Could CBD be a girl’s best friend? You’d be hard-pressed to find a supplement with quite as many reported benefits as CBD. As our understanding of the cannabinoid has progressed, we are beginning to see an exciting pattern in its therapeutic potential; CBD appears to help in a number of women’s health conditions.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of many active ingredients found in the Cannabis sativa plant. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD is non-psychoactive. Hence, CBD is widely used by those wanting the calming properties of cannabis, minus the mind-altering effects.
So how does CBD work? It interacts with our endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS helps to regulate our immunity, energy, mood, memory, pain perception, and much more; it conducts an orchestra of functions, ensuring that our mind and body work in perfect harmony.
CBD & women’s health
Through its interaction with cannabinoid receptors in the ECS, CBD has been shown to have therapeutic action across a wide variety of health conditions. Here, we outline just a few of the ways in which CBD may help to support the mental and physical wellbeing of women all over the world.
Anxiety & depression
This is largely down to our hormonal fluctuations, as oestrogen and progesterone are heavily involved in serotonin signalling. Serotonin, often termed the ‘happy hormone’, helps to stabilise our mood. As our hormone levels ebb and flow throughout the month, as does the amount of serotonin in the brain.
CBD has been shown to activate serotonin receptors of the 5-HT1A subtype, subsequently boosting levels of serotonin. This is similar to the mechanism of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are the first-line treatment for anxiety and depression.
Increasing serotonin levels can, therefore, help to attenuate symptoms of stress and anxiety. The effect of CBD on anxiety has been extensively researched. By reducing both psychological and physical symptoms of stress, CBD holds promise in the future treatment of anxiety.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterised by pain, fatigue, insomnia, and memory problems. Though not exclusive to women, it is 7x more common in women than in men. Fibromyalgia is a poorly understood condition; there is no known cause or cure.
Researchers have speculated that fibromyalgia occurs as a result of a chemical imbalance in the nervous system. As the ECS strives to maintain a homeostatic balance, CBD may offer a helping hand in reducing fibromyalgia symptoms.
The majority of clinical studies of cannabinoids on fibromyalgia use a combination of CBD and THC. Whilst cannabis has shown to have a positive effect on symptoms, we can’t be certain that CBD is responsible.
In a study investigating the effect of CBD and THC concentrations on fibromyalgia pain, the high CBD/low THC treatment- of nearly 20mg of CBD- significantly reduced pain scores, suggesting that CBD may be able to relieve chronic pain.
There is also survey-based evidence to suggest that CBD is widely used amongst those with fibromyalgia. For up to 94% of CBD users, it has allowed them to reduce or cease prescription pain and anti-anxiety medications.
Anyone who menstruates will know just how draining that time of the month can be. Routine shedding of the uterus lining causes painful cramping and bleeding. Whether you experience mild or severe cramping, CBD may help you to manage the pain.
For many, it is standard procedure to tackle menstrual cramps with ibuprofen. As a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), ibuprofen can reduce inflammatory pain. There are, however, some unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects of NSAIDs. As it’s common to feel nauseous on your period, this is far from ideal.
CBD has been shown to reduce inflammatory pain via an alternate mechanism to NSAIDs. CBD may therefore be effective pain relief for menstrual cramps, without causing any of the tummy upsets that ibuprofen does.
The other advantage of CBD is its ability to improve premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. It’s common to experience mood swings as hormones fluctuate in the run-up to your period, but CBD can help you to control your emotions and re-stabilise your mood.
Women’s reproductive health constitutes only 2.1% of publicly-funded research. Consequently, even some of the most common female health conditions have no cure.
Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women in the UK. It is characterised by abnormal tissue growth in the lining of the womb that causes chronic inflammation and extreme pain. On average, it takes 8 years to receive a diagnosis of endometriosis, leaving women desperate for an effective way to manage their symptoms.
In endometriosis, the ECS is out of balance. There are elevated levels of inflammatory molecules, such as matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). CBD is anti-inflammatory; it has been shown to reduce the migration of MMPs to endometriotic tissue, which may subsequently reduce inflammatory pain.
CBD is proving to be a popular choice. In a survey of 484 Australian women with endometriosis, CBD was rated the third most effective pain relief, after cannabis and heat. CBD was also associated with a 50% reduction in pain medication. This suggests that CBD may be an effective treatment for, what most would describe as, the periods from hell.
Menopause is a major hormonal event; oestrogen and progesterone levels drop, causing uncomfortable symptoms that many women suffer with in silence. Unpleasant experiences associated with menopause include anxiety, insomnia, low libido, and hot flushes.
Despite being a natural transition that is universally shared by all that menstruate, menopause is still a relatively taboo subject. It has received limited scientific attention and, consequently, current hormone therapies are met with risks and side effects.
Night sweats and anxious thoughts can often result in sleep disturbances; up to 61% of menopausal women experience insomnia. As researchers have reported that CBD can improve sleep quality and relieve anxiety, CBD may act as a natural alternative remedy for women going through menopause.
Osteoporosis is a condition that disproportionately affects women; 1 in 3 women over 50 will experience osteoporosis, in comparison to 1 in 5 men. Osteoporosis is characterised by a weakening of the bones, making them more susceptible to fractures and breaks.
Oestrogen plays an important role in bone density. As women experience a drop in oestrogen levels during menopause, they become more vulnerable to osteoporosis.
CBD has been shown to increase osteoclast number and accelerate bone fracture healing in preclinical research and animal models, respectively. Osteoclasts are cells involved in the growth and healing of bones, so CBD may help to sustain bone density in older women.
Our immune system strives to keep us safe by fighting off foreign cells. In some cases, the body mistakenly perceives its own cells as dangerous and begins to attack itself. This is known as an autoimmune disease. Common autoimmune conditions include type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis (MS)- all of which are twice as common in women.
The ECS is responsible for much of our immune signalling, which can be modulated through CBD’s anti-inflammatory action. CBD may, therefore, suppress immune activity.
The experimental evidence seems to support this claim. CBD has been shown to be immunosuppressive in autoimmune models of MS. It also prevented disease-onset in a female animal model of diabetes. This is all early evidence, but these findings show promise for the use of CBD in the future treatment of autoimmune disease.
Recent progressions in cannabinoid research have identified that CBD has the potential to modulate cancer cell activity. The existing evidence is solely experimental; we don’t yet know how this may translate into humans, but the findings are noteworthy, nonetheless.
There have been numerous studies, both in cell cultures and animal models, demonstrating antiproliferative effects of CBD on breast cancer cells. In other words, CBD has shown to limit the spread of cancer. Similar findings have been noted in studies of cervical cancer, where CBD was able to induce self-programmed death of the cancerous cells.
There is an urgent need for human clinical trials to assess the effect of CBD on cancer progression. In the meantime, CBD may be an effective complementary cancer therapy. Current cancer treatments have uncomfortable side effects, and there is some evidence to suggest that CBD may reduce nausea and stimulate the appetite of cancer patients.
CBD should never be used instead of traditional cancer medications. It is far too early to know the fate of CBD in the treatment of cancer, so avoid listening to hasty medical claims about cannabinoids being a ‘miracle cure’.
Ways of taking CBD
There are countless ways in which CBD can be used; depending on your needs, some CBD products will be more effective than others- allow us to explain:
CBD oil is used by dropping it under the tongue. This allows it to enter the bloodstream quickly, so it’s an efficient way to get your dose in. You have the control; the beauty of its rapid onset is that you can take CBD oil whenever you like, using more on the days you need it most. One thing to bear in mind, however, is that CBD oil has a pretty strong taste.
Capsules & gummies
Oral CBD consumption gives you a more consistent dose. It’s a convenient method, but it can take a little longer for the effects to kick in. The key thing to remember is to take them with food. CBD needs to dissolve in fat in order to be properly absorbed during digestion. Without this, most of the CBD will just pass straight through!
If you’re keen to try CBD specifically for period pain, it may be worth trying CBD tampons. This method provides local anti-inflammatory action and pain relief, right at the source of discomfort. The CBD tampon brand, Daye, has conducted independent research into the effectiveness of their product, confirming their safety and efficacy in relieving period pain.
Gels and creams are a popular choice for those seeking pain relief from CBD. This method is ideal for treating muscle aches and joint stiffness. By applying the product to the problem area, you’re getting relief at the direct source of the pain.
The safety of CBD use
Scientific interest in CBD is a fairly recent progression. It seems that the CBD industry has gained traction quicker than the research itself; many of the reported benefits are speculations based on experimental evidence, not human clinical trials.
From the human data we do have, we know that CBD is safe and well-tolerated in the majority of people. Any reported side effects are rare and minor, and include:
- Appetite changes
It should be noted that there may be some contraindications for CBD use. For example, could the immunosuppressive effects of CBD have negative implications for cancer patients? Whilst much of the research is hugely promising, there is still a lot that we don’t know.
If you think that you may benefit from taking CBD, make sure to do your research. CBD won’t be suitable for every woman. The FDA has advised against the use of CBD whilst pregnant or breastfeeding. CBD is also known to interact with some medications, so be sure to consult your doctor before adding it to your routine.
What we do know is that CBD appears to have countless health benefits. As the world begins to take women’s health a bit more seriously, CBD may be the glimmer of hope that many were looking for.