Having unexpectedly co-founded a cannabis company at age 52 (how’s that for a conversation starter), one of the most frequent questions I’m asked is if cannabis can help with the symptoms of menopause. The answer is yes, it can.
But before I start promising a panacea that banishes hot flashes and stops your hair from falling out, let’s start with a brief Cannabis 101.
Every human has an endocannabinoid system (the ECS), a series of receptors all over our bodies. The ECS is responsible for homeostasis—or balance—of functions like sleep, appetite, temperature, sex drive, hunger, temperature, memory, mood, and the perception of pain.
We produce our own cannabis-like chemicals, Anandamide, a neurotransmitter, being one of them, named after the Sanskrit word for eternal bliss because it triggers a sensation of happiness and joy. Estrogen helps with the production of Anandamide, so as women age and estrogen production decreases, there is less and less of our own “bliss chemical” in our brains. Cannabis, which mimics estrogen, can reintroduce that sensation to the brain.
Cannabinoids, the chemical compounds in cannabis, are conveniently a perfect match for our own CB1 and CB2 receptors (possibly because humans have used this plant as a medicine for more than 5,000 years), therefore cannabis can aid with homeostasis. The most commonly found cannabinoids in the plant are CBD, which does not get you high and creates a sensation of relaxation, and THC, which gives you the “high,” although in very low doses it just boosts a sense of well-being.
Each person’s ECS is unique, and cannabinoids seem to work better for some than others at different doses, meaning careful experimentation is key (our motto is start low and go slow).
So, how can cannabis help menopause?
Cannabis, particularly the cannabinoid CBN, helps many people to fall and stay asleep. Research tells us that on average, it shortens the time it takes to fall asleep by 15-30 minutes, which is huge for insomniacs. It also helps people stay in deep sleep for longer. Sadly, it doesn’t help stop the 4 a.m. bladder alert, but it does help you fall right back to sleep again. (Shameless plug for Kikoko products – our sleep herbal tea, Tranquili-Tea, and our Snooze Manuka HoneyShot work like a dream. Armies of women write to us to say they’ve tossed the sleeping pills and given up the nightly wine). And because of the benefits of cannabis on homeostasis, i.e., body temperature, it can also help lessen those horrid night sweats.
As above, because of the regulating nature of the ECS, higher doses of THC can lower the body temperature. However, you have to work up to being able to tolerate those higher doses without feeling too high or mentally impaired, so taking it at night might be the right thing. Again, it’s all about trial and error. If you are a naturally cold person, lower doses of THC and CBD can actually regulate body temperature so you will feel warmer more often.
Mood and Anxiety
CBD, the cannabinoid that is all the rage right now, has a proven anti-anxiety effect. THC, in low doses (we suggest starting with 2 or 3mg and moving up over time), is a mood-booster and creates that feeling of joy that tends to be all-too-scarce during menopause. CBD and THC together work beautifully to help tame the dreaded hormone-induced shrew. Look for products with high CBD and low THC (3mg THC or less if you are a newbie and go up from there). It might be politically incorrect to say it, but if you’re like me and have teenagers in combination with menopause, cannabis can make that last-minute meal prep for an uninvited horde all that more bearable.
Here’s a horrifying statistic: Without cannabis, 95% of heterosexual men say they experience orgasm with sex. For heterosexual women, it’s 65% (lesbians score at 86%). The studies also say that women who use cannabis before sex are more than twice as likely to experience orgasm and a more pleasurable one than that.
For many women, cannabis not only puts you more in the mood, it intensifies orgasm. We’ve found it takes moderate amounts of THC to have a good effect (too much has the opposite effect and you just want to go to sleep). After a lot of fun experimentation, we made a tea specifically to help women with flagging libidos, and it works.
Aches and Pains
Both CBD and THC help with this. CBD is a strong anti-inflammatory and can help with aches from arthritis, cramping or just stiffness. However, it needs to be taken frequently to have the desired effect as it builds up in the body. THC is the cannabinoid that is clinically proven to help dull real pain, and the higher the dose of THC, the more the perception of pain recedes. So finding the dose that works for you is imperative. Don’t make the mistake of taking, say, a 3mg THC dose and then giving up because it didn’t work. Between 5 and 10mg, if you can tolerate the high effect, will generally work for pain. Taking CBD and THC in combination is best of all.
Memory (Well, actually focus)
Perhaps the most distressing symptom of menopause is when your memory abandons you and words or facts dangle just out of reach. It causes anxiety and you get distracted wondering if you’ve got early onset, which just makes everything worse. I wish I could say cannabis is an instant cure for that. There is not much science to support people’s claims that cannabis helps with brain function, but anecdotally many say that it does. In fact, many Silicon Valley technologists use cannabis to help with creativity and focus.
Again, I fall back on my own experience. I find at very, very low doses I may experience an enhanced focus and motivation rather than instant recall. However, start slowly. Too much THC and your short-term memory can actually be temporarily impaired. Just the right amount (for me it’s around 1-2mg of THC with 6-10mg CBD) and you may get the task done without the mental chatter and procrastination that plagues progress.
Despite the fear of “the munchies,” cannabis users overall have a significantly lower body mass index than non-cannabis users. Even though food does, admittedly, taste better with a little bit of THC, cannabis users tend to be leaner than non-cannabis users, possibly because the endocannabinoid system is moderating the metabolism. My personal experience corroborates this. I gained a mysterious eight pounds as I entered peri-menopause. When I started taking low doses of THC and high doses of CBD almost daily, I lost 10 pounds over six months (I fit into my wedding dress again!). I’d changed nothing about my diet, other than I gave up drinking wine and replaced it with cannabis cocktails made from chilled Kikoko tea. Mind you, I am more motivated to take the dogs for a hike when I’ve had a little bit of cannabis, and I always return a much happier person for it.
Find What Works For You
In conclusion, there is no cannabis cure-all for everyone. The key is experimentation in different forms and at different doses to find what works for you. And in some people, it may not at all. Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones who already have a boatload of Anandamide floating around in your brain and have no need of cannabis. However, if it does work for you, as it does for millions (women above the age of 50 are one of the fastest-growing markets in cannabis currently), it can truly make life more bearable.
Amanda Jones is a late-blooming entrepreneur and the co-founder of Kikoko, a sensibly dosed cannabis botanical wellness company. Before becoming a “potrepreneur,” Amanda was a journalist.