Healthy Living

Women Will Smoke to That: Using Pot for Menstrual Pain

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A flourishing marijuana garden AFP / ALFREDO ESTRELLA

Using cannabis to treat gynecological pain is a popular idea, a national survey has found. 

Of the 995 women who responded to the survey, it didn’t matter if the woman had smoked before or not; they said they’d give pot a try to rid themselves of pain from cramps, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, and more.

The researchers, from Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, had set out to compare the attitudes of women who already had used cannabis with those who had never used cannabis. Even so, more than half of the never-users said they would use it for gynecological pain.

Women who already used marijuana were overwhelmingly in favor of it to treat gynecological conditions -- 91% of those women would consider cannabis use for “any gynecological condition.” 

Pain

There is plenty of pain out there. According to the National Institutes of Health, between 15 and 30% of women have pelvic pain. A study from 2012 found that 84.1% of women get menstrual pain. 

Beyond medical conditions and the aches and pains of menstruation, pregnancy, even before labor, can be a painful condition In a 2020  New York Times article that discusses pain management in pregnancy, Christine Isaacs, MD, an OBGYN at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, in Richmond, said “It is very, very common for women during all stages of pregnancy to have discomforts, pains and body aches.” 

Despite this, women in both groups were least likely to consider using marijuana for pain or nausea during pregnancy. 

Avoiding cannabis during pregnancy is a wise move. A study published in August based on five years of data showed a link between pregnancy and the child’s intellectual disabilities and learning disorders. Animal models have shown that regular exposure to THC, the active compound in marijuana, can impact growth of placenta and fetus.

Pleasure

Marijuana might not just be for treating pain. It might also help with pleasure. A quarter of the women who did not use marijuana and two-thirds of those who did were interested in using marijuana for sexual dysfunction. Quim, a company co-founded by two women, sells THC lubricant that promises to “increase blood flow, promote pelvic relaxation, and decrease inflammation and pain.” Quim has company in this space; Blissiva was started by an OBGYN to address her patient’s pain management needs. 

Although medical marijuana is available in the majority of states, medical marijuana for pelvic or vaginal pain might not be available. In most states, pelvic pain or vulvovaginal pain are not explicitly considered qualifying conditions. But, chronic pain and nausea are often considered qualifying conditions, and women would still need to go through their doctors to get a medical card. Cancer and pain related to it are almost always covered. And many states have clauses that allow doctors to use their discretion for medical marijuana. 

Notably, Connecticut is the only state that explicitly lists “ Vulvodynia and vulvar burning” as a qualifying condition. 

Politics

Political change may be coming to marijuana legislation. A Biden presidency may move marijuana from a schedule I substance to a schedule II substance, allowing greater medical and clinical research

This fits nicely with the Oregon researchers’ conclusion that “ there is need for both further research and clinical guidelines” for prescribing cannabis for gynecological pain management.

Sabrina Emms is a science journalist. She got her start as an intern at a health and science podcast out of Philadelphia public radio. Before that she worked as a researcher, looking at the way bones are formed. When out of the lab and away from her computer, she's moonlighted as a pig vet's assistant and a bagel baker.

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