1 in 10 Australian women with endometriosis report that cannabis helps their condition. Can cannabis treat endometriosis?
We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have decriminalised cannabis may find this article of interest.
Some of the earliest evidence of medicinal cannabis use can be found from thousands of years ago throughout ancient China, Egypt, and India. In some cases, cannabis would be used as an anaesthetic, in other settings cannabis would be used to alleviate pain or stimulate one's appetite.
Now, as the War on Drugs comes to an end and more countries and states are starting to legalize cannabis, we're beginning to see cannabis come back into the limelight as a potential medicine. In fact, medicinal marijuana usage is growing so quickly that forecasts predict the industry will reach USD 148.35 Billion by 2026, according to a report by Reports and Data.
Symptoms like chronic pain, inflammation, and most famously epilepsy have all been greatly improved through the use of cannabinoid-based medicines, and the non-psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant known as cannabidiol (CBD) has taken over the wellness industry.
Also, as the stigma surrounding cannabis continues to dissipate, we may also be witnessing a new addition to the list of symptoms that cannabis can cure, as more and more women are turning to the plant to treat their endometriosis.
What Is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a chronic, inflammatory condition where the uterus produces tissue lining on the outside of the womb rather than on the insides. The lining of your uterus is called the endometrium, and Endometriosis is diagnosed when endometrial tissue begins to grow on the ovaries, on abnormal areas of the pelvis and the bowel.
Roughly 10% of women suffer from endometriosis, and those that suffer from the condition report chronic pain, irregular menstruation, and infertility in extreme cases. In order to treat endometriosis, women often have to regularly use painkillers or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and may sometimes require hormonal therapies or surgeries like a hysterectomy.
In attempts to spark dialogue around endometriosis and the effect it has upon women, a popular women's health website named Jean Hailes started 'Endo Wise'; a blog that explores the personal accounts of eight Australian women suffering from endometriosis. Almost all of the women included in 'Endo Wise' report having suffered from endometriosis for years without being diagnosed, each battling regular pain, anxiety, and cramping without knowing why.
A 22-year-old named Rachel told Endo Wise: "with endo you get so tired, and that's one of my biggest problems. I just get so tired. At the end of a really long day, [for me] to come home and do exercises and all of these things, sometimes I can't help but think, why me? I'm sick and tired of feeling not great."
As Rachel and women like her demonstrate, endometriosis is a prominent issue that leaves many women in insufferable pain, without an obvious cure – until now. Reports are now emerging that some women believe they've found the cure to their pelvic pains: cannabis.
According to The Conversation, 13% of women with endometriosis have been managing their condition through the use of cannabis, as an alternative to hormonal treatments, opioids or surgeries which can each come with long-lasting and severe side effects.
How Can Cannabis Help With Endometriosis?
Unfortunately, due to stigma and legal barriers to researching cannabis, very little concrete evidence has been accrued to prove that cannabis is a safe and effective cure for endometriosis. Though of the evidence we do have, it's looking like cannabis can certainly help.
The reason for this is largely due to our Endocannabinoid System (ECS) which helps maintain our body's natural state of homeostasis. When someone suffers from endometriosis, the ECS can trigger pain responses on multiple levels, including on an inflammatory level which creates the painful experience that many women associate with their endometriosis. The belief behind cannabis as a cure for endometriosis is that through using cannabis, women can better modulate their ECS to minimize pain symptoms without the necessity for invasive surgery, hormonal treatment or addictive opiates.
Again, the evidence for this is limited but increasing over time. For example, one study involving 135 women found that cannabis use was both safe and effective with minimal side effects in alleviating chronic pelvic pain. Another study performed on rats found that "endocannabinoids might regulate the innervation of the disease's abnormal growths and that exogenous cannabinoid agents can be effective in reducing endometriosis symptoms."
And growing alongside the research which confirms cannabis's benefits to those suffering from endometriosis, are surveys involving personal accounts from women who have used cannabis to self-medicate their own symptoms with great success.
The Conversation carried out a survey of 484 women with endometriosis and found that there were several methods that women undertook to self-manage their symptoms such as the use of heat packs (70 per cent), dietary changes (44 per cent), exercise (42 per cent), yoga or pilates (35 per cent) and finally, cannabis at 13 percent.
Out of all of these methods, cannabis was reportedly the most effective tool for managing endometriosis pain. Similarly, the Endometriosis Association carried out a survey involving 240 respondents, of which roughly one in three respondents reported having tried cannabis. Among those that had tried cannabis to alleviate their symptoms, nearly 70% of this group reported cannabis to be very effective. Similar results were also achieved through cannabidiol (CBD) use, which has the added benefit of not getting users high so that they may consume the compound before work or prior to driving.
While much of this is speculative and we cannot say for certain what the long-term effects of cannabis consumption are upon endometriosis symptoms, we are seeing another potential symptom which may be alleviated through the use of medicinal cannabis and cannabinoid medicines. And regardless of the plant's legality, women are already self-medicating their endometriosis with cannabis, which likely isn't by accident.
Could an endometriosis-specific cannabinoid formula be the next big hit for the medicinal cannabis industry? And what other conditions could cannabis treat? As the research papers continue to pile up on the medicinal benefits of cannabis, who knows what incurable condition will soon find a cure…
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