according to Breastcancer.org. Even short-term combination HRT may increase the risk of breast cancer at an alarming rate of 75 percent.
Cannabidiol (CBD) and THC have become key areas of interest, offering potential low-risk treatment options for menopause symptoms. Women of all ages have experienced CBD-related relief in relation to other female-specific hormone-related conditions and symptoms, including premenstrual syndrome (PMS), as reported in an article published in 2017 in the journal Addiction Research & Theory.
While studies on CBD and menopause are limited, there is evidence that high-quality CBD products may help combat associated symptoms. This is particularly true when CBD is combined with other treatment options.
According to a literature review published in 2019 in the Journal of Ovarian Research, the ECS impacts female reproductive tissues and processes, playing a vital role in temperature regulation, sleep, pain, mood, memory, and immune function.
Several studies have reported the positive effects of CBD and CBD-rich cannabis oil on mood changes, joint pain, and sleep problems, all commonly associated with hormonal changes during menopause. Though the studies didn't look specifically at menopause, the results indicate that CBD could provide relief for these symptoms regardless of their cause.
In addition, numerous studies have identified the potential impact of CBD on mood, including its inherent anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that cannabis significantly reduced perceptions of depression, anxiety, and stress in both women and men. Researchers also reported that women experienced greater reductions in anxiety compared to men and that low-THC/high-CBD strains were best for reducing symptoms of depression.
Aches and joint pain frequently occur post-menopause, as reduced estrogen levels tend to produce higher levels of inflammation. Luckily, CBD has been shown to offer relief from pain and inflammation, as reported in a 2015 literature review published in the journal Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry
In addition, a 2016 study published in the European Journal of Pain examined the efficiency of transdermal CBD for pain and inflammation in rats. Researchers found that topical CBD can help reduce swelling as well as other signs of inflammation. The study concluded that CBD provides potential therapeutic relief when aiming to treat arthritis pain, as well as inflammation, without any apparent side effects.
Sleep disturbances are also an area of concern among menopausal and postmenopausal women, with 61% reporting insomnia symptoms. In a 2019 study published in the Permanente Journal, researchers were interested in whether CBD would improve sleep and anxiety among a clinical population. After providing CBD treatment to 72 adults, the researchers found that anxiety scores decreased in 79% of patients within the first month and sleep scores improved in 67% of patients within the first month.
Dr. Melanie Bone, a board-certified OB-GYN and cannabis specialist, shared the stories of two of her patients who are going through menopause and using CBD as a treatment option. Names have been redacted in accordance with patient privacy laws.
J.A. is a 52-year-old woman who has had one period in the last six months. She has trouble sleeping because she is awakened with hot flashes and sweats. This makes her tired during the day and she feels depressed because she can't get a good night's sleep. J.A.'s sister had breast cancer at age 54 and she is worried about being diagnosed herself. She is scared to use hormones due to the history of breast cancer in her family.
Dr. Bone said, “The patient wanted a consult because she is having so much trouble concentrating at work that she is afraid she will lose her job. After I explained to her that she could opt to try hormones, she decided to try cannabinoids first, with hormones as a fallback. Currently, she is doing exceedingly well with excellent management of most of her complaints. Just a few daytime hot flashes remain as a reminder of her menopause.”
C.T. is a postmenopausal patient who uses both cannabis and bioidentical hormones. She told Weedmaps, “I was using bioidentical hormones to help with hot flashes, mood changes, and dryness. After discussing my situation with Dr. Bone, we agreed that I might benefit from the addition of cannabis.
“Now that I have been using both, I feel great. I have no more symptoms of menopause and my husband is delighted to have me back to my old self.”
It is important to note that these are individual testimonials and results will vary among patients. Be sure to consult with your physician before beginning a CBD regimen to address the symptoms of menopause.
What the experts say
Researchers are only just beginning to understand how the ECS works in relation to menopause and other health-related conditions. However, for those looking for an alternative therapy option, CBD may show great promise, according to some physicians.
“There are more issues at stake in menopause: sexual dysfunction, dryness, urinary complaints, and weight changes,” Dr. Bone said. “While some of these complaints are best managed with hormones, in women who have contraindications to using estrogen, such as a history of breast cancer, there is a definite role for cannabinoids to help as well.”
Bone continued, “There is a wealth of history and tradition pointing to the efficacy of cannabis for a variety of women's conditions, from menstrual cramps to postpartum hemorrhage. The THC of cannabis helps with aches and pains associated with arthritis that sets in with menopause. It also helps with some of the mood swings that can herald the onset of menopause. CBD is important to manage anxiety that is almost universal during menopause. The combination of CBD and THC is essential to help with sleep problems, which are all too common in menopausal women. The ratio that works depends on which complaints are most prominent, but I find that a 1:1 is the sweet spot for a lot of women. In addition, local cannabinoids can be added for vulvovaginal-vaginal complaints and painful sex.”
Dr. Adie Rae, a neuroscientist and scientific adviser to Weedmaps, added, “Although cannabis does not address vaginal dryness, it has been shown to increase libido, decrease pain, and enhance orgasm.”
In fact, certain cannabis strains and products have been designed with women's sexual pleasure in mind. CBD topicals like Night Moves, Happy Clam Oil, and Smooth Operator are all touted to enhance women's sexual wellness.
CBD oil and CBD-rich cannabis oil may combat some of the most problematic symptoms associated with menopause, including sleep disturbances, mood changes, and aches. Anecdotal evidence and animal model studies suggest that combined cannabinoids, rather than the more readily available CBD isolate, may be better at alleviating some of the more severe symptoms associated with menopause. When high-quality CBD oil is combined with positive lifestyle changes, there may be a greater synergistic effect, though further research is necessary.