Products containing the cannabinoid CBD may help in mitigating period pain and soothing menstrual cramps. Although there’s limited research on this topic, anecdotal evidence and reports suggest it is effective. CBD has properties that make it a strong natural alternative to painkillers in lowering the intensity of irritating menstrual aches. It is anti-inflammatory and analgesic, making it useful in calming minor pain conditions. Period pain is very common with around 80% of women reporting experiencing it at some point. While there are pain relievers like ibuprofen that can be used, as well as natural remedies like exercise, CBD is a strong option to explore for helping to mitigate it. Let’s take a look at how CBD can help with period pain and why you might consider using it.
What is Period Pain?
Dysmenorrhea or pain that occurs before or during a period is a cramping, painful, discomfort that occurs due to inflammation in the uterus lining. The underlying cause of the pain is inflammation. Prostaglandins are pro-inflammatory enzymes which irritate the lining of the uterus around the time of periods. These compounds cause the uterus to contract and lead to muscle cramps. When it strikes, the symptoms can include cramping, feelings of muscle contraction or spasms, nausea, pain in the surrounding region or muscles, plus even headaches.
The timing of these pains usually happens a week before a period. This is also known as PMS or premenstrual syndrome and it can also be caused or exacerbated by hormone shifts in the lead-up to a period. There isn’t a clear single factor that is known to be the underlying cause of pain from PMS. The pain can be mild or severe and will vary by individual and the instance it occurs. Around 15-20% of women are estimated to have moderate to severe period pain each month.
What is CBD?
Cannabis contains many therapeutic compounds known as cannabinoids. One of these known as cannabidiol or CBD is highly potent at aiding with many conditions like anxiety, arthritis and pain. It has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties and is already being used in many medications such as Epidiolex for epilepsy. Unlike THC from cannabis, CBD is not psychoactive or addictive and can’t get you high. It is absorbed through cannabinoid receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system. When this happens many benefits can be obtained through endocannabinoids that are produced. Anandamide and other endocannabinoids help with functions like immunity, sleep, pain relief and stress.
The endocannabinoid system helps in controlling mood, sleep, immunity, digestion, and even homeostasis. It has some capacities to act on your brain’s and neurological receptors. CBD stimulates some of these receptors such as the opioid and serotonin receptors. Some studies suggest its opioid receptor modulation in particular can partly explain its pain-relieving properties.
Does CBD Help With Menstrual Cramps?
Firstly it is important to highlight that CBD is not a cure for period pain and won’t work for everyone. It can be effective for some people and is more applicable for mild period pain cases. The mechanism it soothes period pain is via inflammatory response reduction. CBD plays a role in modulating the immune system through endocannabinoid activity. Endocannabinoids are produced from the endocannabinoid system when cannabinoids like CBD are consumed. They can downregulate the production of inflammatory enzymes like prostaglandins and cytokines that cause inflammation.
As period pain is the result of inflammation in many cases, using CBD can help in soothing its severity. This is great for those impacted by menstrual cramps. More research and trials are being targeted at this use case for cannabis medicines. In 2021 and 2022 studies have been carried out to test the capacity of CBD in lowering period pain. Most studies also combine THC with CBD in targeting pain as this is a more effective formulation. CBD alone hasn’t been shown in studies yet to suppress pain by itself. Rodent models are also supporting the evidence that CBD helps in calming inflammation and discomfort from pain. Cannabinoids help in lowering nociception or our perception of pain by suppressing pain signalling. Another study compared CBD to other alternatives in lowering pain and discomfort such as yoga, stretching and anti-inflammatories. It found women rated CBD as more effective in helping to reduce pain than alternative methods. However, it did not include formulations that had THC as a comparison point which likely performed better.
Is it an Alternative to Pharmaceuticals?
Usually when individuals have severe period pain they are prescribed NSAIDs or painkillers such as ibuprofen or corticosteroids that help in alleviating symptoms. Pharmaceuticals can carry a much higher risk of side effects and can’t be used long-term. They tax the kidneys and liver, causing damage if excessively taken. Other long-term side effects can include cardiovascular disease, stomach ulcers and nausea. CBD has many similar properties to NSAIDs in lower inflammation. It acts along similar metabolic pathways although is not as potent. It may prove an alternative for some although can’t replace a doctor’s diagnosis and prescription.
Using CBD for Period Pain
You can take CBD for period pain in a range of ingestion methods. Each one will have some advantages and disadvantages. Your choice should come down to your preferences, tastes and how much bioavailability plus speed of absorption you require. For example, tinctures and oils can be consumed orally. They will have an earthy flavour and be absorbed slowly due to digestion. This method offers a long release of CBD via the gut. It takes a long time to absorb CBD through the stomach so it will be active in the body for a longer period. Vaping, inhaling or using sublingual CBD absorbs into the bloodstream rapidly and is better for fast-acting relief.
You can also apply CBD to your skin using creams or balms. It will still absorb to the bloodstream but this can take more time. This method is better for targeted relief in a particular area but has low bioavailability as much of the CBD doesn’t make it to cannabinoid receptors. It can be useful for menstrual cramps though as you can apply it to the uterus area. You can also try capsules if you don’t like the taste of CBD as it bypasses the taste buds and tongue. Gummies are also a good option for those who don’t like the earthy flavour of CBD oil. Both allow for accurate, easy dosing. Many other methods are also available such as patches, lozenges, sprays or pills. Choose which method will meet your needs and that you find palatable.
Using CBD daily is recommended to enable it to build in your system and provide more relief over time through greater endocannabinoid production. Dosing several times per day is important to get the most out of your CBD. If you only use it when you experience pain it is likely too late and the CBD will take some time to work. Particularly for those with endometriosis or chronic period pain, CBD needs to be used at high doses and frequency to work effectively. Using it as a once-off may still be effective but can’t be relied on. It’s also unlikely to solve or eliminate the pain but can help in soothing discomfort and aiding with pain sensations.
Choosing a Product
Both research and patient reports are suggesting THC and CBD in combination are better at treating pain, inflammation and period pains than CBD alone. This may play a factor in which products you choose. Products with both cannabinoids are going to be more effective. We also recommend opting for full-spectrum CBD products which contain terpenes. Terpenes help the absorption of cannabinoids and improve their effects, aiding with pain relief.
Seek organic products, that have strong reviews, are from a reputable supplier and offer a certificate of analysis provided by a 3rd party lab source. Organic products are less likely to contain contaminants like pesticides as they’re farmed without the use of these products. Poor CBD products also carry a higher risk of heavy metal or solvent contaminants. To avoid this, look for CO2-extracted CBD oil. It uses gas alone through supercritical extraction resulting in greater purity and less risk of any contaminants entering the final product.
Your product should be clearly labelled for its ingredients, and have dose and usage recommendations plus helpful tips. Obtaining a certificate analysis will give you a summary of the cannabinoid content and concentration in your product. It will enable you to identify whether your product contains CBD plus what other cannabinoids it has.
There isn’t enough clear evidence to confidently conclude CBD helps in suppressing period pain. It likely works for some people but is more effective when combined with THC for pain. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, CBD is thought to help in reducing the inflammatory response that contributes to menstrual cramping that results from the uterus lining inflammation due to prostaglandins. Using it might provide some benefit. The best method is to take it daily to ensure its ability to stimulate enough endocannabinoid production for a meaningful reduction in pain and inflammation.