The title may sound like the start of a gender war but it’s anything but. When it comes to women’s health specifically, what promises does cannabis hold for the fairer of the species?And does cannabis affect women differently to men?
Early clinical evidence of how cannabis affects women – and explanations for the same – is just as intriguing as it is for men. Furthermore, it also appears that not only do cannabinoids have different impacts on male and female bodies, but the biggest reason for that is the impact of cannabinoids on hormones and hormone secretions throughout the body, starting with sex hormones.
Rather unsurprisingly, as a result, both CB1 and CB2 endocannabinoid receptors are found in all female reproductive organs. As an organ, the uterus can also tolerate the highest levels of anandamide in the entire body. Not only can it handle more of the bliss chemical than the brain, but at times, this organ has more than 100 times the amount of anandamide than the brain during ovulation. Several studies have already found a direct correlation between the strength of endocannabinoid signalling and regulation of human embryo implantation if not the ability to maintain the pregnancy itself.
Further, oestrogen levels are tightly linked to anandamide levels. When natural oestrogen levels are low, so are anandamide levels, leading to symptoms frequently described as “PMS.” These include symptoms like change in mood, bloating and pain. Craving fatty foods is another by-product of this. Cannabis is very good for treating this as well as Dysmenorrhea – severe period pain suffered by about 20% of women. The impact of being able to better stabilize menstruation-related symptoms, not to mention increase fertility rates (including in older or other at-risk women) cannot be understated or ignored.
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Closely linked to hormone regulation in terms of overall body health maintenance is metabolism. The impact on blood sugar and diabetes is also critical for a longer term application to women’s health. As is the positive impact of cannabis use on BMI. While it is still unclear why a drug that can cause the so-called “munchies” in some people can also cause others to actually lose weight, there are already clues in the emerging literature.
When other environmental stressors are accounted for (including pain, depression, anxiety) plus in some cases, other lifestyle changes including exercise, this apparent dichotomy begins to make sense. However, there is also significant evidence that cannabinoids can impact other factors that also impact appetite – starting with leptin levels. The extreme absence of leptin can lead to food intake that ends with obesity (in other words, low levels of leptin impact the feeding and satiety switches in the brain).
Finally, as much as cannabis is becoming seen as a tool for preventive medicine, it is also establishing itself as a vital part of the medicine cabinet against chronic illness for some.
This starts with many different kinds of cancer, including of course breast-cancer, the number one form of cancer for women world-wide. In fact, numerous studies have shown that cannabinoid receptors appear to be greater in the tumor cells of certain kinds of cancers – including liver, lung, prostate and breast cancer. This may also mean that the endocannabinoid system in the body responds automatically this way to help the body fight certain kinds of cancers specifically.
Finally, it appears that cannabinoids can help prevent the spread of cancerous cells to other organs (a process called metastasis). Even more stunningly, studies are beginning to link CBD specifically to the ability to halt the spread of breast cancer. A recent study in the Journal of Natural Medicine has also now linked CBDA found in the fibre of cannabis plants, to be highly effective against cancer metastasis, including aggressive breast cancer.
There is no question that cannabis affects men and women in very different ways. What is not known, and what needs plenty more research, is the specific benefits cannabis could provide for gender-specific health issues.
[Featured image credit- Flickr]