Women and Weed: A History of Cannabis and Women’s Health

March 7, 2020

A trophy-shaped organ deserving of such a merit, the uterus does so much more than house developing humans. This muscular organ has its own nervous system, unique networks of arteries and four kinds of ligaments. It sheds its inner lining—the endometrium—about every 28 days over 40-ish years (a.k.a. periods). It stretches to accommodate a growing fetus, contracts in active labour to push the baby out, then continues contracting to shrink back down to its original, fist-sized form.

All of these feats of the uterus, while remarkable, involve pain—a lot of pain—and that’s assuming a healthy organ without complications. But like the rest of the human body, a uterus is carpeted with endocannabinoid receptors, making cannabis a solid option for all that ails it. And for millennia, right up until 20th century prohibition, that’s just what people did.

Here are just some of the recorded ways cannabis has been used to treat uterine conditions throughout history, and how these remedies are used today:

“Par excellence” for periods

Nineteenth century Western physicians had a lot to say about cannabis and period-related problems. This was likely inspired by the reigning Queen Victoria, who reportedly had wicked menses.

It should also be noted this timeframe coincides with the British Raj, when eager Western doctors traveled throughout the Indian subcontinent, picking up centuries-old cannabis folk remedies.

Painful periods, or dysmenorrhea

While it’s unsubstantiated she herself took cannabis, it is likely Queen Victoria’s painful periods were treated with tinctures prepared by her personal physician, Sir John Russell Reynolds. After 30 years of working with the plant he declared it useful for cramps, among other things. “Indian hemp…is of great service in cases of simple spasmodic dysmennorhoea.”

Today, research physician assistant for Apollo Cannabis Clinics Kim Lam says when it comes to menstruation, pain is the number-one reason patients come in—and that cannabis definitely helps: “With physical cramping that women experience, CBD is well known to relax muscles and help with muscle spasms,” she says. “Big focus on CBD here but THC can also play a role in helping with sleep and increasing the effects of CBD.”

Heavy periods, or mennoraghia

Again in the Victorian era, the esteemed British Medical Journal (still in circulation today) published two consecutive letters about treating heavy bleeding with cannabis in 1883.

The first physician encouraged clinical trials just for period pain, writing “The failures are so few, that I venture to call it a specific in menorrhagia.” The second physician recounted successes from his own practice in India, claiming a cannabis tincture was “par excellence” for treating heavy bleeding, and even boldly claimed it helped doctors distinguish a bad period from early miscarriage. For the latter, he said cannabis had no effect (a good thing, if true).

Because we now know abnormally heavy bleeding (soaking one pad or tampon within an hour) can be a symptom of many different issues, from a hormone imbalance to possibly cancer, it’s important to see a healthcare provider to find out the underlying problem instead of just treating the bleeding.

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