Using Cannabis as a Treatment for Endometriosis

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Even though about one in every 10 women will experience the pain of endometriosis, the condition is poorly understood by the medical community. This condition has the potential to affect nearly 200 million women over the course of their lifetimes, and although common, it is often misdiagnosed. Advances in identification and treatment have helped alleviate some of the discomfort associated with this condition, and researchers are investigating new ways of helping women with endometriosis. One of the advances in treatment lies with medical cannabis, which has been shown in limited clinical trials to provide significant relief.

What is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a painful disorder where the tissues that normally line the inside of the female uterus – the endometrium — begin to grow outside of the uterus. Tissue growth can occur in and around the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and other pelvic organs. The surrounding tissues can become inflamed, leading to severe pain and discomfort. Common symptoms include:

  • Painful menstrual periods
  • Pain during bowel movements or urination
  • Infertility
  • Pain during or after intercourse

Endometriosis is often misdiagnosed; pelvic pain is typically associated with other conditions like irritable bowel syndrome or ovarian cysts. Pelvic exams, imaging, and surgical laparoscopy may be needed to accurately diagnose the condition. There are many potential causes of endometriosis, including immune system disorders, the presence of surgical scars in the pelvis, or a condition called retrograde menstruation, where menstrual blood flows into the pelvic cavity and displaces endometrial cells from the inner surfaces of the uterus.

Treating Endometriosis

Once endometriosis is diagnosed accurately, medical professionals have several options to treat the condition. Pain medication, hormone therapy, and even surgery may be called for, depending on severity. Doctors typically prescribe pain-relieving medications – particularly the class of drugs known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like naproxen or ibuprofen. These drugs may help to alleviate pain and inflammation, but are also known for unpleasant and even dangerous side effects. Prolonged use of NSAIDs may lead to bleeding in the digestive system as well as elevated blood pressure.

It is important to note that there is no cure for endometriosis. Treatments prescribed by doctors merely manage the symptoms and spread of the condition. However, emerging research suggests that medical cannabis may in fact reverse some of the factors that lead to pain and discomfort in women diagnosed with endometriosis.

Alternatives in Endometriosis Treatment

Eager to find safer alternatives for treating endometriosis, medical researchers have hit upon medical cannabis as a possible therapy. There is a link between endometriosis and a deficiency in the human endocannabinoid system; endocannabinoids are naturally-occurring chemical compounds that help to regulate numerous body systems. In Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency, disruption can lead to the formation and progression of certain conditions, including endometriosis. Cannabinoids found in cannabis mimic the compounds occurring in the human body and can bind to receptors in the endocannabinoid system. This may allow that system to regain normal function.

Cannabinoids have other therapeutic benefits for those suffering from endometriosis. A chemical compound known as cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown in research to reduce inflammation. This powerful effect comes without the dangerous side effects associated with NSAIDs. CBD products stand out as a safer, more effective alternative to traditional pain medication. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), another cannabinoid, has demonstrated similar anti-inflammatory properties by activating CB2 receptors, and can also activate the CB1 receptor to decrease the pain of endometriosis. Indica products, in particular, have been found to be beneficial for some of the secondary symptoms that come along with difficult menstrual cycles such as stomach pains and appetite.

Other chemical compounds in medical cannabis may also curtail irregular cell growth, such as found in women diagnosed with endometriosis. In several research studies, cannabinoids demonstrated the ability to:

  • Stop the proliferation of irregular cells.
  • Prevent tissue cell migration outside of the uterus.
  • Modulate immune responses.
  • Interrupting pain-transmission signals in the nervous system.

Further research is ongoing into the exact effects of CBD and other cannabinoids in the human body. Today, women diagnosed with endometriosis may benefit from the use of medical cannabis products high in CBD. CBD helps to alleviate the pain and inflammation associated with the condition. Eventually, cannabis may serve as a therapeutic treatment to conquer endometriosis once and for all.