Going through menopause—the period when a woman's body stops producing reproductive hormones—can often cause a number of uncomfortable, even painful symptoms. And while there are a variety of things a woman going through menopause can do to help manage common symptoms like headaches, depression, and restlessness, there seems to be one particular remedy that is gaining popularity with older women: cannabis.
Researchers with the San Francisco VA Health Care System recently presented the results of a study on menopause pain management methods at the annual meeting of the North American Menopause Society. Based on data collected between March 2019 and May 2020 from 232 female United States veterans, average age 56, the findings showed that 27 percent of participants either currently use cannabis as a means of managing symptoms of menopause or have experimented with it at least one time. Another 10 percent said they intended to try cannabis for managing menopause. It should be noted that all participants were based in California where cannabis is legal for both medical and recreational use.
"These findings suggest that cannabis use for menopause symptom management is common, raising questions about the symptoms being targeted, and if this approach is helpful or harmful," the study's lead investigator Carolyn Gibson, PhD, a psychologist and health services researcher with the San Francisco VA Health Care System, told U.S. News&World Report on Sept. 30.
Regarding the symptoms being targeted, the study found that cannabis use was most common in women who reported suffering from hot flashes and night sweats in the last two weeks—at 67 percent and 68 percent, respectively. What's more, only 19 percent of the women reported trying more traditional methods of menopause management, such as hormone therapy, which speaks to the growing preference of cannabis as a form of treatment. As to what's driving the increasing interest in the alternative treatment method, the researchers believe there are a variety of factors.
"It's become mainstream, more widely available, more marketed potentially toward women during this period in their lives," Gibson said. "It may be that cannabis use can be relaxing and help with things like anxiety and sleep, and that would have an impact on sleeplessness and anxiety or mood changes during menopause."
Regardless of the reason, not everyone is thrilled with the rising trend. Stephanie Faubion, MD, medical director of the North American Menopause Society, even called it "alarming." There's also additional concern amongst the medical community due to the potential negative impact that cannabis can have on a person's heart and brain health. Gibson and her team say further research is needed to understand the risks of using cannabis to treat menopause, as well as to determine its efficacy. And for more female-focused health information, check out The No. 1 Sign of Poor Health No Woman Should Ever Ignore, Experts Say.