Is cannabis being used by women to relieve symptoms associated with menopause?
A Harvard study found that women are turning to cannabis to relieve menopause symptoms 202210242837 (Health.Harvard.edu).
Cannabis and CBD use among women in midlife are examined in a survey.
The symptoms of perimenopause and menopause include hot flashes, insomnia, and mood changes. A recent survey suggests that nearly 80% of women in their midlife use marijuana to treat symptoms such as mood disorders and sleep problems.
Over the past few years, a growing number of US states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. Some quarters are skeptical about FDA-approved menopause treatments, including hormone therapy, amid this wave of acceptance. Even though one Harvard expert acknowledges that cannabis may be effective for certain menopause symptoms, a lack of long-term research data has led him to question its safety.
Dr. Heather Hirsch, head of the Menopause and Midlife Clinic at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says more and more patients are using cannabis or CBD (cannabidiol, an active ingredient in marijuana) for anxiety or sleep. As an added bonus, cannabis is now legal in so many places and works for a few hours without needing a doctor’s prescription. Socially, it may be easier to justify than using a drug. Why is it more common to say okay to things with uncertain long-term effects than to things that have been tested and proven safe?” she asks.
An analysis of survey results on marijuana users, why they use it, and how they use it
Researchers at Harvard examined cannabis use patterns in 131 women in perimenopause and in 127 women who had gone through menopause in their new study published in Menopause. An online recruitment platform and social media postings were used to recruit participants. Based on income reporting, almost all survey respondents were white and middle-class.
In the majority of cases, cannabis was being used by current users (86%) at the time. Participants divided into groups based on whether they used cannabis medically, recreationally, or both. It was endorsed by nearly 79% of women as a way to alleviate symptoms associated with menopause. A total of 67% of those surveyed reported cannabis helps with sleep disturbances, while 46% reported it helps with mood and anxiety issues.
In addition to reporting worse menopausal symptoms, perimenopausal women reported using cannabis more frequently to cope with their symptoms. Approximately 84% of participants smoked cannabis, 78% consumed marijuana edibles, and nearly 53% vaped.
The analysis has one glaring limitation: the self-selected group of participants might skew results due to its lack of diversity. Despite the high proportion reporting regular cannabis use, Dr. Hirsch was not surprised. According to her, “I wouldn’t be surprised if those numbers reflect the broader population.”.
What effects might cannabis have on menopause symptoms?
Dr. Hirsch says women in their midlife reported improved mood, anxiety, and sleep after using cannabis. As a result of “dimming the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that makes decisions,” the drug likely helps all of these symptoms.
She notes that anxiety spikes during perimenopause for many women. Dipping hormones are exacerbated by common stressors, such as aging parents or an empty nest. Basically, it’s that feeling of being unable to turn your brain off. It’s really disturbing since it makes them more tired, moody, and cranky the next day.” she explains. People can calm down if their prefrontal cortex is dimmed.
Cannabis use did not significantly reduce hot flashes, one of the most common menopause symptoms, according to survey respondents. Dr. Hirsch explains that the drug doesn’t significantly affect the hypothalamus, the body’s thermostat.
There has been no research on the long-term effects of this substance
Research on cannabis’ ability to manage menopause symptoms is lacking due to a lack of objective studies.
“If cannabis is helping people, great. But is it safe? We think so, but we don’t know,” she says. “We don’t know what long-term effects cannabis use on memory or lung function will have on middle-aged women.