There is a lot of information out there these days about the symptoms of menopause and how cannabis can help. In fact,we posted on this subject several months ago. This makes sense. After all, there are approximately 74.9 million Baby Boomers (age 51 to 69) on the planet right now and if half of them are women, well, you do the math…that’s a lot of people having hot flashes and needing relief!
But what about women ages 35 to 50 who may be experiencing the effects of peri-menopause? Since the number of Gen X’ers in the United States—a whopping 75.3 million adults– outnumbered Baby Boomers for the first time last year, chances are, if you are reading this and you are female, this article could be about you.
What is Peri-menopause?
Peri-menopause is also called Menopause Transition. Like the name implies, it normally occurs in women in their 40’s and 50’s (although for some, it can begin in the 30’s) and signifies the years leading up to menopause.
For most middle-aged women, peri-menopause lasts between 4 to 10 years. However, for some it can last up to 15 years. Peri-menopause ends and menopause begins when a woman goes a full year without having a period.
It is mainly characterized by a slowing down of estrogen by the ovaries. This does not mean, however, that estrogen levels will be lower during peri-menopause.
On the contrary, “estrogen dominance,” where a woman has low progesterone and high estrogen levels in her body, is more common than had previously been thought.
This switch could have more to do with environmental factors than with the natural process of getting older. Pollutants, commercial meats, processed foods and even the water we drink, if not filtered properly, all contain Xenoestrogens, foreign contaminants that mimic aggressive forms of estrogen which have the ability to bind to natural estrogen receptor sites in the body.
And even though the variables for the unique expression of perimenopause is unique for each woman, there are some common denominators:
- Menstrual Irregularities, such as heavy bleeding, irregular periods, clotting or spotting
- Mood swings and/or worsening of PMS symptoms
- Change in Sex Drive, either higher or lower
- Vaginal pain during sex
- Vaginal dryness
- Excess Vaginal Excretion
- Pain during ovulation
- Feeling of heaviness or bloating around the midsection
- Hot flashes
- Breast tenderness
- Bone Loss/Osteoporosis
- Dry eyes
- Fatigue/ Crashing Fatigue
- Urinary Issues
- Trouble sleeping
Peri-menopause is More Than Just Physical
Now that you know a little bit about what peri-menopause is and the laundry list of often-conflicting symptoms that are sometimes associated with it, what does this transition really mean for an individual woman?
According to Christine Northrop, MD, peri-menopause is not just a “physical” event. According to her, “it is also the biggest opportunity for personal growth and empowerment since adolescence.”
A woman who was going through peri-menopause put it this way: “At (peri)menopause life can turn into one long pre-menstrual experience. Hormones slap you up against the doors of your unfinished business.”
Suffice it to say that although the symptoms of this major life transition may be different for each woman, the common denominator is CHANGE itself, in particular major hormonal changes within the body.
Cannabis and Your Hormones
The endocrine system regulates the levels and output of the dozens of hormones in your body, including the reproductive hormones that are a part of the changing internal landscape of peri-menopause.
Research as to how cannabis and, in particular, the endocannabinoid system, relates to the endocrine system is still in its infancy. What researchers know for sure, however, is that of the two major cannabis receptors found in the endocannabinoid system, CB 1 and CB2, CB 1 is directly related to the endocrine system and in particular to the relationship between the hypothalamus, the pituitary and other peripheral hormonal regulators, such as the adrenals (this particular relationship is called the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, or “HPA axis”).
The pituitary gland controls key functions within the reproductive system, in particular the release of FSH, or follicle-stimulating hormone, which is responsible for prompting ovulation. In the years leading up to menopause as the body is attempting to regulate its hormones in a new way, the release of this hormone may be sporadic while it gradually decreases (once a woman reaches menopause, the pituitary stops producing FHS altogether). Some symptoms associated with this reduction during peri-menopause and beyond include vaginitis and osteoporosis.
Synthetic hormone replacement therapy is the conventional way to regulate depleting FSH levels and alleviate symptoms. Traditional HRT comes with its own cadre of side effects, however, including higher risks of breast cancer, heart disease and excessive blood clotting.
Another way is through natural means, including detoxifying, lifestyle changes, bio-identical hormone replacement and maybe even cannabis.
As mentioned in other articles on this site, the endocannabinoid system, which is connected to the endocrine system among others, is responsible for maintaining stability within; its job is to create homeostasis in the body. More and more research is pointing to the fact that cannabis use helps this system by giving it a boost when it is not functioning in an optimum way. By assisting the endocannabinoid system to do its job of maintaining body balance, can certain amounts and kinds of cannabis also help a woman’s endocrine system move gently into the next phase of life? Although no one can say for sure at the moment, current cannabis research definitely seems to be pointing in that direction.
While research continues on the possible long-term benefits of cannabis use on the endocrine-endocannabinoid relationship within the body, two symptoms that women can find relief from by using cannabis is peri-menopausal pain and fatigue.
Managing Peri-menopause Pain and Fatigue with Cannabis
For those going through peri-menopause, pain can come in many forms, including cramping and soreness during flow or ovulation, GI upset and bloating, migraine headaches, a feeling of “fullness” in the abdomen area and overall body aches.
Cannabis has been shown time and again, both anecdotally and through clinical trials, to be a powerful resource for managing chronic pain, easing intestinal upset and even lessening the effect of migraine headaches.
Interestingly, it is also one of the “fundamental herbs” found in traditional Chinese medicine and was at one time specifically prescribed for menstrual pain.
An indica or an indica-sativa blend is best to ingest for peri-menopausal pain. In addition, edibles and oils can be a good smoke-free choice for managing PMS-type pain and cramping since, when dosed correctly, they will provide longer analgesic benefit. Warm medicated baths and CBD topicals that can be applied directly to the abdomen are great options for less psychoactive effects.
Peri-menopause can also come with periods of fatigue and sometimes what is known as “crashing fatigue” as out-of-whack hormones search to regain stability, stressing adrenals and other systems in the process.
Cannabis has proven helpful for a variety of fatigue-related conditions, including Lyme Disease, Crohn’s, fibromyalgiaand lupus. Fibromyalgia in particular effects women during the peri-menopause years. A recent joint clinical study in Spain saw a dramatic reduction in pain and stiffness and more measured relaxation in fibromyalgia sufferers after two hours of cannabis use, using both smoking and non-smoking ingestion means.
Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 2002 found that while fibromyalgia comes with it a lowering of “HPA axis” functioning (mentioned earlier), cannabis use can actually increase HPA axis function, leading the researchers to conclude that this may be one of the mechanisms through which cannabis helps with fibromyalgia.
On a purely speculative note, could the HPA axis connection to fibromyalgia also point to the condition being also connected to hormonal imbalances during peri-menopause?
Finally, most medical cannabis card holders use cannabis for pain management; if you are in pain because of any of the symptoms of peri-menopause, this should qualify you for a medical cannabis card if you live in a state where that option is available. Find out the medical marijuana laws in your state here: http://www.unitedpatientsgroup.com/Medical-Marijuana-Laws-By-State.
Cannabis for Empowerment
Cannabis use during peri-menopause can be a source of empowerment for a woman going through this vast change of life. Once a person has pinpointed their unique peri-menopausal symptoms and has made any lifestyle changes needed to detox the body, lessen chemical exposure to Xeno-estrogen and get the exercise, nutrients and supplements her body needs, the addition of cannabis for pain and fatigue management as well as general well-being can be an important part of a smooth transition.