What is menopause?

Menopause is the period of a woman’s life in which menstruation stops. This typically happens while women are in their mid-40s to early 50s, with the average age of onset being 51 years old. Menopause marks the end of a woman’s reproductive capabilities.

There are three distinct phases of menopause: perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.

Perimenopause is the time before the end of menstruation during which the body slows down estrogen production. Estrogen is one of two primary sex hormones that trigger ovulation and menstruation. This slow down happens several years before menopause hits, with symptoms showing up 1 to 2 years before menopause proper.

During ovulation, estrogen levels peak. Yet, once menopause rolls around, ovulation stops entirely. This means that the body is no longer producing high levels of estrogen.

Menopause is the 12-month period after the last menstrual cycle. Postmenopause is just what it sounds  like, the period after menopause is over. Menopausal symptoms ease once women enter the postmenopause phase.

The endocannabinoid system and menopause

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Believe it or not, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) has a major part to play in menopause. The ECS is a network of cell receptors and the corresponding molecules that bind to them. The endocannabinoid system has many functions, but it primarily helps maintain homeostasis in the body.

Very simply explained, homeostasis is the optimum biochemical balance in the body. The endocannabinoid system helps regulate:

  • Body temperature
  • Immune function
  • Mood
  • Sleep
  • Pain
  • Appetite and energy metabolism
  • Reproductive cycles

Funny thing is, endocannabinoids are like the body’s own cannabis. Compounds in the cannabis plant (phytocannabinoids) directly interact and engage with the endocannabinoid system. When it comes to women’s reproductive health, endocannabinoids and estrogen go hand in hand.

When estrogen peaks, so do your levels of endocannabinoids. In fact, prior to menopause, women are most sensitive to psychoactive THC right before ovulation,when estrogen levels are highest.

Estrogen directly engages endocannabinoids. In fact, the enzyme that breaks down certain endocannabinoids (enzyme FAAH) is regulated by estrogen. As estrogen levels begin to drop, endocannabinoid levels change. The implications of these changes are under-researched at this point, but a handful of early studies shed some light on the possibilities.

Animal research has shown that estrogen recruits endocannabinoids to help regulate emotional response and mood. As estrogen levels decline, disruptions in the way the body handles endocannabinoids may contribute to menopause-associated mood swings.

Some suggest that endocannabinoid deficiency may contribute to early menopause. Endocannabinoid deficiency is a theoretical condition in which the body does not have a proper endocannabinoid tone, leading to a wide range of health problems.

Other studies have suggested that mutations in genes which code the endocannabinoid system may increase your risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome in postmenopausal women.

Cannabis and menopause symptoms

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Using cannabis to ease menopausal symptoms is nothing new. Back in the 1920s, medical texts identified the herb as a potent analgesic for menopausal women. Back in 1889, a treatise on the use of cannabis indica as a rectal suppository was published.

While it may sound very unpleasant, he noted that the medicine seemed to ease many menopausal symptoms. These symptoms included:

[…] The excitement, the irritability, and pain in the neck of the bladder, flashes of heat, and cold. – Farlow

Now, over a century later, we have a slightly better understanding of how the herb may help menopausal women. Yet, unfortunately, very little research has been done on the subject since these early reports. We have federal cannabis prohibition to thank for that. But, here is what we do know based on the limited information available.

1. Hot flashes

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There are no studies on cannabis and hot flashes specifically. But, it’s common knowledge that THC lowers your body temperature. In the body, THC replaces an endocannabinoid called anandamide.

This particular compound has many functions (and more are still being discovered), but one of its functions is temperature regulation. Endocannabinoids are part of your body’s thermostat.

When you consume THC, you alter the thermostat. Evidence from anecdotal and animal models suggest that THC has a cooling effect.

A few studies have found that THC lowers temperature in a dose-dependant fashion. The more you consume, the cooler you become. If you consume just a little THC, your body temperature may increase. So, next time you have a hot flash? Perhaps some cannabis will help lower you cool down.

2. Mood swings

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Low estrogen levels during and after menopause may have a huge impact on your mood. As mentioned earlier, estrogen rounds up endocannabinoids to help maintain mood and reduce anxiety. Yet, when your estrogen levels drop, what’s left to trigger these molecules into action?

As always, more research is needed. Yet, we do know that there is strong evidence that cannabinoid therapy may boost mood. Where can you find supplemental cannabinoids? In cannabis.

Both THC and cannabidiol (CBD) have mood-lifting properties. In low doses, THC is a potent antidepressant. Nonpsychoactive CBD has been found to be an extremely fast-acting antidepressant in animal models. It also is a powerful anxiolytic. CBD can even help calm down anxiety produced by THC.

3. Bone loss

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To build strong bones, your body needs estrogen. Each day, your bones go through a process of getting rid of old and damaged cells and replacing them with new, healthy cells. Estrogen regulates this process. As you get older and produce less estrogen, you are more susceptible to bone weakness and diseases like osteoporosis.

Turns out, some compounds in cannabis may be able to help with this.

2009 review found that alterations in genes that code cannabinoid receptors are associated with the onset of postmenopausal osteoporosis. The review also found that cannabinoid a cannabinoid treatment helped prevent bone loss associated with surgically induced menopause (ovariectomy).

They concluded that cannabinoid-based drugs may be a novel therapeutic approach for osteoporosis in the future.

In the case of bones, high CBD products may be most beneficial. For more information on cannabis and osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, check out our article here

4. Supplementing Estrogen Replacement Therapy

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Estrogen Replacement Therapy (ERT) is one of the most common ways to treat menopause and menopause-induced osteoporosis. Yet, ERT comes with its own bag of complications. Hormone therapy puts you at risk of breast cancer, dementia, heart attack, and stroke.

Though little research has been done on adding cannabinoids to ERT, there is a substantial amount of evidence that compounds in cannabis can protect against some of these major side effects. Anecdotal, cell line, and animal studies have found that THC and CBD have anti-tumor effects in breast cancer.

Other studies suggest that cannabinoids are neuroprotective and eliminate the primary neurotoxin associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. In the event of a stroke, cannabinoid treatment may help the brain recover faster and reduce the overall amount of damage from the event.

5. Sex drive

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Loss of libido and trouble with lubrication are two major side effects of menopause. Fortunately, cannabis can help with both of these things. Not only is there THC-infused lube to help promote a nice, tingly sensation, but cannabis is a known libido enhancer for women. In fact, the herb’s aphrodisiac effects might work better in women than in men.

As a tip, THC may have the opposite effect on libido in high doses. Though, there hasn’t been any research to prove whether or not this is the case in menopausal women. So, it’s best to start slow and work up to a dose that seems to work best for you. If you’d like to try making your own cannabis lube, you can find a recipe here.

6. Weight gain

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On average, women gain 5 lbs (2.2 kg) during menopause. Some women gain as much as 15 to 25 lbs (7 to 11 kg). This is partly due to genetic and lifestyle factors, but changes in estrogen also play a role. Weight gain after the age of 40 increases your risk for heart disease, depression, type 2 diabetes, and breast cancer.

Though cannabis is often associated with the munchies, recent research in humans has found that cannabinoids THCV and CBD may be useful in regulating metabolism and staving off type 2 diabetes.

Both cannabinoids improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the build up of liver fat. Animal studies have found that CBD is a mild appetite suppressant, encouraging weight loss.

The weight loss potential of cannabinoids has even gained the attention of the pharmaceutical industry. The anti-obesity drug Rimonabant was a synthetic cannabinoid that helped patients lose weight, decrease waist circumference, and increased good cholesterol.

However, Rimonabant just-so-happened to block a cell receptor that is critical to maintaining mood. So, it was pulled from the market after it caused patients to become suicidally depressed. It’s important to note that real cannabis is not associated with this risk.

7. Insomnia

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Night sweats can keep you up at night. Not only does cannabis lower your body temperature, but it will also help you sleep through the night without tossing and turning.

As we get older, we tend to spend less time in restorative deep sleep and more time in lighter stages of the sleep cycle. Poor quality sleep increases your risk of dementia, diabetes, and other age-related diseases.

Cannabis increases the time you spend in deep sleep. Maintaining a good sleep schedule is vital for longevity and promoting healthy aging.

If you have trouble sleeping through the night, try a cannabis indica strain about an hour before you hit the hay. While sativa strains promote wakefulness, indica strains are deeply sedative. You’ll be drifting off in no time.

You can find more information on cannabis strains here

8. Pain

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Chronic pain is a surefire way to reduce your quality of life. Constant pain is associated with depression, insomnia, and increased stress. All three of those things, in turn, contribute to more pain and other age-related diseases.

While things like a healthy, nutrient-dense diet and plenty of moderate exercise and stretching can reduce pain over time, sometimes you need a little extra help.

Cannabis is an extremely powerful pain reliever with a higher margin of safety than many drugs. Those with either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis often find quality relief with cannabis. The herb is also thought to be highly effective for neuropathic pain.

Both CBD and THC have pain-fighting properties, but they work best when they are combined with one another. The HERB team has written a lot about cannabis and pain over the years.

Plant-based sources of estrogen

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Cannabis isn’t the only plant that can help during menopause. Many plants contain compounds called phytoestrogens. Basically, phytoestrogens are plant estrogens.

Back in the 1980s, an animal study found that CBD and a cannabis flavonoid called apigenin engage estrogen receptors in high doses. Yet, it’s unclear what impact these compounds have in humans. Here are some of the more common phytoestrogens and medicinal herbs used for menopause:

  • Soy isoflavones
  • Flax seed
  • Chia seed
  • Red clover
  • Black cohosh
  • Wild yam
  • Ginseng
  • Skullcap

Unfortunately, not nearly enough research has been done to give precise answers on how cannabis affects menopause. Yet, the available literature thus far has positive signs. As with most things cannabis, the best way to find out if the herb works for you is to try it.

Keep in mind that there are many different types of cannabis available (ranging from nonpsychoactive to very psychoactive) and in many different forms.

For more details on how cannabis treatment may impact your body as you age, we encourage you to check out our Better With Age series. It’s loaded with awesome information, you won’t be disappointed.