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Move over Midol, hot-water bottles and chocolate, women may soon be reaching for a different way to deal with the suffering – both physical and mental – of menstruation. As Canada counts down to legalization, medical marijuana may just be the relief women have been hoping for through generations.

Malvika Chadha, 30, has dealt with very difficult period pain for a long time. Over the years increasing pain, nausea and fainting became a monthly burden.

“At 19 I started taking 6-7 extra strength Advils a day. And even on Day 4 and 5 of my bleeding, I would still have to lay down with a heating pad,” said Chadha, who works in marketing in Toronto.

Period cramps are caused by the release of prostaglandins that trigger muscle cramps in the uterus. These cramps reduce the blood supply to the uterus and cause painful spasms. There’s not much in the medical armoury to help dysmenorrhea

Luckily Chadha’s work environment is very positive and she was able to open up to her co-workers about her battle with her stubborn menstrual discomfort. She was pleased that her colleagues had a wealth of knowledge. They talked about prescriptions, over-the-counter meds and cannabis. So she decided to give it a try.

“I tried a combination, as I was a little bit skeptical,” she said. “I took a CBD pill and didn’t see much difference, so I took an Advil.”

But Chadha used her body as a mini lab and did her own personal research in determining what helped alleviate her pain.

“Over the months, I’d pop a pill (Advil) and have a cannabis infused tea. I’d have a CBD pill and then try THC topical on my belly.

The CBD Solution

Cannabidiol (CBD) is found in cannabis and has been the subject of much research into medical applications. The compound is non psychoactive – it does not produce a ‘high’ associated with cannabis use – making it an option for people who may be concerned with the mind-altering effects of other cannabinoids, such as THC.

CBD’s anti-seizure properties received a lot of media attention after the New England Journal of Medicine explored the effect of CBD medication on young adults with Dravet Syndrome, a rare type of epilepsy with seizures. The study found that those treated with CBD had seizure frequency drop by 38.9 per cent.

Another study (The Journal of Experimental Medicine) found that CBD significantly reduces inflammation and reduces pain.

Impact On Women’s Health Still Not Tested

But when it comes to treating menstrual pain the evidence is very sparse, says Dr Jason Busse, co-director of the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research at McMaster University in Hamilton.

“We have a real lack of clear, high-quality information to give patients. It (dysmenorrhea) is not an area that has been explored. Right now what we have is anecdotal.

Busse and other researchers atHamilton Health Sciences and McMaster University have established the Database for Cannabis Consumption and Study, or DataCann, to study the use of cannabis in clinical settings.

“This database will give us the opportunity to explore a lot of unanswered questions around the medical use of cannabis,” says Busse, also the co-director of the Michael G. DeGroote Pain Clinic at Hamilton Health Sciences.

“We need to know who benefits from cannabis and why, to ensure we can provide the most appropriate treatment plans to patients. More importantly, we need to know if there are any long-term risks.”

The team is looking to recruit at least 1,000 participants from across Canada who are using cannabis and have chronic, non-cancer pain. Participants are required to complete an online survey for the first two, eight and 12 months, then every six months thereafter until the database is complete. The project is expected to take five years to complete.

But Busse is concerned about the current information available to potential patients looking for pain relief. He wants consumers to be cautious because the internet can be a “a bit of the wild west” with websites making claims that are not necessarily based on scientific fact.

Testing Your Options

So called “Weed tampons” are available online. These are not tampons at all. They are suppositories that are inserted into the vagina and the THC and CBD combination melt away cramps, or so the PR goes. I was unable to get online access to these from Toronto.

There are also bath salts that wash away cramps, but left some bathers feeling pretty high, so clearly contain THC. Not a problem for some users, but this application should be planned when you don’t have to go to work or drive. 

Through trial and error, Chadha had discovered that cannabis products can reach her menstrual pain, but not banish it completely. “I sometimes do take Advil in conjunction with (cannabis products).”

“I’d rather go as natural as possible and deal with mild pain than to go with no pain and have chemicals in my body,” Chadha said.

Whether it is over-the-counter medications, CBD oils or THC infused teas , it appears women finally have a few more weapons in their arsenal to fight dysmenorrhea.

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Lorrayne Anthony

Lorrayne Anthony is a writer and editor. She has worked for The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star, the Prague Post, and, the New York Times. Born in Kolkata, Lorrayne was raised in Brampton, Ontario and now lives and writes five minutes away from the lake.

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