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Can Cannabis Help with Menopause?

A closer look at how the endocannabinoid system helps heal the body.

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Menopause signals the end of childbearing years for women when their estrogen and progesterone hormone levels decrease. It can cause homeostasis dysfunction, which leads to significant physiological conditions such as hot flashes, mood swings, depression, insomnia, anxiety, low sex drive, weight gain, and calcium loss. All these conditions can be burdensome and require treatment.

But some research shows that phytocannabinoids CBD, CBG, CBN, THC supplements may help with some of these bothersome symptoms, specifically mood swings, depression, insomnia, and hot flashes. Does this mean that cannabis can help with menopause. Let's take a deeper dive. 

Related: More Women Are Using Marijuana to Ease Menopause

Hormones and the Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is the body's "command center" that keeps us in homeostasis and working like a well-oiled machine. It operates through the CB1 receptors primarily concentrated in the central nervous system (brain) and CB2 receptors located in all other systems, glands, and immune cells.

Endocannabinoids (anandamide and 2-AG) and enzymes carry out the tasks, communicated through CB1 & 2 receptors, to heal our body when an ailment or disease afflicts it.

Hormones act similarly to endocannabinoids in that they are "chemical messengers" that can trigger profound changes in the way a cell performs. They also control the enzymes that destroy endocannabinoids once they complete their function. These activities demonstrate hormones not only interact with the ECS to regulate the menstrual cycle and reproduction system, but they travel through the bloodstream to work in other areas of the body to support the endocannabinoid system.

According to a research team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, evidence surfaced with claims the brain produces large amounts of estrogen and progesterone hormones. This discovery is significant because scientists previously thought that only ovaries released reproductive hormones. The study concluded that knowing the brain produces estrogen is key to understanding hormonal changes from puberty to menopause and beyond.

Also, 50 percent of the brain's neurons located in the prefrontal cortex contain estrogen hormone receptors, but at the onset of menopause, 90 percent of hormone production gets depleted. As a result, homeostasis is disrupted, and many bodily functions like bone density, body weight, average temperature, brain functions that control mood, learning, and memory are negatively affected, causing endocannabinoid dysfunction.

Cannabinoids vs synthetic hormone therapy

With the surge of the women's rights movement in the 1960s, more and more clinical studies began to focus on menopause and how to treat symptoms so women can have a better quality of life.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), a lab-made progesterone and estrogen formulation, was popular in the 1990s to treat menopause discomfort but quickly fell out of favor when health scares associated with HRT were reported. A study by the Women's Health Initiative set off the alarm when they announced women who use HRT for long periods were in danger of getting heart disease, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer, among others.

Even though there have been modifications to HRT like customized combinations of progesterone and estrogen doses, public perception remains skeptical of HRT. The belief persists that it does more harm than good.

Are cannabinoids the answer?

When women enter menopause, it takes the body about ten years to return to homeostasis. But what about women who suffer severe symptoms? Can customized cannabinoid therapy target specific conditions to put the body back in homeostasis? Is menopause a "simple" case of endocannabinoid dysfunction that can reset with cannabinoid supplements?

And to take it further, research shows there is an abundance of endocannabinoids in ovaries suggesting they have a hand in ovary development and are intertwined with hormones more than we thought. Are cannabinoid drugs the solution to combat infertility?