Article written by
Tina MagrabiSenior Content Writer
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
According to WomensHealth.gov, roughly 11 percent of women in the United States alone have endometriosis. That’s 6.5 million people dealing with the often debilitating condition.
There is little in the way of treatment beyond controlling symptoms with hormonal birth control, over-the-counter and prescription anti-inflammatory drugs, and pain relievers and opiates in some cases.
However, research suggests that cannabis may not just provide relief but a possible treatment for endometriosis. Discover how to treat the painful symptoms of endometriosis with cannabis, which strains work best and the pros and cons of using cannabis for the condition.
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What Causes Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is an extremely painful condition where the endometrial tissue that normally builds up as a part of the hormonal cycle grows outside of the womb. When this tissue grows outside of the womb it is unable to shed and leads to intense, crippling pelvic pain. Instead, it continues to grow, almost like a web, around reproductive organs like the fallopian tubes. In extreme cases, the organs can become fused together in a condition called “frozen pelvis.”
Aside from severe menstrual cramping, symptoms of endometriosis include chronic lower-back, abdominal, and pelvic pain; painful intercourse; painful urination and/or bowel movements; IBS-like gastrointestinal symptoms and even infertility. Women who have endometriosis also risk an increased rate of developing ovarian cancer.
Considering the symptoms, using medicinal cannabis as an alternative treatment might seem to many like a logical option when current treatments focus on relieving symptoms. After all, cannabis is already used to treat many chronic pain disorders and digestive issues like IBS. Early research suggests that cannabis is an effective treatment for endometriosis.
The truth is, like many other conditions, we are only just starting to understand what may really cause endometriosis. But it turns out we do know that a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency could be the root cause of this condition and many others.
Researchers have found evidence to suggest that women with endometriosis have fewer CB1 receptors in their endometrial tissue. Low levels of CB1 receptors could be a major cause of both the symptoms of endometriosis and the likelihood the condition will spread.
There is still a lot of research to be done to fully understand the link between the endocannabinoid system (ECS), but these studies show promise that we are headed in the right direction for an effective treatment instead of mere symptom management.
Traditional Treatments for Endometriosis
Traditional treatment options for endometriosis include hormonal birth control and pain medications, while severe cases can require surgery.
Hormonal Birth Control
Low-dose oral contraceptives are often prescribed for women with endometriosis. However, this type of treatment is intended for women of menstruating age. After menopause, women should no longer take hormonal birth control and will need a different treatment option. But even for women of reproductive age, birth control pills carry risks that include blood clots, especially for smokers older than 35.
Both over-the-counter and prescription pain medications are prescribed to manage endometriosis symptoms. These medications usually come with side effects and may not be advisable to take in the long term.
Major surgery for endometriosis is a last resort and not recommended for most women. Surgery comes with many risks and is only performed in the most painful and debilitating cases.
How Marijuana Helps with Endometriosis Symptoms
Studies have found medical marijuana may be more beneficial than just treating symptoms of endometriosis. A study titled “Disease-modifying effects of natural delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol 1 in endometriosis-associated pain” was published in the journal eLife and suggested that cannabis may reduce the severity of endometrial tissue growth, beyond simply addressing symptoms.
Researchers conducted the study on mice that were subjected to surgical implantation of endometrial tissues in their abdomen. In the control group, fragments of abdominal fat were implanted instead. Mice with endometrial tissue implants developed similar symptoms as women suffering from endometriosis. This included hypersensitivity (pain) in the abdomen and mild anxiety-like behavior.
The mice received a daily dose of two milligrams of THC per kilogram of body weight for a total of 28 days, alleviating hypersensitivity and pain and even restoring some cognitive functions like memory. Interestingly, the THC also appeared to block endometrial tissue growth outside of the endometrium.
Whether the same results apply to humans remains to be seen. More research is needed to understand the effects of cannabis on women with endometriosis.
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How to Use Cannabis for Endometriosis
Similar to the findings with the mice study using THC, another study published in the British Pharmacological Society Journals found that while THC may be more effective against pain relief, CBD may stop endometriotic cells from migrating.
CBD effectively blocks the activation of the GPR18 receptor, which can stop endometrial cells from migrating. There is also potential evidence that as beneficial as THC may be, it also may activate that receptor. This suggests that using THC and CBD in tandem may be the best course of action in treating endometriosis with cannabis.
Along with potentially stopping the spread of dangerous tissues, CBD may also be able to desensitize the pain receptor TRPV1. To top it off, the fact that cannabidiol brings down inflammation is also a benefit.
Therefore, the best way to use cannabis for endometriosis is to consider the entourage effect, whereby a range of chemical compounds working together is most powerful.
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The Bottom Line
Cannabis may be able to help some women manage the painful symptoms of endometriosis. CBD, THC and other cannabinoids and terpenes may work best in tandem to treat endometriosis. Consult with your doctor before beginning a regimen of medical marijuana for endometriosis.
A medical marijuana card gives you access to cannabis for endometriosis and many other qualifying conditions. Connect with a Leafwell physician today and apply for your medical marijuana card online.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Does marijuana worsen endometriosis?
There is no evidence that marijuana worsens endometriosis. On the contrary, evidence suggests that marijuana may improve the symptoms of endometriosis, including reducing pelvic pain and gastrointestinal issues.
What CBD product is best for endometriosis?
Different CBD products will exert unique effects depending on your body chemistry, tolerance level and other factors. That said, full-spectrum CBD products that contain up to 0.3% THC and a range of other cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids may be the most potent CBD treatment for endometriosis pain.
How much CBD should I take for endometriosis?
If you’re new to CBD products, start low, perhaps with five milligrams per day. As you learn your body’s reactions to CBD, you may begin to increase your dosage and frequency. For example, you may progress from taking five milligrams of CBD once daily to taking five milligrams four times per day. Consult with your doctor for more customized CBD dosing guidelines and mention any other medications you are currently taking.