3 min read

Does CBD Help Soothe Menstrual Cramps?

We Look Into Whether Cannabidiol *Actually* Treats Period Discomfort

Menstrual cramps are a huge pain in the ass (or, rather, uterus), but they’re something most people have to deal with—in fact, menstrual cramps affect 9 out of 10 women in the UK. 

If you experience period pain, chances are you’ve tried pretty much anything to alleviate the discomfort, from traditional painkillers (which most of the time are downright ineffective—not to mention gut-harming) to acupuncture, or even switching up your birth control. But what if we told you there was an option that offers fast, targeted and safe pain relief? Yes, we’re talking about CBD

Although we’re accustomed to reaching for mainstream nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—who doesn’t have ibuprofen hidden at the bottom of their bag, next to a stray hair band and an emergency tampon?—they’re not the most effective solution. Chiefly, because they weren’t created with dysmenorrhea in mind. There’s a huge gender gap in medical research, and most painkillers on the market today have never been tested on the female physiology. In fact, until 1993 researchers excluded women from clinical trials because they believed hormonal fluctuations (which men also experience on a daily basis, FYI) would pollute data. *Eye roll*. 

Research has also shown that they may not be as safe as we’ve always assumed. Frequent use of NSAIDs can lead to small intestinal inflammation, and their efficacy isn’t as direct you’d hope. “When we think about drugs, we often think about which drug to take for what symptoms. When we think about side effects, however, it can be more relevant to consider how we are taking that drug,” explains Dr. Harry Baxter, Daye’s resident expert. 

“Although pharmaceutical ads might lead you to believe drugs work like a lightning bolt to the red circle of pain, most drugs are much less discriminatory. When you swallow a drug, 100% of it hits your gut. From there, most of the drug is absorbed into your bloodstream. On its way to your inflamed uterus, the liver and kidneys take a portion of the drug. So although your gut and other organs have been exposed to the full dose of the drug, your poor uterus has only seen a fraction. This becomes particularly relevant for drugs that target molecules found everywhere in the body, such as NSAIDs. NSAIDs target COX (cyclooxygenase) enzymes, as they are one of the main culprits behind inflammation, but they also have a role in maintaining a healthy gut lining and blood thinning.” Unlike other anti-inflammatory drugs, CBD doesn’t inhibit COX-1 and COX-2 receptors. In lay(wo)man’s terms, using CBD doesn’t carry the risk of developing gastrointestinal and cardiovascular complications.

CBD’s bioavailability greatly depends on how it’s administered, and if you’re looking for the most effective way to absorb CBD for period pain relief, look no further than your vagina. The vaginal mucosa is extremely absorbent and contains the highest number of cannabinoid receptors in the human body (well, technically your brain has more, but it's not as easily accessible). So not only will your vagina absorb more CBD than if you took it as a pill, it will also absorb it faster. After all, when applied vaginally the compound completely bypasses your digestive system, so it doesn’t have to be metabolised. 

“Although oral medications are the most popular and well known route for administration, vaginally-administered medications benefit from a little-known quirk of female anatomy called the “first uterine pass effect",” adds Dr. Baxter.

“Anything that is absorbed through the vaginal mucosa is recycled through the blood supply to the ovaries, uterus and vagina, rather than being sent out into the body's bloodstream—where it can cause side effects and the liver and kidneys can take their cut. This means that vaginally-administered medications can use a much smaller dose and have less drug floating around in the bloodstream, whilst still delivering enough of the drug to the inflamed uterus, if used for period pain, for example.” For uterine cramps, CBD administered vaginally is pretty much the exact definition of localised pain relief. 

When it comes to managing period pain, different things will work for different people. Menstrual symptoms and discomfort are just as varied as the amount of pain relief methods available to us today, so it’s up to each individual to find what suits them best. But if you're looking for a natural, effective, and safe way to treat menstrual cramps, CBD could be it.

Illustrations by Erin Rommel. Erin is the founder of @second.marriage, a Brooklyn-based brand, illustration, and design studio.

Written by Liv Cassano. Liv is the Editor of Vitals, follow her at @liv_css.

Bioavailability CBD Cannabinoid receptors Dysmenorrhea Endocannabinoid system NSAID

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