7 Ways Cannabinoids Combat Endometriosis
When Foria first released its cannabinoid infused suppositories, the team was pleasantly surprised by the response from people who suffer from endometriosis.
The Foria team wasn’t surprised that these products worked for endometriosis pain — just how well they worked.
Though many folks are already familiar with the pain-relieving effects of CBD and THC, scientists have uncovered numerous ways that cannabis and hemp extracts could actually target the root causes of various conditions — including endometriosis.
Research indicates that cannabinoids could treat endometriosis by:
- Stopping cell proliferation
- Preventing cell migration
- Inhibiting lesion vascularization (blood vessels)
- Inhibiting lesion innervation (nerves)
- Blocking synthesis of inflammatory prostaglandins
- Modulating the immune response
- Desensitizing nerves that transmit pain
But which cannabinoids have which effects?
And should you be using THC only? CBD only? Or some combination?
Whether you’re already using cannabinoids for your endometriosis, or you’re considering an experiment with them, we highly recommend reading on to learn about the effects of THC & CBD on endometriosis.
If you’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis, then you’re probably already aware that there’s currently no cure. The treatments offered by doctors — including painkillers, hormone therapy, and risky surgical procedures — are aimed at merely holding the endometriosis in check. And they are often ineffective at that.
This is why many endometriosis sufferers are seeking holistic approaches to deal with their recurrent symptoms – through diet and other lifestyle changes – and incorporating cannabinoids (like CBD and THC) into their treatment routines.
What is Endometriosis?
Let’s start with a bit of background first. (If you’re already deeply familiar with endometriosis, feel free to skip ahead to the cannabinoid therapies section down the page.)
Endometriosis is a frequently painful condition where tissue similar to that which normally lines the uterus – the endometrium – mistakenly grows outside of the uterus. Endometrial tissue can develop on the ovaries, fallopian tubes and other abdominal locations.
Although there is nothing intrinsically life-threatening about this tissue, it unfortunately responds to the hormones circulating in your body the same way it does in your uterus: Every month the endometrium builds up, then breaks down and sheds.
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.
For people who suffer from endometriosis, life is significantly more challenging: As a group, their quality of life goes down while anxiety and depression rates increase . Many endure the pain of endometriosis for years before being properly diagnosed — and it can be devastating to continue to get worse even while following prescribed treatments.
People with endometriosis typically suffer from at least one of the following symptoms:
- Severe menstrual cramps
- Painful intercourse
- Painful urination or bowel movements
- Chronic lower back, abdominal or pelvic pain
- Diarrhea, constipation or nausea
- Infertility or difficulty getting pregnant
How is Endometriosis Treated?
There is no known cure for endometriosis. Treatment focuses on symptom management while trying to prevent the endometriosis from spreading. Doctors typically suggest one or more of the following three treatment options:
- Painkillers — The most widely-prescribed resource for dealing with endometriosis is an effective painkiller. Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and analgesic painkillers help sufferers cope with the painful symptoms of endometriosis, but do nothing to prevent the disease from progressing. Sometimes more extreme painkillers are prescribed, with debilitating systemic effects ( as one Foria client with endometriosis discovered before switching to cannabis therapy).
- Hormones — Another popular prescription is for hormone therapy, which is thought to alleviate symptoms by reducing the strength and/or quantity of menstrual cycles. However, some patients respond poorly to hormone therapy.
- Surgery — Doctors can surgically remove the misplaced endometrial tissue, which often provides tremendous relief. for a while. Unfortunately, there is a high risk of complications, and approximately half of patients will have their symptoms return within one year , requiring further treatment. Another surgical option is an ovariectomy — both surgical and natural menopause will end the cyclical nature of endometrial torture. Unfortunately, pain from permanent endometriosis scar damage could persist beyond menopause, requiring lifelong pain management.
What Causes Endometriosis?
In order to develop more effective treatments, scientists are working to piece together exactly how endometrial tissue thrives where it doesn’t belong. The most popular theory is that menstrual blood flows the wrong direction, carrying endometrial tissue to the fallopian tubes, ovaries or abdomen. Others speculate that environmental factors or toxins might cause the body to spontaneously produce endometrial cells in the wrong place.
However the initial cells arrive , once they are there, they grow and spread (similar to cancer cells) by somehow multiplying and avoiding destruction by the body’s security force. They recruit blood veins to supply nutrients and remove waste products (also like cancer), and they grow new nerve endings that increase pain perception. Also similar to cancer cells, endometriosis can migrate to other tissues in order to claim more territory — even reclaiming lost territory after surgery. Although endometriosis is considered a benign disease, patients whose bodies are unable to prevent the spread of endometriosis (due to genetics or environmental factors) also have a much higher risk for ovarian cancer .
Due to the similarities, some speculate that treatments that stop cancer from developing and spreading might do the same for endometriosis.
Cannabis & Endometriosis
People across the world use cannabis and hemp extracts to treat endometriosis, menstrual cramps and other gynecological complications — and they’ve been using them for millennia . In the last few decades, THC and CBD have been shown to be 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 reproductive tract .
In fact, 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. How?
Cannabinoids Stop Cell Multiplication
Normally, your body has tools to prevent the growth of aberrant cells and to destroy them ( apoptosis ) before they become a problem. 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: Preventing Cell Migration
A frustrating problem for patients who have their endometriotic lesions surgically removed is that the endometriosis frequently comes back. However, scientists recently discovered that endocannabinoids are involved in regulating cell-migration.
It turns out that molecules like CBD can stop endometriotic cells from migrating (by blocking the activation of the GPR18 receptor). However, molecules like THC that activate this receptor could potentially increase cell migration. This suggests that women who self-medicate with THC should consider counterbalancing its effects with CBD .
Starving the Bloodsuckers
In order for anything to grow, it needs a supply of nutrients. Likewise, endometriotic lesions can only proliferate if they develop a network of blood vessels (vascularization) in order to receive the required nutrients.
Although research on the influence of cannabinoids on endometriotic vascularization is limited, multiple studies have shown that both THC and CBD can inhibit vascularization of cancerous lesions.
CBD vs Painful Nerves
Some patients suffer from deep-infiltrating endometriosis — a more painful form of endometriosis that embeds deeper into abdominal tissue. One reason these lesions might be more painful is that they contain a much higher density of nerves than other lesions.
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 activation of this receptor. However, this might suggest that using THC without the counterbalancing effects of CBD could result in a long-term increase in endometriosis innervation.
CBD: Like Advil Without the Side-Effects
NSAIDs like Advil are one of the most frequently-prescribed treatments for endometriosis. NSAIDs work by inhibiting certain enzymes (named COX-2 ) that contribute to inflammation. Unfortunately, NSAIDs thin your blood and can have gastrointestinal side effects because they also inhibit other enzymes (such as COX-1 ). It turns out that CBD’s anti-inflammatory effects come with fewer of these side-effects because it specifically inhibits COX-2 but not COX-1 .
Cannabinoids Calm An Overactive Immune System
A large number of your body’s endocannabinoid receptors (CB2) are located on your immune system’s killer cells ( macrophages ). When these receptors are activated, they prevent macrophages from releasing inflammatory proteins ( cytokines ).
People who suffer from endometriosis become hypersensitized to inflammatory toxins and signals. Fortunately, THC activates CB2 receptors , which is a large contributor to THC’s anti-inflammatory properties. This is useful for out of control inflammation caused by an overactive immune system — though depressing the immune system isn’t always desirable.
CBD & THC vs Pain Signals
Nerves that innervate endometriotic lesions can increase the pain of endometriosis. These nerves also contain endocannabinoid receptors (CB1) , 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 desensitizing the pain receptor TRPV1 .
Lifestyle Changes for Endometriosis
Scientists are still uncovering the different ways that cannabinoids like CBD and THC impact endometriosis, and standardized medical advice could be years away. Until then, careful self-experimentation is the best way to determine the optimal combination of cannabinoids to complement your current endometriosis treatment.
Many people with endometriosis have already incorporated cannabinoids into their self-care routine, and we encourage you to check out their testimonials before making your decision. To read about the personal stories and lifestyle changes that have helped other Foria clients gain control over their endometriosis, start here and here .
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.
Dietary changes often have profound effects on endometriosis symptoms. An anti-inflammatory diet that’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and antioxidants is a good place to start. You may also find that acupuncture and meditation are effective tools for pain management. Additionally, other herbal supplements could target endometriosis in ways similar to cannabinoids.
As always, before making any changes to your endometriosis treatment, make sure to consult with a trusted medical professional.
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If you’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis, then you’re probably already aware that there’s currently no cure. This is why many patients are seeking holistic approaches to deal with their recurrent symptoms – through diet and other lifestyle changes – and incorporating CBD and THC into their treatment routine. Learn More.
CBD Oil for Endometriosis Pain? Experts Warn: Buyer Beware
Can CBD oil help relieve the misery of chronic endometriosis pain? That’s the question we asked our community via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
“Yes,” wrote @michelleaveryjewelry, “I have my medical license and use CBD only and a 50:50 [ratio of] CBD to the THC oil. It does help the pain. I am off narcotics.”
“It really does help,” @nycgyno answered. “I am doing research on it with some patients, and most of them are very happy with the results and the relief.”
But, not everyone agreed. Endometriosis pain is a highly individualized experience, and CBD oil is not one size fits all.
According to @therealkatedavey, “For me post-excision surgery, two years out, CBD oil really helps my bad pain days. But I had to find one that worked for me. And that’s my experience…not everything works for everyone.”
So, it’s neither silver bullet nor the old fashion “snake oil” conjured up by traveling quacks from the backs of wagons in 19 th century frontier days and foisted off on a naïve public as a cure-all—though real snake oil is used in China—plant-based preparations including marijuana do have a long and respectable history in the traditional medicines of some cultures.
Marijuana only became illegal in the U.S. with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, though regulation rumblings had been growing since the 1920s.
Pharmaceutical-grade CBD oil, or cannabidiol oil, is derived from the cannabis plant and can be packaged in a variety of forms: gel cap, cream, oil, salve, tincture, or maybe even a transdermal or skin patch. Its effect is not the same as smoking and doesn’t produce the same cloudy euphoria and munchie giggles as the roll-your-own stuff you might have enjoyed in your college days.
Though @kadine_christie said “supposedly CBD oil shouldn’t get you high, but I hated every minute of it. It was [a] terrible feeling.” And one commenter noted, “I’m a working woman, a freelancer in the corporate world. I cannot afford to feel high.”
In many states, obtaining CBD products requires a doctor’s prescription. In others, it’s just plain illegal, though that appears to be changing rapidly.
California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. This year, the state began to allow sales for recreational use, but the California Department of Public Health stated that, “Until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules that industrial hemp-derived CBD oil and CBD products can be used as a food or California makes a determination that they are safe to use for human and animal consumption, CBD products are not an approved food, food ingredient, food additive or dietary supplement.”
The state agency explained, CBD and CBD oil are “allowable only in edible cannabis products that are produced according to the California Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulations and Safety Act including a source, manufacturing, distribution, testing and retail supply chain that is completely separate from regular foods and beverages.”
Though there’s something about the phrase “industrial hemp” that doesn’t feel quite right, recent news reports indicate that Coca-Cola is seriously interested in adding the product to its popular line of the soft drink which traces its root recipe back to cocaine.
Could artisanal “Can”-Cola be far away?
In June, the FDA made history when it approved the use of a purified form of CBD oil to treat seizures in two “rare and severe” forms of epilepsy. Dr. Orrin Devinsky, director of NYU Langone Epilepsy Center, noted at the time, “It’s very important to highlight that the drug used in this study, cannabidiol, was…purified to 99 percent purity.”
It’s promising news for CBD fans, but Devinsky also made it clear that buyers should beware. “This is not something you can get from a dispensary today. It is a very specific pharmaceutical-grade product.”
Despite the fact that @heavers_said, “It’s my saving grace” and Vitamin Weed author Dr. Michele Ross, Ph.D. swears by the stuff, there is not a lot of authoritative clinical evidence for its effectiveness.
Lately, inboxes have been filling up with a rising tide of emails recruiting volunteers, but only a few seem to have some degree of scientific authenticity—and those results aren’t in yet.
Director of the Brain Institute of the University of Utah, Deborah Yurgelun-Todd is “testing the analgesic effects of orally-dosed Cannabidiol on subjects with non-cancer pain.”
Canada seems to be a sweet spot for legitimate clinical trials.
That’s where Ramesh Zacharias, the Medical Director of Hamilton Health Sciences Corporation in collaboration with the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Pain Research and Care at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and Dr. Antonio Vigano and Dr. Maria Fernanda Arboleda of McGill University in Montreal are doing related studies.
These studies have passed the rigorous rules of the Institutional Review Boards of the respective university.
And if you’re thinking of buying a bottle from Amazon or any other online source, remember this warning.
“Among CBD products purchased online, a wide range of CBD concentrations was found, consistent with the lack of accepted dose. Of products tested, 26 percent contained less CBD than labeled which could negate any potential clinical response. The over labeling of CBD products in this study is similar in magnitude to levels that triggered warning letters to 14 businesses in 2015-2016 from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (e.g., Actual CBD content was negligible or less than 1 percent of the labeled content).”
That’s according to a study published online last year by the Journal of American Medical Association entitled “Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online”.
And it’s nothing to fool with. “There is evidence,” according to Dr. Tomar Singer, director of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, “that cannabis oil or cannabidiol can decrease fertility by affecting ovulation and implantation.”
Can CBD oil help relieve the misery of chronic endometriosis pain? While many are loading up vape pens with the substance, scant scientific evidence exists