Female power: CBD benefits for women’s health

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During their lifetime, women may experience a whole host of unique physical health conditions. Among them are premenstrual syndrome (PMS), hormonal imbalance, pregnancy and menopause. Though these various states may come with their own challenges and cause discomfort, most of them are inevitable parts of the female life cycle.

Men and women may come down with the same health conditions, but that doesn’t mean they will necessarily suffer in the same way; they may have distinct symptoms and require distinct treatments. Because of the world we live in, women may also be burdened with concerns about ageing, skin and body care.

Studies show that CBD can benefit female health and improve their quality of life. As one of the most popular natural wellness trends, CBD is thought to be able to benefit many health conditions, such as anxiety, inflammation, migraines, sleep disorders, nausea and others. There is a number of CBD products on the market, including everything from croissants to CBD products for hair treatment, that can be perfectly weaved into any lifestyle. But first, let's see how cannabidiol interacts with our bodies.

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, known as CBD, is one of the most prevalent active ingredients of the cannabis plant. CBD and other cannabinoids can interact with the receptors of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) that is responsible for our internal balance, or homeostasis, to give it its scientific name. This cell-signalling system consists of endocannabinoids, cannabinoid receptors, and enzymes that synthesise and break down the cannabinoids. Different cells have different receptors, which are sensitive to different types of cannabinoids. The major receptors of the ECS are CB1 and CB2.

CB1 receptors support healthy functions of the brain and nervous system. THC, a psychoactive cannabis compound, can bind to CB1 receptors and cause a psychoactive effect. CB2 receptors are mostly found on the cells of the immune system. They help to manage inflammation and immune response to infectious agents, parasites, etc. However, the CBD doesn't directly activate cannabinoid receptors. Instead, cannabidiol is believed to change the receptors' ability to bind to cannabinoids and improve natural levels of endocannabinoids with the help of enzymes.

CBD may be useful for many health conditions such as skin disorders, anxiety, inflammation and pain. Fortunately, it may also be helpful for women's health and assist with the following conditions:

  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Pelvic pain
  • Menopause
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Difficult childbirth

There are a number of CBD products that can be used to battle many health conditions. The most common include CBD oils and tinctures, topicals and edibles. There is also pharmaceutical cannabis that includes either plant-extracted or synthetic cannabinoids sold as medicines. However, the latter may depend on your country or state’s unique laws. Other, more unusual CBD products on the market may include CBD lube and suppositories, CBD facemasks or CBD toothpaste.

Endocannabinoid system

Endocannabinoid receptors are widespread within the female pelvic organs. They are mostly found in the uterus, but may also be situated in the vagina, vulva, fallopian tubes and ovaries. On a microscopic level, ECS receptors are dense in controllable places:

  • nerves where receptors can balance sensations
  • immune cells where receptors can manage inflammation
  • glands where receptors can impact hormone secretion
  • muscles where receptors can improve energy usage

The endocannabinoid system is an inherent part of the reproductive tract and has an important role in pregnancy and childbirth. There may also be fluctuations in the endocannabinoid system due to natural changes in estrogen levels in fertile women. The level of endocannabinoids increases on the first day of the menstrual cycle, reaches a peak at ovulation, and decreases until the period starts again. The ECS is involved in supporting female health and the control of female reproductive events. As plant-based cannabinoids can mimic the natural ones, they may help to restore the balance.

Cannabidiol for female health

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As a result of hormonal changes across a woman’s lifespan, she may suffer from conditions that, if severe, could significantly reduce her quality of life, such as sleep loss or skin disorders. Cannabidiol has proven to be helpful for women’s health at any stage of her life. Let's take a look at how CBD may benefit female health.

Pain reduction

Women suffer from almost all chronic pain conditions to a much greater extent than their male counterparts. Additionally, they also suffer from female-specific pains, such as painful periods (dysmenorrhoea), painful intercourse, pain or discomfort when urinating, painful bowel movements and chronic pelvic pain conditions. A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine determined that millions of women experienced pain and discomfort during sex due to endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease and vaginismus.

Medicine made from cannabis has long been used to manage gynaecological issues. Now more and more people are choosing cannabinoids to reduce pain and improve desire.

Cannabinoids are often used for pain reduction due to their ability to desensitise pain-perceiving nerves and diminish inflammation. CBD can decrease the production of inflammatory prostaglandins that lead to painful menstrual cramps, while both THC and CBD can reduce the intensity of the cramps and sensitivity to pain. Studies suggest that CBD can bring the same pain relief as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) by inhibiting the prostaglandin-producing enzyme without NSAID's side effects.

Chronic pelvic pain (CPP) is a commonly reported symptom by women. A 2019 study on cannabis effectiveness found that 100 per cent of the users who were using cannabis for CPP reported an average reduction in pain by 5.9 points. Additional studies have shown that medical cannabis can be an effective option for chronic pain treatment in CPP patients who have not found success with other treatment options. As the reproductive tract can be a main source of pain, especially during menstruation, using cannabinoids vaginally could bring easier relief.

PMS

Up to three in four women experience symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) at least once in a lifetime. Most women have mild PMS symptoms, while less than 5% of women get a more severe form of PMS, known as a premenstrual dysphoric disorder. PMS can occur before or during a period and cause the following symptoms:

  • Cramps
  • Anxiety or stress
  • Mood swings
  • Sensitive breasts
  • Bloating
  • Tiredness
  • Constipation
  • Increased appetite

Studies have found that by interacting with the receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS), CBD can alleviate the PMS symptoms described above.

Studies have found that estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, can decrease anxiety and stress in women. Recent experiments show that the emotionally stabilising effect of estrogen comes from its interaction with the ECS. The low level of endocannabinoids can also be the reason for emotional stress, which explains how cannabinoids can help moderate PMS symptoms. Besides easing mood swings, cannabidiol can reduce anxiety, soothe bloating and cramps and alleviate discomfort from swollen breasts.

Menopause

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The menopause may occur between the ages of 45 and 55 when a woman hasn't menstruated in 12 consecutive months and cannot become pregnant in a natural way. Even though most women do not require medical treatment, menopause can cause uncomfortable symptoms, such as hot flashes, headaches, insomnia, vaginal dryness and weight gain. Usually, women passing through the menopause have a decrease in estrogen level and an increase in the 2-AG endocannabinoid. Unfortunately, lower estrogen levels can lead to an increase in pain in the vagina and a reduction in vaginal secretions. The good thing is that phytocannabinoids can counterbalance the high sensitivity.

Additionally, CBD may help with insomnia. Sleep interruptions often occur during menopause, which can impact daily life for the worse. CBD can reduce menopause-related anxiety and help women stay asleep.

Hormonal imbalance

Hormones are produced in the endocrine system to regulate metabolism, growth and reproduction among other important functions in our bodies. Hormonal imbalances mean that the body produces too many or too few hormones, which can seriously affect our health.

Usually, hormonal fluctuations occur during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause, but they can also be caused by stress, toxins, diseases and an unhealthy lifestyle. Common symptoms of hormonal imbalance may include heavy or irregular menstruation, weight gain, skin and hair issues, mood swings, vaginal dryness.

Based on the findings from several studies, CBD may provide relief for those suffering from hormonal imbalance and have a positive impact on the regulation of hormones due to its interaction with cannabinoid receptors.

Some of the notable hormones on which CBD can have a positive impact include insulin, cortisol, and melatonin. An imbalance of insulin can lead to diabetes, obesity and various heart conditions. Clinical studies have shown that diabetic people that were using medicinal cannabis could reduce the intake of diabetic medicine or insulin due to lowered blood glucose. However, further research is required to fully establish the effect of cannabidiol on blood sugar or insulin levels. There may be not a direct effect on the hormones, but the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD could prove useful in the case of type 2 diabetes.

Cortisol, widely known as the body's stress hormone, is important for survival and managing your stress response. Studies show that CBD can contribute to lowering cortisol levels, helping to manage anxiety and stress.

Melatonin is a hormone in charge of regulating the sleep-wake cycle and sleep pattern; it also helps to manage your energy levels. Studies show that the ECS increases melatonin levels and activates CB1 receptors to regulate sleep. A large case series on cannabidiol effectiveness has shown an improvement of sleep scores in over 60 per cent of patients.

CBD can also inhibit the production of an enzyme COX-2 responsible for prostaglandin production, which helps to reduce inflammation, pain and cramps. Many women also experience anxiety and stress during menstruation and menopause. Importantly, oestrogen and progesterone impact levels of serotonin, which is considered a natural mood enhancer. Research has also shown that CBD can interact with serotonin receptors, causing anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects.

Reproduction

The endocannabinoids are closely linked to reproduction processes and can contribute to fertilisation, implantation and pregnancy. Levels of endocannabinoids remain low until labour, as the low levels of anandamide (AEA), the body's own cannabinoid, supports early pregnancy, allowing for easier implantation. Then, AEA levels increase fourfold. Research shows that the stimulation of the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 help to relax myometrial strips. It is possible that the effect of the AEA increase could be associated with relaxation of myometrial cells during labour. This is supported by the observation that AEA levels rose before the uterine contractions and labour. The study results highlight the potential role of endocannabinoids in pregnancy maintenance and labour. However, the mechanisms by which cannabinoids impact reproduction is unclear; thus further research is needed.

Despite convincing research, pregnant women or those who try to conceive should consult a medical professional before the intake of products or medications with cannabinoids.

Sexual health

Cannabis and CBD products are often discussed in terms of potential sexual health and aphrodisiac effect. Sсientists suggest that cannabis can impact sexual health through the dopamine system. Activation of cannabinoid receptors can increase dopamine which benefits pro-sexual behaviour. Studies show that cannabis may affect both animals and humans in this way, though the effect depends on the dose and frequency of use. There is evidence that lower doses may enhance desire, but higher doses either decrease desire or have no effect on desire at all. Most studies have found that cannabis may cause a positive effect on sexual pleasure, prolonging orgasm or improving its quality.

Сannabis has been associated with an increase in some hormones, such as oxytocin and testosterone, which play an important role in sexual arousal. Survey shows that the intake of cannabis products before sexual activity may improve sex drive and alleviate painful intercourse.

CBD may help slow down those mood-killing thoughts, reduce anxiety and stress. If a woman experiences painful sexual intercourse related to vaginal dryness or irritation, CBD may lead to a more pleasant sexual experience. Although CBD doesn't directly stimulate cannabinoid receptors, it can affect other receptors in the genitals in a positive way. Additionally, cannabis in a suppository format may provide a more pleasant sexual experience by acting as a supplementary vaginal lubrication. On the other hand, CBD may increase blood flow and nerve sensation, resulting in better sexual pleasure and more intense orgasms.

It should be noted that sexuality is a complex matter, and the endocannabinoid system is just a small part of it. Further research would help to develop new therapeutic options for women and gain a deeper understanding of CBD’s potential role in sexual health.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a relatively common female health condition, affecting 10% of women - equivalent to 200 million worldwide. In the United Kingdom, 1 in 10 women of the reproductive age has endometriosis.

Endometriosis happens when tissue similar to the inner lining of the uterus grows outside its normal location. The damaged tissue may irritate surrounding tissue, leading to ovarian cysts, uterine scars, and fuse the surrounding body tissue. One of the possible causes of endometriosis is an imbalance of the hormone estrogen.

Endometriosis may cause either little discomfort, or in many women’s cases, pain. Acne, digestive problems, cysts, mood swings, headaches, weight gain and abnormal periods are also characteristic of Endometriosis. The condition may go away at the time of menopause; however, the symptoms can be managed by medications or surgery. Unfortunately, many medications come with significant side effects and may still not bring full relief.

Both the uterus and ovaries have many cannabinoid receptors, which means phytocannabinoids may be powerful in alleviating endometriosis pain in some women. While there's little research into cannabis for this type of pain, a 2018 study uncovered that it may effectively reduce chronic pelvic pain and opioid use. Some researchers suggest that cannabis may even slow down the growth of endometrial tissue. Women have also found CBD effective in treating endometriosis symptoms, as it can impact hormone production. As long as the ECS is responsible for supporting balance, CBD can help stabilise hormonal inconsistencies.

Postpartum depression

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According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), up to 10% of pregnant women and 13% of those who have just given birth suffer from a mental disorder. That means that about half a million women globally have some form of depression each year due to the arrival of a baby. Postpartum “baby blues” may cause anxiety, depression, appetite loss, tiredness and emotional disconnection from the baby at a time when bonding is important.

Studies show that CBD may help increase and balance serotonin levels in the brain, keep energy levels stable, improve sleep and restore a healthy appetite. It may take two weeks to feel the improvement, but the positive effects and anxiety relief could come almost immediately. However, medications and supplements can pass through breast milk. Therefore, many medications, as well as cannabinoids like CBD, are not recommended for use by breastfeeding women. The effects of CBD on infants are not yet known and require further research, so women should consult a healthcare professional to find the best possible solution.

Autoimmune diseases

Under normal conditions, the immune system is responsible for major functions, such as protecting the body from the attacks of abnormal cells, microorganisms and foreign bodies. However, in some cases, the immune responses can start acting against the body's cells. Up to 4 per cent of the global population suffer from one of more than 80 different autoimmune diseases. The most common of these include type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, lupus, psoriasis and scleroderma. Unfortunately, the majority of people with autoimmune diseases are women, such as the 9 of 10 patients with lupus. New cases of rheumatoid arthritis are commonly two to three times higher in females than in males.

CBD can slow down T-cell production and inhibit immune system memory, lowering the risks of future autoimmune attacks. Cannabidiol has also been found to improve the expression of genes that manage oxidative stress, which may reduce cell damage caused by autoimmune attacks.

CBD may also help lower the body's inflammation and improve symptoms for many autoimmune conditions, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Topically applied CBD may also bring inflammation relief and quell the joints. There are also studies evaluating CBD's effect on multiple sclerosis, such as improvement in mobility, reducing fatigue, pain, and spasticity. Studies have found that CBD may affect diabetes or diabetic complications by acting as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent. CBD may also alleviate neuroinflammation and peripheral neuropathic pain that comes from nerve damage commonly seen in people with diabetes. Cannabis is also found to help alleviate psoriasis by changing the interaction between the immune and nervous systems. Cannabis may reduce pain, anxiety, stress and even symptoms of depression caused by psoriasis outbreaks.

CBD benefits for female wellbeing

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The benefits of cannabidiol are not limited to pelvic health and the improvement of sexual health. It may also bring benefits in other spheres, such as sleep, mental wellbeing, skin health and weight control.

Sleep improvement

Cannabidiol has been shown helpful in case of sleep loss or excessive daytime sleepiness. Trouble sleeping can be caused by anxiety and excessive worrying, pain conditions, and specific conditions, such as rapid eye movement sleep (REM). CBD can alleviate anxiety-related conditions. The large case studies on cannabidiol have shown the reduction of anxiety scores within the first month in up to 80 per cent of patients and improvement in sleep scores.

Another factor that can lead to sleep loss is painful conditions. A 2018 study has found that CBD may reduce chronic and neuropathic pain, making the sleep more comfortable.

Cannabidiol may also affect the sleep cycle. Studies have found that CBD might improve the symptoms of rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder (RBD), associated with excessive daytime sleepiness, poor sleep and nightmares. CBD may also help to treat and manage sleepiness during the day so that you can feel sharper.

Anxiety

Anxiety disorders can become severe medical conditions that may be as damaging as physical disorders, such as heart disease. Over 260 million people all over the world suffer from an anxiety disorder. Women are twice as likely as men to experience symptoms of anxiety in their lifetime. Anxiety disorders cover a range of different conditions, such as generalised anxiety disorders (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety and panic disorder.

Studies have shown that CBD might help reduce anxiety caused by numerous reasons, such as stressful social situations. Due to its antipsychotic and neuroprotective properties, CBD may reduce overall stress levels, which is helpful if stress keeps you awake at night. Cannabidiol may cause a combined effect, such as anxiety reduction and sleep quality improvement.

In a recent 2020 study, CBD's effect was evaluated in four hundred adults from New Zealand. The patients received medical CBD prescriptions for several conditions, such as cancer-related symptoms, general pain, neurological and mental health symptoms.

All patients reported improvements in their quality of life within 3 weeks of CBD treatment. Those who suffered from anxiety or depression managed to perform daily functions better and endured less pain, anxiety and depression symptoms since beginning their CBD regime. Up to 70% of study participants were satisfied with their cannabidiol treatment, with reviews ranging from good to excellent. There were no significant adverse effects. Positive side effects included better sleep and appetite.

Skin disorders

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Recent studies have suggested that the skin has an endocannabinoid system, which helps to keep it healthy and balanced. The skin's endocannabinoid system helps to control the proper functions of skin cells, such as differentiation and immune competence. The imbalance may lead to the development of pathological conditions of the skin, such as acne, seborrhea, dermatitis and psoriasis. Cannabidiol can potentially help restore balance to the skin, which would be helpful in the following conditions:

  • Acne-Prone Skin

Acne is an inflammatory condition, which may be caused by different factors, such as hormones. Special creams and lotions can reduce inflammation and soothe the skin, visibly reducing acne-related redness. CBD can act as an effective sebostatic agent. Therefore, CBD-infused topicals help alleviate the inflammation associated with swelling and redness of acne. Research also shows that cannabidiol has the potential to reduce excess oil production and normalise the growth of skin cells. Due to its balancing and anti-inflammatory effects, CBD may be helpful for various skin issues, such as rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis.

  • Wrinkles and ageing

Due to its plant origin, CBD has potential antioxidant properties. The antioxidants in cannabidiol may help lessen the visible signs of ageing. Therefore, you can expect CBD skin care products to hydrate and treat free radical damage and dryness. By counteracting free radicals and reducing the inflammation, CBD anti-ageing products may visibly diminish skin issues, such as wrinkles, dark spots and ruddy skin tone.

  • Sensitive skin

Another notable benefit of CBD-infused skin care products is their ability to cause soothing effects. The balancing and skin-calming properties of this cannabinoid can help reduce issues related to skin sensitivity, such as redness and reactivity. As all skin types are affected everyday by environmental conditions, CBD's soothing effect can protect the skin, no matter who it belongs to. Owing to its anti-inflammatory properties, CBD-infused creams and lotions can help soothe dry, itching and red skin.

Weight management

Although research on CBD’s role in weight management is still ongoing, it is thought that it may benefit poor sleep, anxiety, stress, and chronic pain - all of which may contribute to weight gain.

A 2015 trial reviewed the association between obesity and chronic pain and found that the two conditions might co-occur and negatively impact on one another. As CBD oil may alleviate chronic pain, The intake of CBD products could reduce the symptoms of chronic pain, which may contribute to weight loss.

Although CBD does not interact with cannabinoid receptors directly, it may impact the body's endocannabinoids to block or activate the receptors. This may affect metabolic functions, reduce food intake and lead to weight loss. CBD could also influence other receptors, which helps to reduce the appetite and prevent overeating in some people. An animal study has found that CBD might minimise appetite in rats, a result that may be replicated in humans; though there are no direct studies to confirm this.

A 2016 study found that CBD might affect the way the body interacts with fat, such as the way it converts white fat cells into brown fat cells and breaks down fats more efficiently. Finally, CBD may stimulate the browning of fat cells, which is the fat that creates heat by burning calories. Although CBD seems to be a promising therapy for preventing obesity and promoting weight loss, further studies on humans are necessary before we can verify this.

Risks for pregnant and breastfeeding women

Despite the potential of endocannabinoids in reproduction, the mechanisms of plant-based cannabinoids require further research. In February 2020, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) published recommendations on CBD consumption for adults, and warned pregnant and breastfeeding women and those who take medications to avoid CBD products. Study results from the American Academy of Pediatrics warned women to avoid marijuana intake during pregnancy. Although the effect of CBD during pregnancy is unclear, the cannabinoid is known to pass through the placental barrier and can pose the potential risks to a baby's development. Manufacturers and those who sell CBD products should be aware of these recommendations and provide valid information on their product labels.

Potential side effects

Although CBD is commonly well-tolerated, it can cause side effects. The severity and potential effect may vary and may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Dry mouth
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in mood
  • Diarrhoea
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

CBD can interact with some medicines, such as drugs used to treat epilepsy, blood thinners, antidepressants, migraine medications, antiarrhythmic drugs and others. If you are considering taking CBD products to help out with a health condition, make sure to discuss it with your healthcare provider beforehand.

CBD products for female health

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Whatever your lifestyle is, there are many CBD options to incorporate into your daily routine. Here’s a reminder of the many health conditions that can be paired with CBD for visible improvements in the way you feel:

  • Sexual health. Take CBD oil to reduce anxiety or have a massage with CBD salve to relax and get in the mood.
  • Menstrual cramps. Take a warm bath with CBD bath bomb to soothe your contracting muscles or massage your lower abdomen with CBD salve to reduce the discomfort.
  • Weight loss. Take CBD oil to recover from workout-induced inflammation or try CBD oil with organic MCT that promotes the feeling of fullness in the body.
  • Menopause. Use CBD salve to help relax muscles and fight inflammation, or try CBD oil to balance the mood swings.
  • Anxiety. Try a natural CBD tincture or use CBD-infused patches to reduce stiffness and anxiety.

You may feel a little dizzy by all the choice on offer, but your healthcare provider can help you to choose the best product for your condition.

The bottom line

It's no secret that women experience some unique health conditions exclusive to womanhood. Many women of all ages are in search of more natural solutions to gain relief from the challenging physical conditions in which they find themselves and maintain their wellbeing. The more studies on CBD that emerge, the more women turn to this natural remedy to help meet their needs. Cannabidiol is becoming widely used as a potentially transformative solution for anxiety, inflammation, skin disorders and other health complications alike. Given that the endocannabinoid system influences hormone production and pelvic organs contain many cannabinoid receptors, CBD can help the ECS keep female health in check. There are numerous CBD products that can be easily incorporated into daily health support and wellness routines. Just remember that CBD is not a miracle, cure-all solution and that you should always consult your doctor before beginning a regime of CBD products.

Verified by a Healthcare Professional

Anastasiia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko is a Medical Physicist actively practicing in one of the leading cancer centers in Kyiv, Ukraine. She received her master’s degree in Medical Physics at Karazin Kharkiv National University and completed Biological Physics internship at GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, Germany. Anastasiia Myronenko specializes in radiation therapy and is a fellow of Ukrainian Association of Medical Physicists.