Treating PMS with Cannabis

A Guide to Cannabis and CBD for PMS Symptoms

Learn the research and use of cannabis and CBD for treating PMS symptoms.

The menstrual cycle prepares a woman’s body for pregnancy, and when she doesn’t become pregnant menstruation occurs. Menstruation is when the uterus sheds all the material that was built on the lining of the uterus in preparation for a fetus. During this time progesterone decreases, which signals to the uterus to start shedding its lining, and production of prostaglandins increase, this appears to be what causes most menstruation pain.

PMS is something we hear about all the time but what does it really mean?

PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome, which is defined as the physical and emotional symptoms women feel right before and during their period. Cramps are one of the biggest complaints during menstruation as they cause a significant amount of pain for some people. Cramps occur when the uterus contracts to support the shedding of the lining.

Note that menstruation is not something that is experienced exclusively by women. Menstruation is something that anyone who has a uterus can experience. Therefore some transgender men and non-binary people also experience menstruation.

PMS Symptoms

PMS Symptoms

Physical SymptomsEmotional Symptoms
Craving certain foods or being more hungry than usualGaining a little weightFeeling sad, depressed, tense, or anxiousFeeling more irritable or angry than normal
Tender, swollen, or sore breastsHeadaches & DizzinessMood SwingsNot feeling very social or wanting to be around people
Feeling bloated (puffy or full in your stomach)Upset Stomach, Cramps or pain in your bellyCrying SuddenlyHaving trouble concentrating
Swelling in your hands or feetAches and pains in your joints or musclesTrouble falling asleep or staying asleep
Feeling more tired than usualSkin problems, like pimplesChanges in desire to have sex

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Treatment for Menstruation Pain: Cannabis and PMS

The typical recommendations for dealing with menstruation pain and cramps include:

  • Over-the-counter pain medicine. Ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleeve), or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Aerobic exercise. Walking, running, riding a bike, swimming, or any activity that gets your heart rate up. Regular exercise (at least 30 minutes most days of the week) is ideal.
  • Do breathing exercises. Meditation, or yoga.
  • Get plenty of rest. Sleeping regularly every night can help with stress, mood changes, and feeling tired or fatigued.
  • Eat healthy foods. Fruits, veggies (especially the leafy green ones), whole grains, and yogurt.
  • Limit fat, salt, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.
  • Vitamins. Make sure you get enough vitamins in your diet, or take vitamin supplements.
    • If you don’t get enough calcium, take a supplement of 1200 mg of calcium daily.
    • Magnesium and Vitamin E might also help.
  • Use hormonal birth control. The pill, patch, ring, implant, or hormonal IUD. Your doctor can help you find a birth control method that can help with PMS.

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Though these types of treatments often have an effect on the pain for some people, for others the pain is unbearable and these do little or nothing to help. At Envy we suggest adding cannabis to your treatment plan.

PMS: When the symptoms are unbearable

Be aware that cramps that are extremely bad can be a sign of a different or worse problem. So you should consult your doctor before deciding on the appropriate treatment plan. Really bad cramps can be a sign of:

  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease — an infection in your reproductive organs.
  • Endometriosis — a condition where the lining of your uterus grows outside of your uterus.  
  • Adenomyosis — when the tissue that lines your uterus grows into the muscle wall of your uterus.
  • Fibroids — non-cancerous tumours that grow inside your uterus, in the walls of your uterus, or on the outside of your uterus.

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Menstruation Pain and Cannabis

A number of studies indicate that prostaglandins are the source of most pain associated with menstruation. People with higher levels of prostaglandins also tend to have more painful and/or heavier periods. Therefore, treatments that lower prostaglandin levels can be highly effective. By decreasing these levels during your period, you can reduce inflammation, pain, and cramps. However, you cannot entirely eliminate prostaglandins. This means that you could benefit from combining treatments that target all the discomforts associated with menstruation. (read above under treatments for suggestions on other ways to manage these symptoms).

Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are typically recommended as a treatment because they inhibit the prostaglandin producing enzyme. Though as with most medications this comes at a cost, that being gastrointestinal distress. Though scientists have recently discovered that CBD also inhibits the prostaglandin-producing enzyme. However — unlike NSAIDs — CBD preferentially inhibits COX-2 over COX-1, which means its anti-inflammatory benefits come without the gastrointestinal side effects. An added benefit of using cannabis as a treatment is that it stops your DNA from producing so much of this enzyme in the first place (via the PPARγ receptor), this is true of THC as well as CBD.

Treating PMS with Cannabis: What the research says

CBD and other cannabinoids can treat painful menstrual cramps in the following ways:

  • Anti-inflammatory: Cannabinoids have many anti-inflammatory activities beyond reducing the production of inflammatory prostaglandins. For instance, THC activates endocannabinoid receptors (CB2) located on your immune system’s killer cells (macrophages). When these receptors are activated, they prevent macrophages from releasing inflammatory proteins (cytokines).
  • Pain-relieving: Although prostaglandins and other inflammatory molecules can make pain-perceiving nerves more sensitive, cannabinoids fight back by desensitizing these nerves. Both CBD and THC target nerve receptors that help decrease the sensation of pain. Additionally, not only does CBD desensitize TRPV1, but those soothing effects can spread to neighbouring pain receptors.
  • Muscle-relaxing: Menstrual cramps are exacerbated by contractions of the smooth muscle lining the uterus — and cannabinoids are widely recognized to relax smooth muscles. THC and CBD both target different receptors embedded in the muscle tissue to relax contractions.
  • Vascular-relaxing: Blood vessels are also lined with smooth muscle, and when cannabinoids trigger this smooth muscle to relax, blood flow increases. Increased blood flow could help provide relief to oxygen-starved tissues, further decreasing painful cramps

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THC or CBD for Treating Menstruation Pain?

In his pre-clinical research, Ethan Russo notes that the use of cannabis appears to work best for treating pain caused by menstruation due to a synergistic effect between THC and CBD. CBD (cannabidiol) has a pain-suppressing effect, while THC acts as a muscle relaxant. This way, cannabis is believed to not just block the pain associated with cramps, but their onset as well.

It does not always make sense to consume THC because of its psychoactive effects. In the cases where you must be mentally alert, you can use strictly CBD, but it may be slightly less effective than using a combination of both. Although CBD does help to counteract the psychoactive effects of THC so using a tincture that is higher in CBD than THC, like this 3:1 tincture, can also be effective.

Another alternative to smoking is using a cannabis topical, like this cream or body bar. These are infused with THC and CBD and are applied directly to the skin of the affected area (in this case the lower abdomen). They are effective in providing pain relief and muscle relaxation. One of our customers, Jesse, uses cannabis topicals for PMS pain, read about her experience here.

Envy also offers another topical treatment that can be helpful and relaxing for those experiencing menstruation pain; THC Bath Bombs that are infused with essential oils. Not only are baths already relaxing for many individuals, the heat can be helpful for managing PMS symptoms and add the effects of THC and it is a great tool for relaxation.

Best Strains for Menstruation Pain

The relaxation effects of indica are very effective in helping to manage pain and therefore most often indica based hybrids are recommended for menstruation for pain relief. For specific strains that help manage the pain associated with cramps and PMS systems check out wikileaf.

Cannabis Suppositories

When discussing cannabis and CBD as a treatment for various ailments and health conditions we often discuss using the most effective method of consumption. This often includes recommendations of using cannabis at the site to be most effective, especially in conversations surrounding pain. So, when we discuss PMS it is logical that many people will consider the effectiveness of safe use of suppositories. Learn more about the use of cannabis suppositories for PMS symptoms in our next article.