People around the world are already embracing the medicinal benefits of cannabis, instead of over-the-counter or prescription medication, using the plant to treat symptoms for an abundance of ailments, even if they are shopping at the “recreational” counter. With that in mind, and the little-to-no research already present on the topic, researchers at the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) looked into cannabis as an effective treatment for menopause-related symptoms.
“Midlife women within the menopause transition period of their life are using cannabis, and they’re using it for symptoms that tend to overlap with menopause,” said lead researcher Katherine Babyn, a graduate student at the University of Alberta in Canada.
Dr. Stephanie Faubion, medical director of NAMS, said that the lack of existing research acts as a drawback to this use, so it’s harder to pin down the potential benefits or risks. Even though it’s clear people are already using cannabis to ease menopause symptoms, “That’s the danger here,” Faubion said, “is we’re using a drug that has not been studied.”
For the study, Babyn and her colleagues surveyed nearly 1,500 middle-aged women in Alberta, Canada. It was presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the North American Menopause Society in Washington D.C.
Two-thirds of the women said they had used cannabis at one point in time, and one-third said they had used it in the past month. Of the current users, 75 percent said they used cannabis for medicinal purposes, even though only 23 percent had a medical prescription.
The study also looked at the consumption method of cannabis for current users, finding the majority used edibles (52 percent), followed by oils (47 percent), smoking (41 percent) and vaping (26 percent).
Those surveyed also seemed to have an understanding of the benefits of different cannabinoids, specifically how the non-psychoactive CBD can provide additional, medicinal benefits encouraging better sleep, pain management, lowering inflammation, and more. Most of the respondents, at 58 percent, reported using a blend of CBD and THC, while 36 percent used high-THC products and 35 percent embraced high-CBD products.
The study also looked at the specific menopause symptoms participants were aiming to treat with cannabis: trouble sleeping (74 percent), anxiety (59 percent), difficulty concentrating (58 percent), irritability (55 percent) and muscle and joint aches (53 percent) ranked highest.
The research noted that women who used cannabis reported more menopause symptoms than those who didn’t use cannabis, though Babyn said, “We can’t establish which way that relationship goes.”
Faubion elaborates on the finding that women using cannabis have worse symptoms, and why it’s challenging to draw conclusions from the observation, “Is it that they have worse symptoms that’s driving them to cannabis, or is the cannabis making their symptoms worse?” she posed. “We can’t really make conclusions based on this article.”
It’s worth noting that up to 74 percent of the women reported improvement in their symptoms after using cannabis, according to senior researcher Nese Yuksel, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Alberta. However, the question was general, in relation to all symptoms, so Yuksel said, “We can’t make any real association with it. What we feel is that women feel they’re getting some benefit, but we can’t say that conclusively.”
The researchers agreed that there is a need for further research to investigate the efficacy and safety of cannabis for managing menopause symptoms, and until research unearths more concrete findings, people looking to treat menopause with cannabis are better off relying on tried-and-true menopause treatments.
“We have safe and effective therapies for menopause symptoms,” Faubion said. “I would not be directing them to something that hasn’t been studied.”
Yuksel elaborated that doctors should reach out to patients to assess their symptoms and plan effective treatments accordingly, calling it a “wake-up call” for doctors to start these discussions with their patients.
“A lot of women do kind of fall through the cracks as far as even getting their symptoms assessed and knowing what different approaches there are for treatment,” Yuksel said.