Can CBD Help With Period Pain?
by MARIA DEL RUSSO
Disclaimer: This information isn’t a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You shouldn’t rely on this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
It seems like these days, you can’t do a Google search on pain without coming across an article that talks about cannabidiol (CBD) for pain management. CBD, which is a chemical found in both hemp and cannabis, has plenty of anecdotal evidence of pain relief — for example when it comes to period cramps. CBD, is especially attractive for folks because, when consumed, it is not known to intoxicate or cause the user to be “high” as with the other cannabis component, THC. But you don’t just have to vape or eat CBD to feel its effects. There are brands that sell suppositories, rubs, gels, oils, bath salts, and other products laced with CBD that are meant to help mitigate the pain.
But is it true? Is CBD a miracle-worker when it comes to period cramp pain management?
The answer is maybe. Unfortunately, because cannabis isn’t legal in all 50 states, studying the effects it has on humans is incredibly difficult. And while we do have studies on how CBD can help with pain management (more on that below), there hasn’t been a peer-reviewed clinical study on whether or not it can help relieve the pain from period cramps or other period-related ailments. Instead, we have the anecdotes of folks who have tried CBD-based products for period relief, and not much else.
So, could CBD be useful in your quest for pain-free periods? Let’s dive a little deeper into what we know.
What does the science say?
As mentioned above, there aren’t any specific studies on CBD for period pain. But there are studies on CBD for pain in general, which means it might work for the hurt you feel around your time of the month. One study suggested that medical cannabis, of which CBD is a compound, can help with the treatment of chronic pain (1), but noted that the study wasn’t controlled. It has also been shown to help reduce inflammation and pain-related behaviors in rats. (2)
That second study is especially compelling because a lot of the pain that you feel during your period is the result of inflammation. Prostaglandin, which is released after ovulation and right before your period starts, is an inflammatory chemical that contracts the muscles in your uterus, causing cramps. In fact, women with higher prostaglandin levels have been known to also have stronger, more painful contractions. (3) So if CBD reduces inflammation, and inflammation causes cramps, the logic follows that CBD could reduce your cramps. It is, however, important to note that rats and humans don’t necessarily respond to chemicals the same way, so there are many steps between a study like this and efficacy of CBD for period cramps.
Scientists have also discovered that CBD can actually inhibit the enzyme that produces prostaglandin, which can stop this whole mess before it even starts. (4) But since there hasn’t been extensive research on the subject, it’s hard to say that there is a connection between CBD and pain reduction.
Is there a delivery method that works best?
It’s all about trial and error when it comes to which delivery method works best for you — or if it works at all. (Which, again, is still scientifically unproven.) If you’re consuming CBD, whether it’s with a gummy, a vape pen, or a tincture that you place under your tongue, it has to go through your digestive tract, which means the effects are delayed. But if you apply the CBD topically, with a rub, a suppository, or an oil, your body absorbs it almost immediately. That’s why people love CBD rubs for muscle pain.
There also isn’t a lot of information regarding dosing for CBD and pain, since there haven’t been many studies. Since everyone’s metabolism is different, too, different doses can affect different people, well, differently.
CBD can be easy to get your hands on in many states that have made it legal. And with so many companies providing different means of consumption, you can try it out as an option that may work best for you.
- The Clinical Journal of Pain. The Effect of Medicinal Cannabis on Pain and Quality-of-Life Outcomes in Chronic Pain. Accessed September 6, 2019. View resource.
- The European Journal of Pain. Transdermal cannabidiol reduces inflammation and pain-related behaviours in a rat model of arthritis. Accessed September 6, 2019. View resource.
- The Global Library of Women’s Medicine. Prostaglandins and the Reproductive Cycle. Accessed September 6, 2019. View resource.
- Organization for Frontier Research in Preventive Pharmaceutical Sciences. Cannabidiolic acid as selective cycloocygenase-2 inhibitory component in cannabis. Accessed September 6, 2019. View resource.
Could CBD be useful in your quest for pain-free periods? The answer is maybe. Let’s dive a little deeper into what we know.
I Really Need CBD Brands to Stop Lying to Me About Period Cramps
Getty Images/ razerbird
I was scrolling through my emails recently, exorcising spam, when one subject line caught my eye: “CBD for PMS? 🙌🏼Hallelujah! 🙌🏼.” The hemp company’s newsletter could not have been more on point—I was smack dab in the middle of one of my most painful periods to date. I opened the email, and my heating pad slipped as I shifted to the edge of my seat.
Could this really be the magical answer to the burning ball of fiery knives inside my uterus? I thought.
The newsletter was riddled with seemingly relatable Friends GIFs, clever alliterations, and marketing buzzwords to get the reader to buy, buy, buy! “PMS Pain Be Gone!” it read. But what it didn’t have was products that have been proven to—in any way, shape, or form—actually minimize excruciating period cramps.
I was floored. Not just as someone with intense period pain due to endometriosis, but also as a C-suite-level marketing professional. I couldn’t tell what was worse, the cramps in my uterus or the knife in my back.
One of the products was a patch with only 15 mg of CBD, also called cannabidiol, a compound found in cannabis that does not produce a high. Using that to try to manage my pain would be like putting a Band-Aid on a gushing head wound. How do I know this? For starters, I typically consume between 30 mg and 50 mg of CBD in a single dose when I’m taking it to manage my pain. And as much as I feel CBD assists me in my pain management, it’s not my cure-all. I could replace my blood with CBD oil and I would still have intense cramps. If something has only 15 mg of CBD, I don’t have to try it to know it’s not going to cure my PMS. Not to mention, there’s just no science or regulation behind these claims.
I quickly grabbed my phone and did what all opinionated millennial women do: rant on social media. Messages immediately poured in. I was not alone. Other women had similar experiences with the new wave of CBD products. Screenshots of high-end packaging and their ingredient labels flooded my DMs. Once again, I was taken aback by the prices, claims, ingredients, and minimal CBD contents.
If a product hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the brand behind that product cannot legally claim it will cure any ailment. From the FDA itself: ”Unlike drug products approved by the FDA, unapproved CBD drug products have not been subject to FDA review as part of the drug approval process, and there has been no FDA evaluation regarding whether they are safe and effective to treat a particular disease, what the proper dosage is, how they could interact with other drugs or foods, or whether they have dangerous side effects or other safety concerns.”
This is an incredibly personal issue for me because my periods are definitely not normal. I received my official endometriosis diagnosis after a laparoscopy in the summer of 2015. I have been working ever since to manage the painful, frustrating symptoms, which I’ve dealt with unofficially for over a decade. Traditional painkillers barely scratch the surface of my pain, and I had trouble getting doctors to take my level of pain seriously.
Up until my surgery, I was subjected to bouts of extreme discomfort and frequent UTIs. Sex was painful, and sometimes I would bleed during or after. I developed depression and anxiety while going through these unsuccessful battles with an ever-growing list of symptoms that went undiagnosed for years. I was opposed to opioid use and searched for an alternative. Not only do I understand the allure of using cannabis for period paid—I do it myself, and I find that some products really do help.
CBD and hemp brands are marketing their products for managing pain and period cramps, but as someone with endometriosis, I know they won’t help me.