Endometriosis is a chronic health condition that causes the inner lining of the uterus to grow outside of the uterus. The primary manifestations of endometriosis include chronic pelvic pain and infertility. The condition is also known to cause extreme pain during menstruation and bowel movements.
Over the years, various cannabis-infused menstrual products have popped up on the market — including CBD-infused tampons and pads. Medical dispensaries often carry cannabis suppositories, which can either be inserted vaginally or anally, as well.
But do these products work? Is there any value to using cannabis menstrual products and suppositories? Does inhaling or ingesting cannabis help alleviate symptoms of endometriosis, either?
Endocannabinoid Receptors in the Endocrine System
The endocannabinoid system is a network of receptors throughout your body that regulate various biological functions — including endocrine functions.
Similarly, your endocrine system is a network of glands throughout your body. Moreover, your body uses hormones to transmit messages through this system. Hormones travel through your bloodstream and specifically target endocrine glands.
The endocrine system plays a significant role in maintaining homeostasis — as does the endocannabinoid system. Additionally, the endocrine system regulates growth, development, body defenses, cellular metabolism, and reproduction.
While the CB1 receptors of the endocannabinoid system are primarily located throughout your nervous system, they have also been identified in endocrine glands and the female reproductive tract.
Specifically, CB1 receptors have been identified in the following endocrine glands and organs:
- Pituitary gland: located at the base of the brain, the pituitary gland is split into two parts: the anterior pituitary, which secretes various hormones, and the posterior pituitary. The posterior pituitary does not secrete hormones. Instead, it stores and releases the hormones secreted by the anterior pituitary. Pituitary cells can also produce endocannabinoids.
- Thyroid gland: located just below your larynx, the thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that produces hormones implicated in metabolism, growth, development, and many other bodily functions.
- Adrenal glands: situated above each kidney, the pyramid-shaped adrenal glands help regulate metabolism, immune function, stress response, and blood pressure, among other bodily functions.
- Vagus nerve endings: the vagus nerve facilitates communication between your brain, digestive system, heart, and respiratory system. CB1 receptors have been identified in the endings of the vagus nerve.
Additionally, CB1 receptors have been found in various reproductive organs, including the uterus, ovaries, placenta, and testes.
Does Cannabis Help with Endometriosis?
Several studies have been published on the efficacy of using cannabis for treating endometriosis. However, most of these studies were conducted using traditional methods of consuming cannabis (i.e., inhalation or consumption) rather than using cannabis suppositories, tampons, or pads.
In one study, 252 participants with endometriosis recorded 16,193 of their sessions using cannabis over roughly three years. Most participants smoked cannabis, with pain being the most common symptom alleviated by their cannabis use.
The participants also reported the greatest improvements in gastrointestinal symptoms after cannabis use. Oral forms of cannabis (i.e., tinctures, capsules, or edibles) were rated as superior for treating digestive symptoms and improving mood.
Although there’s always the risk of personal bias when relying on self-reported data, these studies provide meaningful insights on cannabis use preferences, why individuals use cannabis, and what symptoms they perceive the most relief from during cannabis use.
In a systematic review, the authors assessed a significant number of studies on the efficacy of cannabis for alleviating various gynecological conditions, including endometriosis. Across multiple studies and surveys, the participants overwhelmingly reported substantial pain relief while using THC, CBD, or both.
Based on the data analyzed in the study, a combination of THC and CBD also yielded more efficacious pain relief than using either cannabinoid alone. Across all studies, minimal side effects were reported, including dry mouth, fatigue, and the “high” associated with THC.
Another journal review article describes the relationship between the endocannabinoid system and endometriosis. Specifically, the study describes how endometriosis causes nociceptive, inflammatory, and neuropathic pain — all of which can be modulated through the endocannabinoid system via natural or synthetic cannabinoids.
Thus, cannabis positions itself as a unique potential therapy that could target all three types of pain caused by endometriosis.
Do Cannabis Suppositories or Cannabis Menstrual Products Work for Chronic Pelvic Pain?
Again, there is a lack of clinical studies on cannabis suppositories and menstrual products for treating endometriosis.
However, given the presence of CB1 receptors in the uterus and ovaries, using these products would deliver THC and CBD directly to the CB1 receptors in the female reproductive tract, giving targeted pain relief.
In my personal experience with cannabis suppositories, they don’t get you “high,” but they do provide great localized pain relief and help reduce inflammation in the area.
It’s also worth noting that some sites refer to cannabis suppositories as “THC tampons” or “weed tampons,” but a suppository is not a tampon at all. A suppository is a medication inserted into the rectum or vagina and dissolves to deliver localized relief. The suppository is not designed to absorb any menstrual blood.
There are, however, CBD-infused tampons and menstrual pads on the market. While I can’t say that I have personal experience with CBD-infused menstrual products, I would highly recommend looking up product reviews and verifying the legitimacy of their products before making your purchase.
As described in the studies cited above, good ol’ fashion inhalation or oral ingestion of cannabinoids also appears to effectively alleviate endometriosis symptoms. Fortune may favor the bold, but you can’t go wrong with tried and true methods of using cannabis, either.
Key Takeaways: Cannabis May Alleviate Endometriosis Pain
Endometriosis affects 176 million women around the world. It is an extremely painful condition that occurs when the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus. Endometriosis is associated with chronic pelvic pain, severely painful menstruation, gastrointestinal distress, and infertility.
Various studies have explored the efficacy of cannabis for alleviating endometriosis symptoms via self-report data and systematic reviews. Overall, research thus far suggests inhaling or ingesting cannabis relieves the pain and digestive distress caused by endometriosis with minimal side effects.
In addition to traditional methods of cannabis use, there are also suppositories and cannabinoid-infused menstrual products. Although there’s currently a lack of clinical studies on these products for treating endometriosis, these products could deliver THC directly to the CB1 receptors in the female reproductive tract.
To learn more about the effects of cannabis on endometriosis and reproductive health, listen to episode 16 of the Cannabis Science Today podcast. In this episode, host Emily Fata interviews OB/GYN Dr. Genester Wilson-King to learn more about cannabis as a medicine for treating endometriosis. Fata and Dr. Wilson-King also discuss cannabis’ potential as an aphrodisiac and whether cannabis affects fertility.
- Tsamantioti, E. S., & Mahdy, H. (2022, February 26). Endometriosis. StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK567777/
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