Myriad studies have shown the efficacy of cannabis treatment for a variety of conditions and symptoms, and now, a new survey from the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) shows that more people are turning to the plant medicine to treat symptoms of perimenopause and postmenopause.
The authors notes the lack of research in medical cannabis use to alleviate menopause-related symptoms, pointing to the survey’s aim to assess patterns of medical cannabis use among individuals experiencings perimenopause and postmenopause.
Perimenopause is defined as the time period when an individual’s ovaries gradually stop working, which comes with symptoms including irregular menstrual flow, hot flashes and night sweats. Postmenopause follows menopause, the period in which an individual’s period has stopped for 12 consecutive months.
Menopause-related symptoms are due to fluctuating hormones. Many individuals seek out hormone-replacement therapy to aid in symptom management, though this option is unavailable to many folks, with others unwilling to use this option. Ultimately, this opens the door for other options of treatment.
NAMS researchers conducted the survey of 131 perimenopausal and 127 postmenopausal individuals. The findings note that those experiencing perimenopause reported higher incidence of depression and anxiety. These individuals were more likely to use medical cannabis to treat menopause-related mood and anxiety symptoms over postmenopausal individuals.
Perimenopausal participants also reported significantly worse menopause-related symptoms on the vasomotor and psychosocial subscales of the Menopause-Specific Quality of Life Questionnaire, including greater burden of anxiety and hot flash symptoms. These patients also reported higher instances of depression and anxiety diagnoses.
Of the total cohort, 86.1% reported currently using cannabis as a supplementary treatment for menopause-related symptoms and 78.7% endorsed medical cannabis as a treatment for these symptoms. The most common symptoms treated with cannabis were around sleep disturbances, mood and anxiety. In addition, smoking was the most common method of consumption (84.3%), followed by edibles (78.3%).
Only observational studies to assess medical cannabis’ effect on anxiety, mood sleep and pain have been assessed, though no studies have investigated the safety or efficacy of cannabis for menopause-related symptoms.
The authors note that the results suggest many individuals use medical cannabis as an adjunctive treatment for menopause-related symptoms, and future research should look into the impact of different medical cannabis use characteristics (such as cannabinoid profiles) on the efficacy of treatment for menopause-related symptoms. In addition, the authors say that increased severity and prevalence of symptoms in perimenopausal participants suggests that these individuals would be “promising targets” for clinical trials of cannabinoid-based therapies.
“Although federal regulations currently prohibit the direct administration of commercially-available [medical cannabis] products in clinical research studies, the impact of commercially-available products can be assessed using nonrandomized, observational study designs, and certain novel products can be assessed using clinical trials,” the authors state.
The authors go on to note the “little guidance” available to consumers as a concern, especially given the wide variety of products and different characteristics, which can lead to different results and side effects. They also cite research surrounding hormonal and metabolic changes during menopause that can result in poor respiratory function, specifically pointing to tobacco cigarettes increasing these risks. While there is evidence that smoking cannabis has different respiratory effects than tobacco, the relationship between smoking cannabis flower and menopause has yet to be assessed.
They also note the inherent limitations that come with self-reporting measures from individuals already using medical cannabis to treat symptoms. They say additional research, using varied study designs like clinical trials, are warranted to address this limitation.
The authors end their analysis by nodding to the need for future research, “including assessing how unique cannabinoid profiles, modes of use, and other MC use characteristics impact safety and efficacy.”