BlogMenopause Awareness Month: Shedding light on medical cannabis and the menopause

Menopause Awareness Month: Shedding light on medical cannabis and the menopause

9 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

medical cannabis and the menopause
October is known as the month of falling leaves, cosy jumpers, and the start of spooky season – but, what you may not have known is that October is also World Menopause Awareness Month, with Menopause Awareness Day taking place on the 18th.

Contents

The menopause is a natural biological event that will impact over half of the UK population when their menstrual cycles end. Despite affecting so many, as a topic, the menopause is often shrouded in misconception, stigma, and inadequate education, and there are countless reports where individuals express that they’re feeling let down by the care their GP provides in this area. 

During Menopause Awareness Month, it's important to open up dialogue to develop a wider awareness, understanding, and discussion of how menopause impacts individuals in our society, and improve the level of care provided to patients during this time. 

Understanding The Menopause

Around 33 million people in the UK will experience the menopause when their menstrual cycles end, starting one year after their last period. Typically impacting women between the ages of 45 and 55, the menopause can cause joint and muscle pain, mood changes and sleep disturbances, as well as issues with memory, temperature regulation, anxiety levels, and libido. 

Up to 80% of women experience some of these menopause related symptoms, and they last for a median of 7.4 years, which can have a massive effect on their lives and daily routines. Research shows that 59% of women experiencing the menopause say it has negatively impacted them at work, and 10% of women actually leave their job because of issues related to the menopause. 

But, you may be asking, what causes the menopause? Well, over time, the levels of oestrogen and progesterone produced by females' naturally decreases, which in turn causes their ovaries to stop producing eggs, and the menopause to start. 

Sometimes the symptoms of the menopause begin to affect people before their periods have ended, and their bodies are still creating eggs - this period of time is called perimenopause, and this ends after one year of their last period. 

This natural transition can also be triggered by factors beyond the decline of natural reproductive hormones. In some cases, medical treatments such as chemotherapy can induce early menopause due to the significant impact it can have on the ovaries. Genetics also play a pivotal role in the timing of menopause, and causes some women to experience menopause earlier than others, which can often make it difficult to spot the signs of perimenopause in a timely manner. 

Conventional Treatment Methods for Menopause

The conventional route most women experiencing the menopause take in terms of managing their symptoms is hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. This medicinal treatment does as its name would suggest, and replaces the oestrogen that has been naturally lost, causing a reduction in symptoms or symptom severity. 

Those who have a womb also have to take progesterone whilst taking oestrogen, to protect the lining of their womb from the effects of the oestrogen. This is called combined hormone replacement therapy. 

According to the NHS, the “risks of HRT are small and usually outweighed by the benefits” so long as the individual is under the age of 60, and has no high risk of developing blood clots or breast cancer. This is because HRT has shown to increase the likelihood of their occurrence, which continues to rise the older the patient gets, and the longer they take HRT. 

Around 14% of women in the UK are estimated to be currently using HRT to manage or relieve the symptoms they experience because of the menopause. Studies and anecdotal accounts have found this treatment method to be effective in relieving and regulating hot flushes and night sweats, anxiety and low mood, vaginal dryness and sleeping issues. 

However, as with all other treatments – one size does not fit all, and there is a percentage of patients who are unable to, or do not want to, use HRT.  Perhaps due to its associated risks and side effects, their own medical history, or just their own personal preferences, it is important for people to be aware of the alternative options available to them. However, our research showed that less than 5% of those we surveyed were aware this includes medical cannabis.  

The Link Between Medical Cannabis and The Menopause 

The menopause is caused by a hormonal change, which causes the ovaries to stop producing eggs. But, what many are unaware of, is that the endocannabinoid system is the system that regulates these hormones, and it is also the system that cannabis interacts with when it enters the body. 

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a vast and complicated network, composed of receptors, enzymes, and endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are natural compounds the body creates to transmit messages and signals around the body and trigger biological functions or responses. 

Endocannabinoids like anandamide play a vital role in regulating various bodily functions, including hormone levels, mood, pain perception, appetite and so much more. And so, during the menopause, as oestrogen and progesterone levels fall, this hormonal shift affects the ECS, and particularly its production levels of anandamide. 

However, recent evidence is beginning to demonstrate that medical cannabis could have the potential to relieve some menopausal symptoms, because of its ability to interact with this same internal system.

The cannabis plant contains chemicals that are extremely structurally similar to endocannabinoids, known as cannabinoids, which cause the effects associated with cannabis. When cannabinoids like THC and CBD are consumed, they can mimic endocannabinoids and therefore interact with the ECS and its plethora of functions. 

This has resulted in evidence demonstrating medical cannabis’ efficacy in relieving pain, anxiety, sleep issues and stress – all of which are symptoms associated with the menopause. 

Studies on Medical Cannabis and The Menopause 

In the US, women and adults over the age of 50 are the fastest growing group of cannabis consumers, and a survey of over 5,000 ‘midlife’ women published earlier this year revealed that 42% had consumed cannabis in their lifetime. The majority of participants in this study were postmenopausal, and the findings that relate to the medicinal motivations for this use were presented at the North American Menopause Society’s annual meeting last month because of its interesting findings. 

This survey found 13% of the women aged between 42 and 64 had used cannabis for medicinal purposes, and 10% had used cannabis within the last 30 days. 6% stated they consumed cannabis specifically to manage symptoms of the menopause such as mood and sleep disturbances, whilst others said they had used cannabis to ease pain (28%), anxiety (24%) and stress (22%) - which are also known symptoms of the menopause. 

A smaller online survey displayed similar results in 2022. This Harvard-led research study analysed the responses of 131 women in the perimenopausal stage, and 127 women past menopause, and found a staggering 79% of those who used cannabis before, endorsed it as a menopause symptom reliever. 

This American study found that respondents believed cannabis relieves hot flashes, vaginal dryness, night sweats and body pain and also increases enjoyment during sex. Mood and anxiety was also noted to be improved by cannabis by 46% of respondents, and 67% said it improved their sleep. These findings are impressive and demonstrate the difference cannabis could have on symptoms associated with the menopause, but it should be noted that the survey sample in this was not representative of the general population. 

Similar results can also be seen in a cross-sectional web survey that collected responses from women aged over 35 in Alberta, Canada during 2020. In total 1,485 took part in the study: 35% were post menopausal, and 33% were perimenopausal, and collectively 34% said they were current cannabis users. Over three quarters of these women used cannabis for medicinal purposes, and 74% said they found it helpful in managing symptoms of the menopause. 

This survey asked respondents specifically about cannabis’ effect on symptoms of the menopause and found that sleep, anxiety, and muscle or joint aches and pains were reported to be improved by cannabis by 65%, 45% and 33% of respondents respectively. The paper’s conclusion explained:

“Women may be reluctant to discuss cannabis with healthcare providers and resort to self-medicating because of fear of stigmatisation. Health professionals are hesitant to provide guidance on use of cannabis therapeutically due to lack of evidence, lack of product standardisation and dosing, and unfamiliarity. 

Yet, our data show that women prefer to receive cannabis information from healthcare providers, highlighting the importance of developing women’s cannabis-specific evidence-based resources for patients and providers.”

Conclusion

Menopause is a natural part of life that affects millions of individuals in the UK, and billions around the world. Yet, the dialogue surrounding the menopause is often clouded with misconception and misinformation. To celebrate Menopause Awareness Month, we decided to shed light, information, and awareness of how medical cannabis may be able to offer relief in this area. 

Conventional menopausal treatments like HRT have proven effective for many, but they are not a successful, or appropriate, option for everyone. However, recently, medical cannabis has emerged as a potential alternative, demonstrating promising results in managing menopausal symptoms. 

Although all three surveys discussed in this blog used self-reported data, which brings about the risk of bias, each study demonstrates women are experiencing therapeutic results. From improving sleep to reducing anxiety and pain, medical cannabis is showing increasing potential in enhancing quality of life for people during the menopausal transition. 

Moving forward, it is vital to continue to research how medical cannabis may be able to help people during the menopause, and continue to break stigma so that individuals are aware of every option available to them. We’d always advise speaking to a qualified healthcare professional if you are considering cannabis-based treatments for symptom management, and the menopause if no different. 

Accessing medical cannabis can be challenging due to the stigma surrounding it. However, Releaf makes it simple with our tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, all based on your cannabis prescription.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

Elevate your wellness with medical cannabis

Get comprehensive care, convenience, and confidence with an all-in-one treatment plan.

Check your eligibility
Authors

With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

fact checked

Compliance Director

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

Published at:


Further reading

Medical cannabis and hayfever - friend or foe?

Longer days, lush green leaves—and a streaming nose; all sure-fire signs that spring is finally here in abundance. But is your medical cannabis prescription a help or a hindrance?

Sarah Sinclair

Experts, insights, and experiences: Medical cannabis and mental health

Mental health is something that affects everyone, it’s something each individual in society has - all year round. But, this week, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Between the 13th and 19th of May, an extra effort is made to discuss the importance of mental health and how we can take care of it. And we wanted to join suit.

Lucy MacKinnon

Update on Ukraine: legalising medical cannabis, one by law at a time

Ukraine’s President signed off on Law 3528-IX, also known as The Medical Cannabis Law, back in February. This kickstarted the legalisation of medical cannabis, designed to offer relief to those suffering from conditions like chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the continued war with Russia. Here we take a look at some of the updates and amendments that have been made to accommodate for the legalisation of medical cannabis in Ukraine.

Lucy MacKinnon