Photo by Yuris Alhumaydy

Can Cannabis Cure Your Menstrual Cramps?

Toronto resident Holly Bennett, 24, has struggled with menstrual pain for years. “The pain is really intense on the first day of my period and is also usually accompanied by throbbing lower back pain, diarrhea and lethargy,” she says.

She’s not alone.

The same hormones that cause the endometrial lining to shed the uterus can also trigger an inflammatory and pain response, and period pain, or dysmenorrhea, affects up to 91 per cent of women of reproductive age. For most, it manifests in cramping, back pain, nausea, headaches and dull continuous aches. For up to a third – often women with additional gynaecological concerns like endometriosis, fibroids or pelvic inflammatory disease – the pain can be severe.

Although there are pharmaceutical options for severe period pain – namely painkillers, muscle relaxers and hormone therapy – they’re not for everyone. Increasingly women are turning to cannabis products for relief.

We spoke to Tanny Raz, MD and director of medical business development at Apollo Cannabis Clinics about the most successful way to treat menstrual cramps with cannabis. Her advice?

“If there is just mild cramping, a patient may find relief with a low-dose product that contains just 5 per cent THC and 5 per cent CBD, for example,” she says. “For patients who have a high cannabis tolerance and experience excruciating pain, they may find that a strain very rich in THC works best.”

However, Dr. Raz also notes that menstrual cramps, like cannabis, are under-researched. “At this point in time, we rely heavily on anecdotal evidence from patients, coupled with general pain and cannabis research to inform treatment plans and help patients find strains and doses that work best [for them].” For some, that means ingesting a high-CBD oil, for others it’s vaporizing a high-THC strain, while still others take a combined approach.

Beyond the oils and flowers available by prescription, there are many do-it-yourself cannabis treatment options as well. Some patients like to mix their cannabis oil with cream for a topical application, add the oil to a bath and soak in it, or create their own vaginal suppositories.

Currently, the only legal way to access these products in Canada is to make them with your own prescription cannabis, although this will change as legalization rolls out and previously-restricted products come to market.

Vaginal suppositories, which are already legally produced in several U.S. states, are particularly promising. The theory is that you can apply the medicine directly to the affected area, where it is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream and begins to act, providing localized relief from pain and inflammation. Women who use vaginal cannabis suppositories commonly report feeling deeply relaxed, but not necessarily “high”.

There are caveats to using vaginal suppositories, however. Hygiene can be an issue with homemade products, and although most women don’t report cerebral effects, we all respond to cannabis uniquely, and some cannabis-sensitive patients may find they do get “too high” for their expectations.

“We’ve heard of patients who will make their own suppositories by soaking a tampon in cannabis oil, or inserting a cannabis oil capsule into the vagina and this is something we definitely advise against until further research is done, and tested, regulated and safe cannabis suppositories are available in Canada,” cautions Dr. Raz.

But for medical cannabis patient Amelia Koskey, the relief she feels from suppositories is worth the risk. “I love cannabis suppositories,” she says. “I make my own. They are all natural and can also double as an edible lube. The cannabis is great for my cramps. I have endometriosis and my menstrual cycle can be rough. The suppositories have been a game changer and having my period is tolerable now.”