Cannabis And Endometriosis: A Possible Solution?
Estimated 5-minute read
Marijuana has been around as a medicinal herb for thousands of years, as we have records of its use all the way back to Ancient China. Due to the modern legalization around cannabis and hemp, there hasn’t been a lot of research on the current possible uses of medical marijuana in the modern medical establishment. But thankfully, it’s been picking back up, and as legislators decriminalize and regulate the use of cannabis, more and more studies have been cropping up. Still, there is so much we don’t know about it.
Mostly, marijuana has been reported to be a successful analgesic (which is the fancy medical word for the substances that cause us pain relief) in various medical conditions. Since we know that it’s useful from an anecdotal level, scientists have been testing out how cannabis could potentially help with various conditions. Recently, they’ve been trying it out as a possible treatment for endometriosis. Around 1 in 10 people with uteruses in reproductive age suffer from this condition, and there are not many options for them to manage it.
So, what exactly is endometriosis? To break that down, I’ll start by explaining some things about the uterus and menstruation. The uterus is basically made up of three layers. The outermost of these is called the serosa, which is basically a thin layer of cells that forms a sort of “capsule” around the organ. The second of these is the myometrium, which is the thickest of the layers and it is made up of muscle. Lastly, there is the endometrium, which is the inner lining of the uterus. The endometrium’s size is affected by the ovarian hormones, estrogen and progesterone. These two regulate how the endometrium grows and when it is time to shed during different times of the menstrual cycle.
What happens with patients that have endometriosis is that there is endometrial tissue in places where it shouldn’t be– outside the uterus. Patients can have endometrial tissue inside their ovaries, on their fallopian tubes, the ligaments that support their uterus, the lining of the pelvic cavity, the colon, and other uncomfortable places. And remember how earlier I mentioned that this is the part of the uterus that is shed every month? Yeah, these extrauterine bits of endometrium also respond to whatever the ovarian hormones command, they grow and try to leave the body with every cycle.
Though it is classified as a “benign disorder”, this clearly causes a lot of pain. People with endometriosis can deal with excessive menstrual cramps, an abnormal flow, and gastrointestinal issues. Patients have also reported feeling anxiety and an impaired cognitive function, and some also deal with infertility issues.
Naturally, these patients try to find some ways to manage their endometriosis symptoms. However, there aren’t a lot of options to treat this. One possibility is the use of birth control, but that also comes with its drawbacks, especially in patients who want to get pregnant. Another treatment course that doctors tried to explore was surgery to remove the tissue, but they found this wasn’t as effective as they thought, since these pockets of endometrium tend to grow back.
So now, scientists are exploring different avenues to find an effective way to manage this disorder. And this is where cannabis comes in, since researchers have taken into consideration the myriad of anecdotal evidence that cannabis has managed to relieve some people’s symptoms. Most of the time, when testing for new pharmaceutical options, scientists have to look at safety in other animals, mostly rodents. They use mice since their genetic material is similar enough to humans, and they are easy to take care of and breed.
In 2020, an article was published by researchers from the University of Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, where they tested THC’s effects on laboratory mice with endometriosis. In their study, they administered a moderate dose of THC over the course of a few days to mice with abdominal pain, and found that the THC mice felt less pain in the abdominal area and a general reduced pain unpleasantness than the control group.
They also found that the mice’s cognitive impairment was reduced, and that these behavioral manifestations are also correlated with a decrease in the size of the extrauterine endometrium in the group that was exposed to THC. The role of THC on this reduction is not yet known. When it comes to other symptoms, they didn’t notice a decrease in the mice’s endometriosis related anxious behavior. And interestingly, the THC produced opposite cognitive effects on the mice that didn’t have any endometriosis.
The animal study’s results were positive enough to warrant the next type of study on the line: a clinical trial. The researchers at UPF mentioned that they have already planned the initiation of clinical trials to see how these results translate to women with endometriosis. These novel clinical trials will evaluate this new possible endometriosis treatment under pathological human conditions. So we will have to wait on their results, hopefully coming to us soon, fresh and peer-reviewed.
There is another study that seems to show promising data, published in 2021 by researchers in the Western Sydney University. They invited 252 women to participate, and over the course of 3 years, these women self-reported 16193 cycles and their use of cannabis for symptom relief. The most common symptom treated by cannabis they found among these women was pain, with a 57.3% success rate. They also recorded that the most common and effective method for pain relief was inhalation. However, for the women who used cannabis to treat their endometriosis related gastrointestinal symptoms, it was recorded that the use of edibles and other oral forms of marijuana ingestion was more effective. It is less common that the patients use cannabis for gastrointestinal issues, with only around 15.2% of women consuming it for that purpose. For symptoms related to mood, the researchers discovered that oral ingestion was superior, too.
If you are looking at marijuana as a possible treatment for your endometriosis, the evidence suggests that it might help. It may not work for everyone, but if it is something that you want to try out, bring it up with your doctor on the next visit so that you can decide what is best for you.
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. The information on this article is for informative and entertainment purposes only. Nothing here substitutes advice you can get from a medical doctor. If you have a question about medical marijuana use, you should talk to a licensed physician.
Burney, Richard (2021). Pathogenesis and Pathophysiology of Endometriosis - National Institute of Health. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3836682/
Escudero-Lara, Alejandra (2020) Disease-modifying effects of natural D9tetrahydrocannabinol in endometriosis associated pain - E Life. Retrieved from https://www.readcube.com/articles/10.7554/eLife.50356
Sinclair, Justin (2021) Effects of cannabis ingestion on endometriosis-associated pelvic pain and related symptoms - Journals Plos One. Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0258940