If you suffer from painful periods, you’ll be well aware of how debilitating they can be, especially if they’re so bad that you require time off from work or studying. Even if you only get relatively mild menstrual cramps, periods can still be unpleasant and stop you from living life to the full for several days.
Between 40 to 90% of women suffer from painful periods, which is medically known as dysmenorrhea. Other symptoms of a difficult period can include mood swings, anxiety, headaches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. In short, periods can be awful and women are constantly on the lookout for something that can help to ease their discomfort.
For many years, women have had to rely on painkillers and hot water bottles for relief, but over the last decade or so, they have been turning more and more to CBD products for help in alleviating the symptoms of their periods. Let’s have a look at how and why to use CBD to combat your menstrual cramps.
Why Can Periods Be So Painful?
Let’s go right back to basics. Once a month, if the egg produced by your ovaries hasn’t been fertilised, the lining of the uterus sheds itself as it isn’t needed to help a baby grow. This shedding process is triggered by the body releasing a hormone-like substance called prostaglandins.
Prostaglandins help to regulate the female reproductive system, helping to control ovulation and the menstrual cycle, as well as the induction of labour. They also have a role to play in muscle contraction, blood clotting and pain.
When the endometrial cells that form the uterus lining break down, large amounts of prostaglandins are released. This causes blood vessels to constrict in the uterus, which makes the muscles contract and causes the abdominal pain associated with periods. Sometimes the prostaglandins enter the bloodstream, causing the unpleasant physical symptoms like headaches and nausea.
What’s Wrong With More Traditional Methods of Pain Relief?
When period pain kicks in, many women reach for the Ibuprofen, which is a Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID). NSAIDs inhibit the enzyme responsible for producing prostaglandins, which is known as COX-2. This enables NSAIDs to decrease the unpleasant symptoms associated with periods, such as contractions, pain and inflammation. However, NSAIDs also inhibit an enzyme called COX-1, an enzyme which helps to protect the stomach and intestinal lining. The inhibition of this enzyme combined with the triggering of muscle contractions in the gut by increased prostaglandins can cause exacerbate nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
How Can CBD Help With Period Pain?
Whilst it’s important to point out that CBD isn’t a magic bullet when it comes to period pain (especially given different women experience different symptoms at different degrees of severity), it’s definitely worth considering how it might benefit you.
If you find that taking Ibuprofen makes you feel sick, CBD could be a better alternative. A study published in the Drug Metabolism and Disposition journal found that, similar to NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), CBD inhibits those pesky enzymes that produce prostaglandins. On top of that, CBD inhibits COX-2, more than COX-1, which means that its anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties come without the side effects that increase the likelihood of sickness and diarrhoea.
However, this isn’t the only way that CBD can help with period pain, as CBD has activities beyond reducing prostaglandins that can relieve symptoms.
General pain relief
A study published in the European Journal of Rheumatology reported that CBD targets nerve receptors that help to decrease the sensation of pain. All human beings have a cell-signalling system known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid receptors in your brain and immune system. The receptors receive signals from different stimuli and help your cells respond, and their response to CBD creates anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving responses. This is why CBD products are increasingly popular with people suffering from conditions such as chronic pain, arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
Menstrual pain is exacerbated by contractions of the muscles lining the uterus. According to a study in a journal of the Society for Reproduction and Fertility, ‘cannabinoids are known to exert profound relaxant effects on smooth muscle systems’. Smooth muscle systems include the walls of hollow organs, such as stomach, bladder and uterus, decreasing the likelihood of painful cramps. Using a CBD muscle rub can be extra effective as your body will benefit from the healing benefits of massage on top of the helpful properties of CBD.
The blood vessels, arteries and veins of the circulatory system are also lined with smooth muscle. Increased blood flow caused by relaxed muscles can help provide relief to oxygen-starved tissue, which also helps to decrease pain in the uterus and abdomen.
The Effect of CBD on Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and Stress
The physical pain of the actual period isn’t the only part of menstruation that can have a debilitating effect on women. In the time leading up to the period, women may suffer from bloating, skin breakouts, fatigue and headaches, and commonly reported psychological symptoms include mood swings, increased stress, depression, anxiety and irritability.
Though no research has been done specifically on the effect of CBD on PMS, a study published in a journal called Neurotherapeutics found that ‘existing preclinical evidence strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalised anxiety disorder’ amongst other psychological problems.
So, how does it work? Though scientists are currently entirely sure, it’s thought that CBD interacts with CB1 and CB2 receptors. These receptors are found in the nervous system and receive signals from different stimuli. It’s thought that CBD alters the signals of serotonin, which is sometimes known as the ‘happiness hormone’. Low serotonin levels are associated with depression and anxiety, both of which can be part of PMS.
Another way CBD can help relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome is by limiting skin breakouts, spots and acne. Just before your period starts, the estrogen and progesterone levels in your body drop. This triggers your sebaceous glands to produce more sebum, an oily substance that lubricates your skin. When you have too much sebum on your skin, your pores become clogged and spots occur. CBD has anti-inflammatory properties, which encourages general skin health, but a study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that CBD can also lessen sebum production, which helps to stop spots from forming.
Different CBD products have different effects on different people, so you may have to experiment a little to find what works for you. There are some that may help more for specific problems related to your period, for example muscle rub can be applied directly to the stomach area to help with uterine cramps, whilst a facial skin cleanser can help to tackle skin problems caused by excess oils. You might wish to add CBD oil to a morning smoothie during your period, or take it every day in capsule form.
CBD isn’t a cure to period pain, but something that can help to relieve the symptoms, potentially reducing it from something that has a very negative impact on your life to something that is manageable and doesn’t cause you much stress or inconvenience.