Some women use cannabis and more recently CBD products to ease menstrual cramps. Despite a lack of research on the topic, this practice has a long history; even England’s Queen Victoria was prescribed cannabis for menstrual discomfort.
Despite a lack of research on the topic, this practice has a long history; even England’s Queen Victoria was prescribed cannabis for menstrual discomfort.”
More importantly, numerous studies have shown that CBD can relieve pain and inflammation, which play a central role in menstrual pain. Research also suggests that pain management is the most common reason people turn to CBD. Here’s what the science says about using CBD for menstrual cramps, including the ideal dosage, side effects, and more. ¹
Menstrual Cramps Overview
Also known as dysmenorrhea, menstrual cramps are the throbbing or cramping pain felt by many women during their period. These cramps can range from minor discomfort to severe pain.
Dysmenorrhea happens during menstruation, the monthly cycle where the uterus contracts and relaxes to shed its lining and remove it from the body.
In most cases, these muscle contractions are responsible for menstrual cramps. However, period pain can also be caused by certain conditions.
Menstrual cramps are very common, with most women experiencing some level of pain during their period. According to research surveys, dysmenorrhea affects anywhere from 45 to 93% of women of reproductive age. ²
It occurs more frequently and tends to be worse in women younger than 20. Additionally, some reports indicate that 10 out of 100 women experience menstrual cramps severe enough to disrupt their usual daily activities for a few days every month. ³
Menstrual cramps can decrease or go away entirely with age.
Types of Menstrual Cramps
Doctors divide menstrual cramps into two main types:
- Primary dysmenorrhea: The most common type of menstrual pain, caused by uterine muscle contractions during a period. Primary dysmenorrhea is more common in women under 30.
- Secondary dysmenorrhea: Menstrual cramps can also be caused by fibroids, polyps, and other benign growths, as well as conditions such as endometriosis. This is more common in women over 30.
Menstrual Cramps Symptoms & Pathology
The main symptom of menstrual cramps is pelvic and lower abdominal pain that begins during or one to two days before a period. The pain ranges from mild to severe and can sometimes be felt in the back and the legs.
Menstrual cramps can also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, headaches, and a general feeling of being unwell.
Can CBD Help With Menstrual Cramps?
CBD’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties may help ease menstrual pain.
As summarized by one 2020 review paper, “CBD is a well-tolerated and safe natural compound exerting analgesic effects in various animal models of pain, as well as clinical studies.” ⁴
Additionally, CBD has antiemetic properties that may reduce nausea, another common symptom of menstrual cramps. ⁵
Animal and cell culture studies have highlighted several possible ways that CBD might work to relieve menstrual cramps, including lowering prostaglandin production, influencing the endocannabinoid system, and interacting with receptors involved in pain and inflammation.
CBD and Prostaglandins
Prostaglandins are inflammatory, hormone-like compounds that play a major role in menstrual cramps.
Their levels rise during menstruation, causing muscle contractions and affecting pain perception. Research also suggests that higher prostaglandin levels may be associated with heavier periods and more painful menstrual cramps. ⁶
CBD has been shown to inhibit cyclooxygenase enzymes (COX-1 and COX-2) which help make prostaglandins from arachidonic acid. ⁷ This means CBD could make menstrual cramps less severe by reducing prostaglandin levels.
As it happens, COX inhibition is the same mechanism used by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen, which are widely used to relieve menstrual cramps. ⁸
CBD and the Endocannabinoid System
CBD also interacts with your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is made up of endocannabinoids, enzymes, and cannabinoid receptors.
This system plays a pivotal role in keeping your body healthy by maintaining an internal state of balance scientists call homeostasis. ⁹ To do so, the ECS regulates major processes, including pain, inflammation, sleep, stress, digestion, and metabolism.
Additionally, recent research has shown that the ECS also plays a role in the female reproductive system, including the menstrual cycle. ¹⁰
Furthermore, CBD can reduce the breakdown of anandamide, one of the two main endocannabinoids made in our bodies, and change how your cannabinoid receptors respond to other cannabinoids. ¹¹ ¹²
In doing so, it can support the balancing role of the ECS in pain, inflammation, and other processes involved in menstrual cramps.
Other Ways CBD Can Help With Menstrual Cramps
CBD can also influence many other systems that regulate pain and inflammation, such as TRP channels, glycine, GPR, and PPARγ receptors, and the (NF)-κB pro-inflammatory pathway. ¹³ ¹⁴ ¹⁵ ¹⁶ ¹⁷
Additionally, CBD has been shown to activate serotonin receptors, which may explain its beneficial effects on nausea and vomiting. ¹⁸
What Does the Research Say?
Researchers have yet to investigate the use of CBD for specifically treating menstrual cramps. Nonetheless, many animal and early clinical studies suggest that CBD can relieve pain in general.
One 2019 study examined the benefits of full-spectrum CBD softgels in 97 chronic pain sufferers who use opioid painkillers.
More than half (53%) of the participants reduced their opioid usage or stopped taking their medication entirely during the 8-week study, with 94% reporting improved quality of life, less pain, and better sleep. ¹⁹
Meanwhile, a 2018 study looked at the effects of a transdermal CBD gel compared to a placebo in 320 people with osteoarthritis. Not all patients benefited from CBD, but those who responded to the treatment reported a significant reduction in pain. ²⁰
Additionally, several systematic reviews — papers that summarize the results of multiple studies — concluded that cannabinoids may be effective in treating chronic pain. ²¹
Some research studies have also mentioned anecdotal reports of successful cannabis use (which contains significant amounts of CBD) for menstrual cramps. ²²
Finally, a 2002 review paper by renowned cannabis researcher Dr. Ethan Russo discussed many historical examples of women using cannabis for period pain and other female health concerns.
One such example was Victorian-era England, where cannabis was a common ingredient in medicine for menstrual cramps. ²³
All in all, studies suggest that CBD has pain-relieving properties, which means it may very well help with menstrual cramps. However, targeted research of CBD in women with period pain is needed.
Using CBD for Menstrual Cramps
There are many ways to use CBD for menstrual cramps.
Most people ingest CBD in the form of CBD oil (tincture), capsules, or similar products with body-wide effects. You can also inhale CBD by vaping, which is favored by people looking for immediate relief.
Other options include topical CBD (i.e. CBD balm), which only provides its effects where it was applied, and the lesser-known option, suppositories.
Whatever method (or combination) you choose, we recommend going with a full-spectrum CBD product.
This type of whole-plant extract contains all of hemp’s phytocannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other beneficial compounds, including a small amount (<0.3%) of THC.
Research suggests that whole-plant cannabis preparations provide greater benefits than CBD or THC on their own due to a phenomenon known as the “entourage effect.” ²⁴
This is especially true for pain, with multiple studies showing that the combination of CBD and THC produces greater relief than either cannabinoid by itself. ²⁵ ²⁶
How Much CBD Should I Take for Menstrual Cramps?
The right dosage of CBD for menstrual cramps is different for everyone. It depends on many factors, including your body weight, genetics, pain severity, and the type of CBD product you’re using.
As a result, most health experts recommend the “start low and go slow” approach to cannabinoids. ²⁷
That means starting with a small amount of CBD (10-15 mg), waiting a few hours to see the effects, and adjusting the dose as needed until you start to feel pain relief. Use this method to settle on a CBD dosage that works best for you.
You should also bear in mind that different ways of taking CBD have varying effects, so you may not be able to use the same dose across all products. For example, using CBD oil for menstrual cramps will provide an effect on your whole body whereas topicals can provide a targeted effect.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Researchers consider CBD to be a generally safe, well-tolerated compound with mostly minor side effects. ²⁸
The most common side effects of CBD include: ²⁹
- Tiredness and drowsiness
- Dry mouth
- Diarrhea and nausea
- Low blood pressure
- Changes in appetite or weight
Most of these effects were reported by studies using high oral doses of pure CBD.
Most people use CBD in smaller doses of sublingual (under the tongue) oil and frequently opt for whole-plant products instead of pure CBD. As a result, your likelihood of experiencing CBD’s side effects are small.
So, does CBD help with menstrual cramps? Rigorous clinical studies in women with menstrual cramps are needed to substantiate CBD’s benefits. Still, there is some evidence that it can help.
Most notably, research has shown that CBD has analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and other beneficial effects that may ease menstrual pain and related symptoms.
We also know that medical marijuana, which contains CBD, has been used to relieve menstrual discomfort throughout history – though, this will cause a psychoactive response. Another advantage of CBD is that it’s a safe, natural compound with minor side effects.
If you’re interested in using CBD for menstrual cramps, there are many options, including CBD oil, vaping, suppositories, and topical products.
Whichever method you choose, it’s best to use a full-spectrum hemp formula and experiment with the dosage to find one that suits you.