Being a female isn’t always pretty. The biological ins and outs of having a uterus can be overwhelming, especially when it’s that time of the month and premenstrual syndrome, better known as PMS, rears its ugly head. The monthly cramps, bloating, headaches, muscle pain, fatigue and irritability that accompany PMS affect 90 percent of women at some point. Some are advancing ancient traditions and turning to cannabis for answers.
For Ashleigh Swenson-Stinogel, a 37-year-old mother of two preschool-aged girls, PMS isn’t just a nuisance, it’s debilitating.
“It’s like this dark cloud kind of takes over,” she explains over breakfast while helping her daughter Alice cut up some pancakes. “I go into a soul-crushing depression — a really dark, dark place — for two weeks out of every month.”
Swenson-Stinogel believes her symptoms are actually due to premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which is a severe form of PMS that scientists are actively researching. In addition to the typical symptoms of PMS, people with PMDD may experience depression, anxiety, irritability, mood swings, sleep disturbances or other psychological issues. The illness is thought to affect up to 5 percent of women of childbearing age.
Treatment for PMDD varies, but can include the use of hormonal birth control in order to regulate the menstrual cycle. Many doctors also prescribe antidepressants to help assuage the symptoms.
“I’m not against antidepressants,” says Swenson-Stinogel, “but I know that sometimes [doctors] put people on antidepressants for two weeks out of the month, and that to me doesn’t compute because they can take several weeks to be effective. I feel like they are just giving women sugar pills, like they are saying, ‘Take this pill and shut up about it.’”
Desperate for relief, Swenson-Stinogel found solace in a Reddit community for people coping with PMDD. It was there that she discovered other women using cannabidiol (CBD) to treat their varying symptoms and decided to put it to the test.
“When I tried a CBD tincture, it re-centered me,” she said. “It made me forget about being crabby, so I could just get on with my day. My mind became clear.”
Swenson-Stiongel also began using a CBD-infused chewing gum as-needed for when she started to feel on edge.
Using cannabis to treat symptoms related to PMS isn’t new. England’s Queen Victoria appears to have consumed hash candies to relieve cramps over 100 years ago, as her personal physician wrote about the benefits of using cannabis to relieve menstrual pain. Also, according to a 2002 book Women and Cannabis: Medicine, Science, and Sociology, ancient Egyptian women inserted ground cannabis to their vaginas to “calm uterine pains,” 12th-century British women used cannabis for sore breasts and Chinese women in the 1500s turned to cannabis flowers for relief from menstrual disorders.
Today, the legal cannabis market features a number of brands, such as W!NK and Foria, that offer a wide array of products to help women cope with some of the most common — and obnoxious — side-effects of PMS and menstruation. Some of the most popular items include bath soaks, topicals and even vaginal suppositories.
“Cannabis, along with other healing herbs, have been women’s allies for thousands of years,” said Maya Elisabeth, co-founder of the popular Whoopi & Maya line of cannabinoid-infused bath and body products.
Elisabeth adds that many women who are going through menopause may also benefit from cannabinoids. A blanket term for the period of life when the menstrual cycle ceases, menopause can bring on a litany of uncomfortable symptoms — such as hot flashes, fatigue, depression and sexual issues — due to a sudden drop in estrogen levels throughout the body.
There is little to no scientific evidence on the effects of cannabis on women suffering from PMS or menopause-related problems, but a 2015 study published in Addiction Research & Theorydid find an interesting psychological connection. A survey of menopausal and postmenopausal women showed that those who endorsed cannabis use expected it to help improve certain symptoms, including joint and muscle discomfort, irritability, sleep problems, depression, anxiety and hot flashes.
The “mind-over-matter” questions resulting from the study saw researchers calling for a practical approach to medical cannabis, encouraging women experiencing discomfort to seek out more information in order to determine if it could work for them.
“There’s not a more supportive and effective medicine for menstrual relief than cannabis,” Elisabeth says. “The best part is the side effects are desirable! Happy, hungry, rested.”
TELL US, have you ever used cannabis to sooth pre-menstrual symptoms?
Originally published in Issue 34 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE