Endometriosis is a condition that affects an estimated 200 million women worldwide and an estimated 1 out of 10 women in the United States, with many undiagnosed.
It is characterized when the endometrium, the tissue that grows on the outer lining of the uterus, grows in areas outside of the uterus when it shouldn’t. This abnormal tissue growth is found on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and even in other parts of the body like bladder, colon, and lungs.
The cause of this pathology is unknown, although scientists theorize it could be due to retrograde menstruation among other reasons. Risk factors include early menarche – getting period at an early age, never having had children, and menstruation cycles that last more than seven days.
Symptoms include severe pelvic pain, agonizing menstruation, painful intercourse, uncomfortable urination and defecation due to endometriotic tissue in the bladder and the colon, and infertility in many cases.
Tests to confirm the diagnosis can be long and invasive to the patient. They include pelvic examinations, transvaginal ultrasounds, and pelvic laparoscopy, using a camera to visualize the tissue growth inside the body.
There is no cure for endometriosis. Treatment is to manage symptoms only. Currently, doctors recommend oral contraceptives to help hormonally regulate the flow of periods and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or opioids for pain relief. Surgical ablation or even total hysterectomy (complete removal of the uterus) is considered in more severe cases.
Endometriosis and the endocannabinoid system
How can marijuana help?
However, new studies show that cannabis can help manage endometriosis due to its connection to the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is composed of neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors type 1 and type 2 (CB1 and CB2) that are found throughout the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS).
A study performed on mice suggest that some of these receptors are found in the endometrial tissue as well. Mice with endometriosis seem to have a higher level of CB1 receptors in their abnormal tissue. When stimulated with CB1 chemical like CBD, it makes the tissue stop growing, thus providing a viable and non invasive treatment option.
”The fact that CB1 receptor expression is greater in the cysts than healthy uterus from the same rats suggests that treatments to activate CB1 receptors (either directly by CB1 agonists or indirectly by increasing relevant endocannabinoid levels) could be developed with minimal effects on uterine function.”
But researchers do caution that more studies need to be performed before human testing can occur.
In another study, human endometriosis cells proliferated less when stimulated with a synthetic cannabinoid called WIN 55212-2, proving that this can be used as another treatment for endometriosis without resorting to opioids and surgery.
Studies on endometriosis conducted on rodents have discovered that animals had more pain when they were treated with AM251, a drug which inhibits the cannabinoid receptors, and less pain when they were treated with WIN 55212-2.
With all of these positive studies coming out, the hope is that one day cannabinoids, especially CBD, will be used to treat a whole slew of gynecological symptoms. But many women are turning to this drug now to treat not only endometriosis, but also PMS, menstrual cramps, and headaches due to unstable hormones.
Smoking cannabis is considered dangerous in women due to the increased risk of blood clots, but vaping and edibles are non-harmful ways to consume cannabinoids to treat endometriosis.