As acceptance of cannabis has grown over the last few years, so too has women’s use of cannabis. With recreational cannabis now legal in 19 states (plus Washington D.C.) and medical cannabis legal in 37 states, women are discovering the health benefits of cannabis.
Data shows that cannabis use, in recent years, is rising with women – particularly those with higher education and higher incomes - with two in five American women using cannabis-based products (source: Digiday) to manage everything from anxiety, sleeplessness, hormone imbalances, and many other aches and pains.
From menstruation to motherhood to menopause, cannabis (and CBD) can offer benefits that range from the subtle to the profound. Let’s explore a few:
CANNABIS FOR SLEEP
According to the American Sleep Association, 50 to 70 million U.S. adults experience symptoms of a sleep disorder – with nearly 15% of those experiencing chronic insomnia. It’s no surprise that, one of the top reasons people explore cannabis – whether it's purchased ‘recreationally’ or through a medical dispensary – is in the quest for a good night’s sleep. For women, the same holds true with eight in 10 women consumers saying they’re using cannabis right before bed, indicating they are turning to cannabis to aid in sleep and/or relaxation.
Some studies have found that cannabis may shorten the time it takes to fall asleep, both for people with sleep problems and for those that typically fall asleep without trouble.
While clinical research results on cannabis and sleep are mixed, anecdotal evidence purports that cannabis’ relaxing and sedative effects can aid in relieving stress and bringing about sleep – particularly when paired with CBD and/or melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone produced in the brain that aids in regulating natural circadian rhythm.
When it comes to sleep, opt for strains that contains relaxing terpenes, such as linalool, found in lavender as well as a balance of CBD and a lower concentration of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
CANNABIS FOR STRESS, ANXIETY & MOOD
Recent years have seen a massive rise in stress, anxiety, and mood disorders – with women being more severely impacted than men. Is it any wonder with all women juggle on a daily basis? While everyone experiences fear, worry, or unease at times, for others compounding pressures can prove debilitating.
Cannabis has long been used for relaxation, tension reduction, and to boost mood. While studies are still inconclusive, it is suggested that cannabis consumed at lower THC levels may decrease anxiety. Conversely, consuming higher levels of THC can, in some individuals, exacerbate anxiety. So, if considering cannabis for anxiety, it is important to start at a low dose or micro-dose to find what works best for you. CBD may be a better option and has been shown to have robust anxiolytic effects regardless of dosage.
Likewise, while studies such as one conducted by the State University of New York (Albany) and University of Southern California show decreased depression among those that use cannabis, it is suggested that the best benefit comes from low doses.
CANNABIS FOR PAINFUL MENSTRUAL PERIODS & ENDOMETRIOSIS
For many women, back pain and uterine cramps can be a constant struggle during their period. For the 1 in 10 women affected by endometriosis (a condition where endometrial tissue begins to grow outside the uterus, gathering around the nearby pelvic organs such as the fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder, bowel and other organs – causing pain, inflammation, nausea, scarring and, in many cases, infertility), that pain can range from dull to excruciating.
One recent study reported that a relatively small dose of THC promotes a greater degree of anti-nociception (pain reduction) when estrogen levels are elevated. This may mean relief from menstrual cramps and migraines. Nausea associated with menstrual dysfunction has also been reportedly alleviated in many women.
Vaginal suppositories are becoming an increasingly popular way to manage menstrual cramps and endometriosis pain. Likewise, topical salves that combine cannabis with other analgesic herbs to dull pain in the lower back and abdominal region have become a popular way to relieve muscle aches and abdominal cramps. Edibles and smoking cannabis can also help with nausea and general pain relief.
CANNABIS FOR SEX & INTIMACY
Many women find that cannabis acts as an aphrodisiac and use it to boost their confidence and sexual health. In a study conducted by the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health, researchers reported that, “the majority of [cannabis] users before sex reported a better overall sexual experience, an increase in sex drive, a more pleasurable orgasm, and a decrease in pain.”
Women using cannabis report that it relaxes them and helps them feel less inhibited. Too tired, anxious, stressed, or burned out to muster up much enthusiasm for sex? Strains with high levels of the terpene limonene, with its mood-boosting effects, are said to bolster libido.
Cannabis is a vasodilator, which means it widens blood vessels and improves blood flow – allowing for greater sensation including stronger and more prolonged orgasms. Seasoned cannabis users claim certain strains (particularly those that balance THC and CBD) increase sensitivity to touch and change tactile sensations - for the better. And, as reported in Psychology Today, a recent study showed that cannabis helps women who have difficulty having orgasms, enhancing the frequency and quality of women's orgasms.
Finally, cannabis has been reported to help dull or manage any pain you might experience during sex. According to the American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, 75% of women experience pain during sex at some point in their lives. Because THC is an analgesic, it can help to lessen the pain. Try strains with terpenes that might ease pain, such as beta-caryophyllene, humulene, myrcene, and caryophyllene. A reminder that, anyone experiencing pain during sex should see their healthcare provider for an evaluation to rule out any medical condition.
Cannabis suppositories and vagina-safe oils have become a popular way to feel the effects in a shorter time thus helping the consumer experience more pleasurable and comfortable intimacy. However, ingesting and smoking cannabis are also popular for this purpose as are edibles. which can deliver an intense body high while aiding in relaxation.
CANNABIS FOR MENOPAUSE
Sleeplessness, irritability, hot flashes, pain, and other discomforts are all part of the joy that is perimenopause and menopause. Cannabis is being used by health professionals and women to manage the physical and emotional challenges of both perimenopause and menopause.
Studies have shown that THC may help decrease body temperature, which may quell hot flashes. The relaxing effect of cannabis may also promote better sleep and help to even out mood swings.
Fluctuating hormones can mean everything from bone and muscle pain to mood swings to brain fog. The terpene limonene has been reported to provide mood-boosting effects, while the terpene linalool has shown evidence of antidepressant effects in a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Finding a cannabis product that is high in linalool may help curb racing thoughts and help you enter a state of calm, allowing you to better focus.
Strains rich in the Beta-Caryophyllene (BCP) terpene have been shown to help fight inflammation that can lead to achy muscles or joints.
It is important to remember that, as a plant, cannabis is composed of more than 500 chemical substances and only a fraction of these have been studied. As cannabis becomes more broadly accepted and studied, surely other benefits and effects of cannabis will be discovered, recognized, and understood.
A great resource for additional information on a host of women’s health and mental health topics and cannabis is the podcast series: How to do the Pot: A Woman’s Guide to Cannabis