Remember when marijuana was synonymous with peace signs and psychedelic rock? Fast forward to today, and we’re talking less about how marijuana gets you “high” and more about how this ‘green medicine’ might benefit wellness.
In recent years, marijuana use has increased across every age category, but women over 50 are among the fastest-growing group of users. Many women report they’re not just using the drug for fun but to treat chronic pain, anxiety, and insomnia. Around 6% of women report using the drug specifically for menopause-related symptoms.
The problem is — marijuana is not the most effective treatment for menopause. In fact, it may make things worse.
How does marijuana affect your body?
One thing is clear from this growing trend: women are looking for more ways to manage their health during menopause and beyond. With confusing (and inaccurate) information out there about the safety of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), it’s no wonder some women are turning to alternative options dubbed ‘natural.’
But how does marijuana affect your body, and what does the science say on whether or not it could alleviate menopause symptoms?
Marijuana contains the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which causes a “high” or mind-altered state. It also contains a non-impairing component, cannabidiol (CBD). Both THC and CBD affect our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which plays a role in keeping our internal bodily environment stable (also called homeostasis.)
Many physiological systems are thought to be influenced by the endocannabinoid system, including:
- appetite and digestion
- chronic pain
- inflammation and other immune system responses
- learning and memory
- motor control
- cardiovascular system function
- muscle formation
- bone remodeling and growth
- liver function
- reproductive system function
- skin and nerve function
THC interacts with your ECS by binding to receptors all over your body. However, we don’t yet know all the ways these interactions affect the body, and we still have a lot to learn about our endocannabinoid system in general.
For menopause relief specifically, researchers believe the substances found in cannabis might interact with anandamide–a chemical compound produced by the ovaries that is part of the ECS. Anandamide helps regulate the body's emotional, sleeping, and temperature functions and influences the female reproductive system.
During menopause, the production of anandamide drops along with your estrogen levels. It’s thought that using cannabis may mimic anandamide and help manage menopause symptoms like depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
But the bottom line is this: we simply don't have enough research on how marijuana might affect the symptoms of menopause because it hasn’t been studied on people actually going through it. Most of the beneficial claims are anecdotal or come from studies related to other parts or functions of the body.
What are the risks of using marijuana during menopause?
If you’re thinking about using marijuana to help with your symptoms of menopause, it’s important to know there are significant risks to your health.
Going through menopause increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Marijuana can speed up your heart rate and raise your blood pressure. It can also lead to an increased risk of stroke and other vascular diseases. In a study of over 4,500 people using marijuana for chronic pain, use of the drug increased the risk of heart arrhythmias by 64%.
Women who have gone through menopause are at high risk for osteoporosis. Heavy cannabis use is associated with low bone mineral density, high bone turnover, and an increased risk of fracture.
Having trouble sleeping? THC may decrease the time it takes you to fall asleep, but it could impair the quality of your sleep in the long term. In one study, marijuana users showed lower total sleep times and less slow-wave sleep not only on the nights they used the drug but during subsequent nights as well.
Slow wave, or deep sleep, is a stage of sleep that seems to play an important role in growth, memory, and immune function. Chronic disruption of slow-wave sleep is linked to cognitive impairments and, over time, can contribute to the decline of cognitive function.
While smoking marijuana is not believed to increase your risk of lung cancer, it does still cause damage to your lungs. Inhaling marijuana causes airway inflammation, increased airway resistance, and lung hyperinflation, increasing your susceptibility to bronchitis.
Marijuana can also change how other medicines you’re taking work, especially ones used to prevent heart disease, including blood pressure drugs, cholesterol-lowering statins, or drugs used to treat heart rhythm disorders.
What about CBD?
CBD is gaining attention for its potential to alleviate common menopause symptoms such as joint pain, sleep disturbances, and anxiety, primarily through its role in inflammation regulation. Many products also claim that CBD is beneficial for sexual wellness, improving libido, sexual response, and lubrication.
Unfortunately, at this time, there’s no research evidence directly showing that CBD products have health benefits or help improve your sex life.
Why manage symptoms when you can treat the root cause?
When it comes to your care, it’s important to consider whether you want to manage your menopausal symptoms or treat the underlying causes. While marijuana and CBD may offer some relief from discomforts, they don't target the root cause of those challenges: the hormonal changes occurring during this phase.
Until more research is available, we recommend focusing on a treatment with a proven track record, like HRT, if you’re experiencing symptoms disrupting your quality of life. The first step is to talk to a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable about menopause. Our caring experts at FemGevity can guide you to the right testing and offer you a safe, effective, and personalized treatment plan to help you feel better.
Harvard Health Publishing. (2022). Are women turning to cannabis for menopause symptom relief?
A survey offers a glimpse into cannabis and CBD use among women in midlife. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/are-women-turning-to-cannabis-for-menopause-symptom-relief-202210242837
Healthline. (2021). A Simple Guide to the Endocannabinoid System. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/endocannabinoid-system
Heathline. (2022). Cannabis May Offer Relief From Menopause Symptoms: What to Know. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/cannabis-may-offer-relief-from-menopause-symptoms-what-to-know
International journal of molecular sciences. (2018). Cannabinoid Receptors and the Endocannabinoid System: Signaling and Function in the Central Nervous System. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5877694/
The Journal of the Menopause Society. (2022). A survey of medical cannabis use during perimenopause and postmenopause. Retrieved from: https://journals.lww.com/menopausejournal/fulltext/2022/09000/a_survey_of_medical_cannabis_use_during.6.aspx
The Menopause Society. (2023). New Study Suggests Growing Use of Cannabis to Help Manage Menopause Symptoms. Retrieved from: https://www.menopause.org/docs/default-source/press-release/cannabis-use-in-the-menopause-transition.pdf
National Academy of Neuropsychologists. (2021). The Effects of Cannabis Use on Cognitive Function in Healthy Aging: A Systematic Scoping Review. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8296849/