After surveying 1,011 women across the United States, researchers found that two-thirds of respondents said they use cannabis products, while more than one-third of those claimed to have used it to treat gynecological issues.
The survey, conducted by the Oregon Health and Science University (OSHU) in Portland, also showcased that 63% of the respondents who had never used cannabis said they would also consider using it for a gynecologic condition.
The study, “Patterns of and Attitudes Towards Cannabis Use in Women's Health,” published in Obstetrics and Gynecology by Wolters Kluwer on May 5, 2019, could provide profound insights into how cannabis could help treat a variety of conditions specifically experienced by women.
“Cannabis products are currently being used by women both recreationally and medically. Most women would consider using cannabis to treat gynecologic conditions,” the study concluded.
This did not surprise cannabis physician Dr. Bonni Goldstein, Medical Director of Canna-Centers, a medical marijuana evaluation service in Lawndale, California, and a medical adviser to Weedmaps.
“I would expect this as I have evaluated over 15,000 patients in my 11 years as a cannabis specialist and have seen a fair number of women using cannabis for gynecologic conditions such as pelvic pain, endometriosis and dyspareunia (painful intercourse),” she told Weedmaps News via email.
“It was exactly 14 years ago when I blacked out at my son's baseball game then soon learned that I had stage 3B cervical cancer,” said Gayhart, formerly a home health care worker. “The doctors wanted to do a full hysterectomy and I said, 'that's not going to happen.' ”
At first, doctors gave Gayhart a 35% chance of surviving her bout with cervical cancer, prompting her to prepare for the end of her life.
“While undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, I started writing my thoughts and feelings in a journal to leave for my son,” she explained. “I assumed I was going to die.”
The radiation treatment wreaked havoc on Gayhart's thyroid and bones, provoking fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder that causes widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue. Chemotherapy, on the other hand, had a devastating effect on her appetite, sleep patterns, and overall ability to focus.
“My great aunt was quick to remind me how to heal myself so I started to medicate. After the first joint, I closed the diary to my son and never looked back,” Gayhart said. “Cannabis helped me with just about all my symptoms including my spirit and attitude. I can honestly say that it saved my life.”
Ashley Kowalski, 25, who lives in Dayton, Ohio, had a similar experience to Gayhart.
While pregnant with her son, who is now 4 years old, Kowalski developed hyperemesis gravidarum, a rare disorder that affects fewer than 194,000 American women per year. This condition produces debilitating side effects including severe nausea, vomiting, and weight loss. “Way worse and more dangerous than normal morning sickness.”
She was also diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that causes numerous complications, such as high blood pressure, liver damage, sleep apnea, depression, uterine cancer, and endometriosis.
Neither of the two conditions are easy to treat safely.
But Kowalski had some experience with medical cannabis. In 2012, she became a caregiver to her husband, a U.S. Air Force veteran of the Iraq war, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Sick most of the time, Kowalski was scared she'd lose her baby, yet could not take her doctors' advice on what to do. While they suggested taking hormones, she couldn't due to bipolar disorder, as well as having a heart condition and genetic predisposition to breast and cervical cancer.
“Both of those conditions threatened my pregnancy, which I would never have gotten through if it were not for cannabis,” Kowalski said. “I just couldn't take all the medications the doctors wanted to give me.”
Kowalski expressed an audible sigh before she continued.
“Now, I've got endometriosis, which is chronic and painful. I use cannabis patches, oil, and make edibles to treat it. I can't smoke, of course.”
Kowalski is not alone in choosing cannabis to treat endometriosis.
What Additional Research Tells Us
Endometreosis is a common health problem for women. Researchers say that at least 11% of women, or more than 6.5 million in the United States, suffer from endometriosis. This is a painful condition in which the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus grows elsewhere in the body, causing severe pelvic pain, scar tissue, and infertility in up to 30% of women. Worldwide endometriosis affects about 176 million women during their reproductive years, an estimated 1 in 10 women.
A cross-sectional online survey undertaken in Australia among 484 women with endometriosis found that those who used cannabis reported the highest self-rated effectiveness in pain reduction and avoidance of flare-ups. The study was published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in January 2019.
Despite these findings in support of medical cannabis, the most commonly suggested remedy to self-manage endometriosis pain is over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen, aspirin. and naproxen. Goldstein has called this practice “ridiculous” considering the adverse effects associated with NSAIDS and the fact that endometriosis is a chronic condition.
“There is no question that the majority of patients find benefits with the use of cannabinoids — both CBD [cannabidiol] and/or THC — mainly effective as pain relief and safer than pharmaceuticals for endometriosis,” Goldstein said. “Using dangerous drugs instead of a healing, non-toxic plant is simply ridiculous.”
The study is calling on pregnant participants to examine the effects of “prenatal marijuana use on infant development” and whether cannabis consumption to alleviate morning sickness is safe for the baby.