Last updated November 22, 2019 at 1:19 pm
The pain of endometriosis has Australian women turning to cannabis, with a study finding it’s effective for more than just pain.
Why This Matters: A lack of support for endometriosis patients is turning some to illicit approaches.
One in eight Australian women with endometriosis are turning to cannabis in a bid to relieve their chronic pain.
Researchers from NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University, and UNSW Sydney surveyed 484 women on how they self-manage the symptoms of the debilitating condition. The results are published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada.
What they found was that more than three-quarters of women surveyed turned to strategies like yoga, dietary changes, heat packs, and exercise. The most effective strategy, however, was reported to be cannabis.
Researchers estimate that Endometriosis affects more than 1 in 10 Australian women. The chronic condition occurs when cells like those that line the uterus – the endometrium – are found outside the uterus.
During ovulation, the cells thicken. But unlike the cells that are found inside the uterus, these outside cells cannot leave the body. They bleed, cause inflammation and pain before they heal. Over time this process can lead to scar tissue.
The pain of endometriosis can be chronic and so severe that it stops women from going about their daily life. Symptoms include chronic pelvic pain, painful periods and infertility.
Cannabis does more than relieve pain
The participants reported that cannabis use reduced their pelvic pain, improved their sleep and decreased nausea and vomiting. They also reported that cannabis reduced their anxiety and depression.
43 per cent of the participants reported daily cannabis use, with 50 per cent of participants reporting that they smoked the plant-based medicine. A little under 12 per cent used edibles or oils.
Adverse effects associated with cannabis use were reported to be low, with 10 per cent of women reporting drowsiness, increased anxiety or tachycardia.
Lead author on the study Justin Sinclair from NICM Health Research Institute, says that in the past, cannabis has demonstrated effective pain-relief properties.
“Cannabis has a long history of use in the ancient and scientific literature for various conditions such as period pain, however until now nothing has been investigated for cannabis being used for endometriosis,” Sinclair says.
“Past research has demonstrated that certain compounds within cannabis known as cannabinoids exert analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity. Our research sought to determine the prevalence, tolerability, and self-reported effectiveness of cannabis in women with Endometriosis.”
For some, current treatments just don’t cut it
In Australia, there is a general lack of awareness surrounding endometriosis. Currently, there is no known cause and there is also no cure.
Endometriosis symptoms can be treated with drugs, most treatments are not suitable long term. The current treatments involve oral contraceptives or progestogens as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. However, sometimes these medications don’t always provide adequate pain control. Sometimes, there are side effects.
Surgery can also be performed that removes the endometriosis lesions and scar tissue. In severe cases, a Hysterectomy may be performed.
However, the researchers found in 56 per cent of participants who reported using cannabis, they also reported a significant reduction in the use of pharmaceutical medications.
“Clinical trials of cannabis use in this group are warranted to determine efficacy, compliance, and side effect profile,” the researchers write.
Most women are using illicit cannabis
Currently, Australian law requires legal medicinal cannabis use to follow regulated pathways. However, researchers say that few prescriptions for medicinal cannabis have been dispensed. This has led Australian women to turn to illicit use of cannabis.
“Due to the timing of when the survey was administered, most, if not all of the women in the survey would have been using illicit cannabis as access to medicinal cannabis was still in its infancy,” says Chief Investigator on the study, Mike Armour from NICM Health Research Institute.
“This means we don’t have any information about the different varieties of cannabis that women were using, or what might have been in the cannabis that was being used as it was derived from illicit sources which are not quality assured,” he says.
“Further research is needed to assess the effectiveness of quality-controlled medicinal cannabis and women with endometriosis.”