A history of medical cannabis, CBD and menstrual discomfort

August 14, 2020

Women all over the world experience menstrual discomfort – from the mild to the more extreme. Unfortunately, it’s an all too common but natural and unavoidable experience which sees women from royalty to the modern CBD enthusiasts, turning to cannabis products in an effort to manage their symptoms. Cannabis is legalised for medicinal use in many countries across the world for a variety of conditions such as cancer, HIV, Aids, severe nausea and epilepsy. Period pains might just be the next condition added to the list but, is there strong enough evidence that it actually works?

Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) are throbbing or cramping pains in the lower abdomen. Many women have menstrual cramps before and during their menstrual periods. These cramps reduce the blood supply to the uterus, effectively causing painful spasms in the abdomen. There’s never been much in the medical arsenal that you can buy over the counter to help dysmenorrhea excluding heating pads and ibuprofen. However, cannabis products have surprisingly been used for hundreds of years around the world to treat menstrual discomfort. Queen Victoria was reportedly prescribed cannabis tinctures for her period pains by her personal physician, Sir John Russell Reynolds. After years of using the cannabis plant as a medicine, he praised its efficiency in treating menstrual discomfort: “Indian hemp…is of great service in cases of simple spasmodic dysmennorhoea.”


As far back as the 9th century, Persian sources actually cite the use of cannabis for menstrual cramps. A Chinese text from 1596 mentions cannabis and its pain reducing properties with regards to period discomfort. Furthermore, during Victorian times the royal physicist Reynolds was not the only doctor in the Victorian era to advocate for medicinal cannabis use. In 1883, the esteemed British Medical Journal (which is still a credible source of information to date) published two consecutive letters about treating heavy bleeding with cannabis. In the first letter, Reynolds campaigned for medical trials to show the benefits: “There is no medicine which has given such good results…the failures are so few, that I venture to call it a specific condition in menorrhagia. The drug deserves a trial.” In the second letter, another physician concurred, claiming a cannabis tincture was “par excellence the remedy for that condition.”

What is most interesting about these medical findings is that they were often in tandem with the British Raj (the British rule of India 1858-1947). During this period western doctors travelled to Asia in search of ancient remedies which would be exported back to the west. Cannabis was one of them. Throughout the 1800s patented medicines that contained cannabis were routinely offered to patients for various illnesses or discomforts. One late 19th century medicine ‘Dysmenine’, consisted of cannabis mixed with an assortment of herbal tinctures and was specifically recommended for menstrual colic and cramps. As leading cannabinoid researcher Dr. Ethan Russo said, cannabis’ role in treating menstrual discomfort is ‘ancient’. 


Inspired by these ancient remedies, modern companies are beginning to revitalise and reinvent the use of medical marijuana. It has only been recently, with the legalisation of medical cannabis and the surge in popularity of legal CBD products, that using cannabis for menstrual pains has come back into fashion. In 2017, New York state considered adding dysmenorrhoea to the list of conditions that make someone eligible to buy medical marijuana. Now, you can walk into health shops and buy the most millennial products, CBD oil and CBD tampons, which advocates will claim to ease the discomfort for women during their monthly periods. Female health company ‘Daye’ have recently been declared as the UK’s first clinically validated CBD tampons after almost three years of tests and trials. They state that 100mg of cannabidiol per tampon is enough to help with pain relief. For those who might wonder, no they don’t get you high! 

Experts may believe cannabis is effective at relieving menstrual pain because of the high concentration of endocannabinoid receptors found in the female reproductive tract (a biological system full of cannabinoid receptors that live inside the brain, organs, connective tissue, glands, and immune cells). However, there is a demand for more research needed to fully understand this connection which has been hindered due to rules and regulations. Cannabinoid medicine expert, Dr Dani Gordon summed this up: “There are no published research studies on using CBD for period pain relief, however, it does have well established, well studied anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects across a wide range of chronic pain conditions.” In her clinical practice, Dr Gordon reports that patients who she prescribes a high enough dose of CBD oil for period pain and PMS symptoms, largely report a lessening of symptoms after 3 months.

Although there have yet to be large medical studies to prove the benefits of cannabis as a curative medicine in menstrual discomfort, a selection of small studies have taken place. Dr. John Thiel, Provincial Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, conducted a study in 2019 whereby 134 patients with chronic pelvic pain trialled medicinal cannabis. 60% reported a positive effect. 

If you’re one to go by consumer online reviews, there are plenty of women who support these findings. Wellness guru Gwyneth Paltrow’s multi-million dollar company Goop, has also unsurprisingly researched the benefits of cannabis for PMS. On Goop’s website, they have conducted an interview with psychopharmacology specialist Dr. Julie Holland, who runs an elite Manhattan practice, here she explained a bit of the science behind this belief: “CBD can help with anxiety and THC can help with mood swings, irritability, and low resilience (your ability to handle stress). Both can help relax the uterine muscle where cramps occur, and alleviate many PMS symptoms. Holland professes that many of her patients use cannabis for cramps. 

If you want relief during the time of the month where you curl up in bed with those pesky pains that interfere with daily activities, have a look into the whole range of products that aim to help women. From CBD period chocolate to CBD menstrual rollers and CBD tampons. There’s a huge array of products to choose from. Even though there is a long way to go before cannabis could be prescribed widely as a medicine for PMS, there are many available products on the market that are worth a try. 

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