With 80% of women experiencing menstrual pain at some point in their lives, it's no surprise that a number of cannabis companies have been selling products claiming to alleviate period pain and other menstrual issues like PMS. But of course, just because the label on a product says it helps with a particular malady doesn't mean it truly does.
Cannabis can relieve menstrual pain, said Jordan Tishler, MD, CEO of the medical cannabis clinic InhaleMD and Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. However, it's THC, not CBD, that has a proven effect on pain, and the majority of the menstrual cannabis products on the market only contain CBD.
“Cannabis can be used to dull pain perception by interacting with the cannabinoid receptors that are present throughout our pain pathways,” Tishler explained. Some animal studies suggest a potential benefit of CBD for pain relief as well, while other research shows it may reduce inflammation. Period pain results from an increase in inflammatory hormones called prostaglandins, so cannabis — whether with THC or not — may help with menstrual pain by decreasing inflammation, said Felice Gersh, MD, founder and director of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine.
“Cannabis contains a very complex collection of plant-based chemicals that bind to our endogenous receptors that deal with pain perception, as well as reducing the initiation of inflammation by binding with endocannabinoid receptors on immune cells,” shared Gersh.
To get more specific, we asked Tishler and Gersh to evaluate seven cannabis-based period products on the market. Here's what they had to say.
The brand Red Moon recently launched a line of menstrual pads, each infused with 10 milligrams of CBD — a concept doctors are skeptical of.
“Considering that menstrual blood would be saturating the pads, that would seem a negative to its ability to deliver any efficacious amount of CBD to the pelvic organs,” said Gersh. “This does not seem a practical delivery system for hemp-based cannabis as a therapy for menstrual cramps.”
The cannabis company FORIA makes suppositories containing 100 milligrams of CBD for menstrual cramp relief, which is not certain to work because cannabinoids are not well-absorbed through the vagina, said Tishler.
However, Gersh believes it's possible that these could, to an extent, concentrate the CBD in the pelvic area. Again, that's assuming that CBD would help with pain to begin with.
Some online publications advocate the use of CBD oil and other tinctures for menstrual pain — and tinctures containing THC might work, said Tishler. However, he found dosing to be less precise with liquids and recommends ingesting them, not putting them under the tongue, as is often recommended. “Most tinctures, which are oil-based, are not actually absorbed sublingually,” he shared. “They are absolutely ineffective until swallowed.”
Gersh also cautioned against using tinctures with lots of other ingredients, as these may not contain enough cannabis, and other herbs could even work against it.
Odisea offers a “CBD Period Patch” that claims to relieve menstrual pain with a combination of 40 milligrams of CBD and the heating agent bentonite. It's difficult to say whether this could be effective, as there's little known about how transdermally delivered CBD affects period pain, though one study found it helped with inflammation and signs of pain in rats with arthritis, or how bentonite might affect the delivery of CBD, said Gersh.
Sheabrand offers a menstrual pain roller with menthol, arnica oil, and other essential oils, which haven't been tested in combination, Gersh pointed out. Tishler is wary of topicals in general, as they don't provide a great delivery method. “Topical application will not provide transdermal absorption without some pharmaceutical-level tricks that dispensary products don't have,” he said.
Phasey's period chocolate made with hemp extract may fulfill your menstrual chocolate cravings, if nothing else. “This is candy, so fine if having a sweet snack and getting some CBD as well is the goal,” said Gersh. When it comes to delivery, edibles have a relatively powerful effect, she added. Still, it would be better to find an edible that contains some THC for the full pain-relieving effect.
Terra Vita's Balance CBD Capsules claim to relieve PMS symptoms such as acne, cramps, and irritability using 30 milligrams of CBD, chasteberry, magnesium, and calcium. To the extent that the CBD would in fact help with these issues, it's unclear how it would interact with the other ingredients, said Gersh. In fact, there isn't sufficient evidence to support the use of any supplements in people without a proven deficiency, Tishler added.
As for the notion that cannabis could help with PMS, that's also more true for THC than CBD. However, CBD may help reduce anxiety, so if this is a symptom you experience premenstrually, it may help for that one symptom.
If you're looking to alleviate period pain or PMS using cannabis, it's better to talk to a doctor than go with the latest product being marketed to you. What Tishler recommends most often for patients with menstrual pain are oral cannabinoids, which usually come in capsules or liquid solutions.
In short, do your research and don't trust everything you read. Then again, if something that's not scientifically proven works for you, it's possible that it is doing something, as a lot of the research is still inconclusive.
Featured image by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps