In recent years, there have been a lot of studies on the positive health effects of cannabidiol (CBD). And, as it turns out, there are a lot of conditions that CBD can help with. In this article, I am going to go over the five ways that CBD can help with endometriosis.
I recall speaking with one of my college classmates about her complicated experience with endometriosis. After diagnosing herself, she struggled to find relief for the symptoms that are associated with this condition.
The sad truth is, this is an experience that is all too common. Not much is known about this condition or how it develops and many women find the currently available treatments of painkillers, hormone therapy or surgery too expensive or not effective enough as they are not suitable for long term use due to possible side effects.
A general lack of awareness by both women and health care providers, due to a ‘normalisation’ of symptoms, results in a significant delay from when a woman first experiences symptoms until she eventually is diagnosed and treated.
Endometriosis affects an estimated 1 in 10 women during their reproductive years, usually between the ages of 15 to 49, which makes approximately 176 million frustrated women in the world.
What is endometriosis and how can CBD help with it?
So, what is endometriosis and how can CBD help with it? It is a condition in which tissue similar to the lining inside your uterus, which is called ‘the endometrium’, is found in places outside of the uterus in your body, where it creates a chronic inflammatory reaction that may result in scar tissue since the body can’t actually shed any of it as it normally would.
Endometrial tissue can develop on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and other abdominal locations. Unlike typical menstruation, the blood and tissue shed from these misplaced cells are frequently trapped in your body.
This cyclical pattern can become excruciating, triggering inflammation and scarring as your body struggles to reabsorb the dead material. The symptoms of endometriosis include painful periods, painful ovulation, pain during or after sexual intercourse, heavy bleeding, chronic pelvic pain, fatigue and infertility.
On top of this, it can have an impact on general physical, mental, and social well being. Because this is a problem that affects so many women worldwide and is associated with the normal cycles women experience every month, it is not a problem that will likely just go away.
Not all is lost, however, as emerging research is highlighting cannabis, a well-deserved newcomer to western healthcare, as a possible answer.
Women across the world have been using cannabis and hemp extracts to treat endometriosis, menstrual cramps and other gynecological complications for millennia. In the last few decades, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD have been effective therapies with relatively few side effects.
One reason scientists are enthusiastic about these compounds is the recent discovery that the body’s natural endocannabinoid system is integral to the healthy functioning of the female reproductive tract.
Related: The Effects of CBD on the Human Body
Imbalances in these neurotransmitters are often linked to reproductive complications and diseases, including endometriosis, and it seems that careful use of phytocannabinoid supplements, topicals and suppositories could make a huge difference in the underlying imbalance.
Cannabinoids like CBD and THC have been shown to stop unhealthy cell multiplication
Your body usually has everything it needs to help keep you at your optimum health, including tools to prevent the growth of sick or defective cells and to destroy them before they become a problem. This natural process is known as apoptosis.
Unfortunately, apoptosis seems to be impaired in people who suffer from endometriosis and similar disorders.
The endocannabinoid system is involved in apoptosis and stopping cell growth. Perhaps the most famous application of these effects is in cancer treatments. When certain cannabinoid receptors are activated (either by the body’s endocannabinoids or by plant-sourced THC), they can prevent cancer cells from multiplying.
Similar research has shown that activating these receptors inhibits endometriotic tissue from proliferating in mice.
CBD can prevent excessive endometriotic cell migration
A frustrating problem for women who chose to surgically remove their endometriotic lesions is the recurrence rate. Endometriosis and the scar tissue it creates frequently come back.
However, scientists recently discovered that endocannabinoids are involved in regulating cell-migration, which is basically the movement of cells. Molecules like CBD can stop endometriotic cells from migrating by blocking the activation of the GPR18 receptor.
It’s important to note that molecules like THC activate this receptor, and could potentially increase cell migration. This suggests that women who self-medicate with THC should consider counterbalancing its effects with CBD.
THC and CBD can starve the source by inhibiting vascularisation
For anything in your body to grow, it needs a steady supply of nutrient-rich blood. Likewise, endometriotic lesions can only grow if they develop a network of blood vessels, a process called vascularisation or angiogenesis, to receive the required nutrients.
Although research on the influence of cannabinoids on endometriotic vascularisation is still growing, many promising studies have shown that both THC and CBD can inhibit the vascularisation of these lesions.
CBD can help reduce the nerve pain that comes with endometriosis
Some women suffer from deep-infiltrating endometriosis, a more painful form of endometriosis that embeds deeper into abdominal tissue because the lesions contain a much higher density of nerves.
Endocannabinoids regulate nerve growth, and their receptors (CB1) are expressed on the nerves that innervate endometriotic lesions. Molecules like CBD interfere with innervation by preventing the activation of this receptor.
However, this might suggest that using THC without the counterbalancing effects of CBD could result in a long-term increase of endometriosis innervation.
CBD and THC can tag-team pain signals
Nerves that innervate endometriotic lesions can increase the pain of endometriosis. These nerves also contain endocannabinoid CB1 receptors and when THC activates this receptor it can help decrease pain.
CBD also helps relieve feelings of pain but through other targets. Most notably, CBD is capable of desensitising the pain receptor TRPV1, the main job of this receptor is to detect and regulate body temperature as well as to provide a sensation of scalding heat and pain.
Scientists are still uncovering the different ways that cannabinoids like CBD and THC impact endometriosis and standardised medical advice could be years away. Until then, careful self-experimentation with guidance from your doctor is probably the best way to determine the optimal combination of cannabinoids to complement your current endometriosis treatment.
Many women have already incorporated cannabinoids into their self-care routine. Whether or not you incorporate cannabinoids into your self-care routine, there are many alternative treatments available if a purely pharmaceutical or medical treatment is falling short.