Dysmenorrhea is a condition that affects thousands of people with uteruses every day. It is characterized by painful menstrual cycle that is often accompanied by heavier and longer bleeding than normal, though this is not always the case. Dysmenorrhea symptoms include but are not limited to pelvic pain and cramping, low back pain, pain that radiates to the hips and down the legs, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache and fatigue. For some who suffer from dysmenorrhea, it can be so severe that it leaves them incapacitated for 1-3 days of each menstrual cycle.
The World Health Association (WHO) has determined dysmenorrhea to be the most important cause of chronic pelvic pain because of its effects not only on those who suffer from it, but also on the greater society, as it significantly effects peoples productivity and quality of life. It is estimated that anywhere from 45-93% of women experience dysmenorrhea each month, yet it goes drastically underreported since its historically been considered a normal part of menses in many societies, leaving most who experience this condition to not seek medical care and suffer in silence. Therefore it is beneficial to the greater society to find more ways to manage this condition that causes a great deal of pain and discomfort for so many, and is also associated with depression and anxiety, having the potential to negatively impact a person’s personal and professional life, and overall well-being.
Primary dysmenorrhea means the dysmenorrhea is not caused by another health condition. The cause for primary dysmenorrhea is still not known, though it has been associated with a higher level of prostaglandins being released during the first couple days of menses, but further research is needed for this to be conclusive. Secondary dysmenorrhea can be caused by a myriad of different gynecological and pelvic conditions from endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) syndrome, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), adenomyosis, fibroids, hormonal imbalances associated with disordered sleep, medications, and even certain foods can all have an effect on this condition.
No matter the cause, Cannabis makes sense as a go to treatment for the pain, discomfort and other symptoms associated with this condition. Cannabis has physiological actions such as being anti- spasmodic, analgesic, and anodyne, all actions that assist with relieving pain reduction, as well as reducing nausea, depression and anxiety, while also being highly nutritive and nourishing, which is a key characteristic for plant medicines that are often effective for use in reproductive health.
The use of cannabis for menstrual related issues dates back thousands of years around the world in China, Africa, Greece, India and all across the Middle East. Using all the parts, root, stem, flower and seed, ancient cultures worldwide have depended heavily upon the Cannabis plant, which is partly what has landed this incredible plant to be known as a panacea in modern culture. It is useful for everything from industrial, medical, nutritional, ceremonial, recreational purposes, and the discovery of the endocannabinoid system in humans only corroborates what many have believed for a long time, that humans have coevolved with cannabis and have been utilizing it in human communities for thousands of years. It’s only been the last couple hundred years that it’s been demonized by governments around the world, and not recognized and respected for being the amazing plant that it is.
In ancient China the seeds and flowers were used as medicine, and its documented in one of the oldest and still in use medical texsts in the world, the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, which acupuncturists, Chinese herbalists and doctors around the world still use as their primary herbal text. in 1851 cannabis was listed in the United States Pharmacopeia as being useful for various ailments including menstrual associated cramps, pain and other symptoms. Cannabis use has been documented in so many places throughout the world for medicinal but also its mood altering effects. In the capital city of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, there was a confection called guc-kand, made of boiled cannabis mixed with sugar and spices that was popular among the women to induce a happy mood, leading one to discern that they may have found it useful during their menstrual cycles.
In Ethiopia remains of two ceramic water pipe bowls were recovered from Lalibela cave and are thought to be from 640-500bd, and in Zambia, there were 4 baked clay non-Arabic designed pipes (tobacco had not yet been introduced to this area of the world yet) discovered, both the these finds recovered trace amounts of delta 8 THC, a compound that doesn’t rapidly degrade like delta 9 THC, the best known for its strong psychoactive effects in humans. All of this evidence is just a reminder that cannabis has been useful for humans for thousands of years. Given its diverse and wide range of applications for medicinal use, this makes it a logical candidate for use by those who suffer from dysmenorrhea.
Cannabinoids tend to dominate the conversation regarding medicinal use of cannabis, but the often less talked about terpenoids, those low molecular weight aromatic compounds, are highly volatile (meaning they rapidly deteriorate, and are flammable) at room temperature and known to most as essential oils. They are secondary metabolites produced by plants for protection, growth, and many biochemical activities crucial to plant survival. Well these same compounds are also found in other plants, in fact some of the most common terpenoids in cannabis already have a body of research about them and their medicinal effects. Myrcene, pinene, humulene, nerolidol, linalool, limonene, caryophyllene, terpinolene are among many volatile compounds that are found in aromatic plants like lavender, lemon balm, hops, rose, peppermint, bergamot, clary sage, cedarwood, eucalyptus, anise and all the plants with strong odor, whether pleasant or not.
Essential oils are the concentrated capture of these specific compounds acquired by processing large amounts of plant material via a steam distillation process to in order to use them in many medicinal, food, industrial, body and home care use. There is a significant body of evidence supporting the effects of these various terpenoids for gynecological conditions, anxiety, depression, nausea, and other symptoms of this dysmenorrhea, so cannabis is a logical choice for many sufferers of this condition given that it packs the super punch of THC and CBD in addition to so many of these other medicinal compounds. Whether smoking, vaporizing, ingesting, or using topically, cannabis can be a welcome support to those suffering from dysmenorrhea.
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