CBD for Periods Cramps: A Deep Dive
CBD and your period. How the popular cannabis extract could be the answer to the woes of your flow.
Have you ever had a particularly painful, hormonally-charged period that made you feel like no one could possibly understand what you’re going through? News for you - any honest search for period pain relief suggests that there’s some truth to that.
Menstrual pain continues to mystify. Although painful cramps are recognized as a medical condition - “primary dysmenorrhea” - and they have the ability to totally derail one's day, it’s an issue that isn’t discussed. Studies show that most women take an over the counter painkiller like Advil and suffer in silence.
But what do you do if Advil isn’t working for your period cramps? Or if you’re concerned that you are becoming too dependent on them as a treatment?
The emergence of CBD companies branding products for women is a sign that there is a hole in the market for treating menstrual pain and that natural remedies like CBD could be picking up the slack. As advocacy for women’s health improves, more women are seeking out safe ways to reduce their own pain.
CBD - or “cannabidiol”, a compound extracted from cannabis - still needs more clinical research before it is a mainstay of prescribed medicine, but anecdotal success is creating a buzz.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at why periods are painful, some natural techniques to deal with that, and how, with your doctor’s blessing, CBD might find a home in your period regimen.
Why does my period give me cramps?
Let’s start with the basics: your period happens after your uterus builds up a thicker lining in preparation to grow a baby, and sheds it once a fertilized egg fails to appear. It does this by contracting its muscular walls, which sometimes results in pain. Those are the mechanics, but why is this painful?
Research tells us that inflammation plays a key role in cramp pain. The uterine contractions are set off by “prostaglandins” - hormone-like lipids which are responsible for inflammation. Inflammation is not particular to menstruation - it’s an immune response to illness and injury which helps the body heal, causing the body pain in the process.
It isn’t totally clear why - it could be a feature of pregnancy promotion, or your uterus simply reacting to the way that oxygen has been cut off from the muscle tissue during contractions. In any case, the higher the level of prostaglandins during your period, the more painful cramps seem to be.
The prevalence of inflammation is why Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen are a favoured form of pain relief for dysmenorrhea. Even so, they don’t have to be your sole form of pain relief - especially if you are upping your dose when the effects aren’t being felt, which can be dangerous. Instead, you can pair a lower dose of them with natural and preventative methods.
What are some natural remedies for period pain?
Since it’s clear that different systems are at play during our periods, our approaches to pain should be multifaceted.
For fast relief, heat therapy is a tried and true approach that has survived the ages - your mother probably knows about this. Heat works well on muscle pain by increasing blood flow, and menstrual pain happens to be a result of muscular contractions.
Additionally, studies show that sustained topical heat has the same pain relieving effects as ibuprofen, but heat has the advantage of speed: ingesting a painkiller takes around 30-minutes to work, while applying heat directly to your abdomen with a hot water bottle is instantaneous. Adhesive pads are also useful when you have a bad cramp on-the-go.
If you want to take preventative measures, yoga and other forms of low-impact movement have shown positive results for getting ahead of menstrual pain before it starts. Yoga is already practiced widely for its benefits, and regular attention to movement also helps to reduce menstrual pain. It helps when you’re on your period too - yoga and exercise in general releases endorphins, which improve your mood while blocking the pain receptors to your brain.
Another preemptive measure is to make anti-inflammatory and period-beneficial supplements as part of your daily routine. Naturopaths swear by magnesium supplements for their ability to take on prostaglandins and soothe muscle contractions. Fish oil, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, has been proven to trump ibuprofen when tested for pain reduction. CBD is another compound that’s just entering the conversation of natural pain relief as our knowledge of marijuana extracts becomes more nuanced.
CBD still might be the most unfamiliar treatment in the list above. It’s well known that unlike THC is the cannabis extract that makes you “high”, while CBD is the compound that relaxes you. But its uses as an analgesic - or painkiller - merits its own discussion.
Why use CBD for period cramps?
To understand CBD, we must once again look within ourselves. Our bodies have a readymade endocannabinoid system, which regulates various functions, like sleep, mood, inflammation, and chronic pain. We are still learning about everything it does for us but we know it is concerned with maintaining the body’s homeostasis - the way our whole body is connected and balanced, rather than only one part of it. This is the system CBD interacts with when you take it, so it makes sense that CBD has a reputation for applying to all sorts of ailments.
Less research exists for CBD and period pain specifically, but we can infer effectiveness based on its success with other inflammatory diseases like arthritis, and muscular conditions like multiple sclerosis. For reducing pain, CBD behaves like NSAIDs by inhibiting the COX enzyme, which is responsible for producing prostaglandins.
You probably don’t need to be reminded that the period experience goes beyond localized pelvic pain - PMS can affect your mood as well. CBD takes the edge off one of PMS’s most famous culprits, unstable mood. There is consensus that if your mind is more relaxed, this will reduce your physical pain, and vice versa.
CBD is also relatively safe to use - side effects are usually mild and temporary, and unlike other pain medications, it is widely accepted to be non-addictive. If this intrigues you and your doctor agrees, your next question might be where to start with it.
How do I use CBD for period pain?
This is a valid question. There are many forms of CBD designed for women, from bath bombs to tampons - these are called “delivery methods” because they describe how the CBD hits your system, and the options are endless.
Starting basic is best: a tincture of CBD oil is a simple way of administering CBD to your body. Tinctures like Orenda’s CBD O de Vie come with a dropper so you can take it sublingually - when you hold the oil under your tongue, it absorbs straight into your bloodstream through the blood vessels in your mouth.
This method has the best “bioavailability”, meaning you feel the effects the fastest, and get the most out of its potency. If swallowed, the CBD will go the route of digestion and take longer to metabolize.
You may feel uncertain about the dosing, but a good rule of thumb to follow with anything new to you is: “go slow and start low”. This will allow you to keep in touch with what your body is telling you about its pain, as every individual is different. The product’s packaging will tell you about its CBD content - simply divide the milligrams of CBD by how many millilitres of oil in the bottle to determine your dosage.
Those with experience say that CBD is more effective if you start before your period begins and make it part of your routine - you may not feel effects if you try it once and expect it to work like a normal painkiller. It is normal for some people to only experience the effects of CBD over time, as with most supplements. In any case, it’s best to give it a proper chance and log any changes from one period to the next before abandoning ship.
Make it work with other methods of pain relief - if CBD works for you, it may be one out of a few things you do to help your period. NSAIDs and CBD products are potentially okay to take together, but if you want to mix them, as always, check with a doctor.
At the end of the day, listen to your body
In a world that is slow to discover diverse period cramp remedies, learning about new methods for yourself is a way of realizing that menstrual pain isn’t a necessary burden. Don’t sit with it silently - it’s crucial to listen to your body and discuss any medications with a doctor, who can give you a professional’s perspective on how remedies like CBD can mitigate pain.
It’s okay that there won’t be one form of relief for period pain - your body is complex, so take time and to find a balance that really works for it.