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Cannabis offers promise as a treatment for endometriosis pain and other symptoms.
By Lisa van de Geyn
March 28, 2019
Almost 180 million women around the world suffer from endometriosis, and those who use cannabis to help treat the painful related symptoms rave about the relief they feel. Not only do experts cite anecdotal reports from women of less physical discomfort, but also better sleep, less painful sex and emotional respite.
That’s great news, considering treatments for endometriosis—when the tissue lining the uterus grows in the ovaries, fallopian tubes and pelvis—is limited beyond over-the-counter pain medication, anti-inflammatories, sometimes hormone therapy and, worst-case scenario, surgery. Despite the encouraging self-reports, however, cannabis still isn’t considered a first line of defence for gynaecologists when it comes to writing prescriptions for patients.
One of the big reasons for this, suggests Antuanette Gomez, founder and CEO of Pleasure Peaks, a women’s sexual health and cannabis line based in Toronto, is there simply isn’t enough medical research on the benefits women say cannabis has on sexual health and endometriosis.
“Despite the statistics showing one in 10 women have the condition, and that endometriosis was one of the most googled medical terms of 2018, there’s not much other than anecdotal research in the sexual health world when it comes to cannabis.”
Gomez says her time working in a chronic pain clinic introduced her to a surprising number of patients who dealt with sexual health issues, including pain during intercourse, polycystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis. “These women were referred and had pre-existing prescriptions that weren’t working. Ninety-five percent weren’t using cannabis, but because it’s effective in relieving nerve pain in people with multiple sclerosis, we suggested it could ease symptoms of endometriosis, which causes nerve pain in vaginal lining,” Gomez says.
Almost 180 million women around the world suffer from endometriosis.
One patient, she reports, was given a cannabis-coconut-oil infusion, and the results were game-changing. “She was able to have sex with her partner again, and that’s huge for a woman with endometriosis,” Gomez notes.
Dr. Kevin Rod, a family physician with a focused practice in chronic pain, as well as medical director of the Toronto Poly Clinic, says medical cannabis doesn’t just help ease the symptoms of chronic pelvic pain (including nausea, painful periods and gastrointestinal issues), it allows doctors to treat the patient as a whole and improves several aspects of health and wellness.
“The inflammation and pain caused by endometriosis affects stress, irritability and the ability to relax, sleep, cope and self-manage,” Dr. Rod says. “In my experience, when cannabis is used appropriately, seven out of 10 patients report a significant improvement.”
What’s on the horizon for endometriosis research?
While research on endometriosis has been limited, there’s new hope in the works for healthcare providers and patients—Strainprint Technologies Ltd., along with Israeli researchers, are prepping to roll out the first clinical study using cannabis to treat endometriosis. It will focus on identifying the cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes that offer women the most pain relief.
“We don’t yet know which formulations, amounts and modes work best, but based on the patients’ assessments of their pain, quality of sleep, stress and other symptoms, we can choose treatments that we believe will best help,” says Dr. Rod. “The key here is to ensure we start low and go slow,” he adds.
Gomez expects it will probably be three years or so until cannabis is the go-to for physicians. In the meantime, she’s launching a lubricant later this year that, she suggests will also be helpful for pain relief.
Dr. Rod, who has studied cannabis and pain in about 5,000 patients over the last five years, maintains that more resources and study results are needed, but there’s recently been a big shift in the attitudes of patients and doctors. “There’s an honest discussion going on now. More patients are willing to talk about cannabis and don’t feel as guilty or awkward as they did just two years ago,” he says. “More physicians and women will be receptive to cannabis treating this kind of pain when meaningful results are found.”