Women and cannabis have a very special connection, and the parallel between the female human and the female plant is more than just a metaphor. Both are very intuitive–women’s wisdom comes from deep within, from a space that is not linear and can not be explained by logic. Cannabis is an intuitive medicine, working in a way that is very specific and unique to each person who consumes it. This makes cannabis difficult to precisely understand and prescribe, and many clinicians and researchers have steered away from it as a result.
In another parallel between the plant and humans, our lacking medical trials for cannabis are reflective of the lack of medical trials conducted for women’s health concerns. Most of the knowledge we have about diseases and the effects of drugs and other treatments is based on research that has been done on men, by men. For decades, the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) prohibited all women of childbearing age from taking part in early-phase drug trials. The reasoning was that women are born with all the eggs they will ever produce, so they should be excluded from drug trials in case the drug proves toxic, impeding their ability to reproduce in the future. This paternalistic attitude assumes that a woman’s highest calling is baby-making and removes her ability to make her own health decisions, including whether or not to participate in a medical study that may impact her eggs. The result of this exclusion has been the marketing of prescription medications that are far more dangerous to women than men. Out of the 10 prescription drugs that were taken off the market by the USFDA between 1997 and 2000 due to severe adverse effects, eight caused greater health risks in women. A 2018 study found that this was a direct result of “serious male biases in basic, pre-clinical, and clinical research”.
The idea that women are breeding machines isn’t the only reason for the lack of research: the female menstrual cycle and the varied release of hormones throughout that cycle introduces many different variables into a study, so females are often excluded. All of this has contributed to this end result: conditions that primarily affect women have been under-researched, when compared to conditions that primarily affect men, even though many common women’s health problems create significant physical suffering and economic costs for the people who have them. These health problems include gynecological disorders, autoimmune diseases, and chronic pain conditions, like fibromyalgia.
But both the research on women’s health and research on cannabis are starting to be seen as more important, and the body of work is growing. Clinicians’ perspectives on cannabis are changing too: in the past couple years, I have spoken with several doctors and clinicians who occasionally recommend consuming cannabis during breastfeeding and pregnancy for certain conditions, something that was unheard of only a few years ago. I once had a doctor try to dissuade me from renewing my cannabis prescription for insomnia, instead strongly recommending that I take a prescription for Ambien, since “we don’t know the long term effects of cannabis”. While I understand her point, given the lack of medical trials and research for cannabis, she was quite mistaken. We actually do have a very long history of safe cannabis use, across time and culture, Old World and New.
This upcoming series of posts will look at women and cannabis in a few different ways. I’ll discuss why women uniquely respond to cannabis, how women’s bodies work with the plant, and how female hormones make a huge difference in its effects. (This information pertains to anyone who has female reproductive organs or hormones, and I use the term “women” in the most inclusive sense possible. It’s also important information for anyone who has women in their life, and wants to understand them a bit better.) Let’s start our exploration by getting some historical context and taking a quick look at ways women have used the plant for thousands of years.
A Brief History of Women and Cannabis
Cannabis has been used as a natural remedy for women’s symptoms and health issues across many cultures, classical and modern, and among young and old. The earliest references to women using cannabis probably come from ancient Mesopotamia, where women created a salve for unspecified female ailments and difficult childbirth. This salve was made from hemp seeds and other botanical agents, such as saffron and mint, mixed with beer.
Sometimes the historical clues we find for cannabis consumption tell another story about the past. A fourth-century burial tomb in Israel/Palestine revealed evidence of cannabis used for childbirth when explorers discovered the skeleton of a 14-year-old girl. After the tomb’s contents were transported to a lab and analyzed, researchers discovered that she died in childbirth, unable to fit her baby’s head through her small pelvis. When they analyzed the remains of ashes that were also present in the tomb, they found phytocannabinoid metabolites, determining that they came from the cannabis plant. The researchers concluded that the cannabis had been burned in a vessel, and the young girl had inhaled the smoke to help during her difficult childbirth.
References to cannabis use for all kinds of women’s concerns can be found throughout ancient history and across civilizations. In ninth century Persia, the juice of cannabis seeds was mixed with a variety of other herbs to treat migraines, calm uterine pains, prevent miscarriage, and preserve fetuses in their mothers’ abdomens. We can learn much about a society by understanding their religions and what they value, and various goddesses have also been associated with cannabis throughout history. The Sumerian goddess Ishtar, whose worshipers would burn cannabis incense in her honor, and the Taoist goddess Magu, whose name means “hemp maiden” are only two examples.
In ancient Chinese medicine, drugs were considered either feminine, or yin, and masculine, or yang. Yin represented the weak, passive, and negative female influence in nature while yang represented the strong, active, and positive male force. When yin and yang were in balance, the body was in harmony and was healthy. When yin and yang were out of balance, the body was in a state of disequilibrium and ill. Cannabis was unique because it was considered both yin and yang, as both the female and male plants grew in the wild. Eventually, Chinese doctors realized that the female plant produced more medicine, and they began to cultivate it instead of the male plant. Accordingly, cannabis was used to treat absences of yin, including female “weaknesses”, such as menstruation.
Throughout the centuries, women have continued to use cannabis to alleviate the symptoms of PMS and menstruation. Mayan and Aztec women took baths full of medicinal herbs, including cannabis, for menstrual relief, while eleventh-century European women used a cannabis ointment to “disperse the swelling” from swollen premenstrual breasts. In the nineteenth century, Queen Victoria‘s doctor prescribed her a cannabis tincture to ease her menstrual cramps, leading other doctors to promote the same practice among their patients.
Nowadays, pregnant people aren’t allowed to participate in medical trials, which means you’ll be hard pressed to find a physician who will publicly recommend cannabis for use during pregnancy. But the plant has been used as a pregnancy and birth aid by many different cultures across history. Ancient Egyptian women ground cannabis into honey and used the botanical substance vaginally to help ease their contractions during childbirth. More recently, cannabis was listed in the nineteenth century as a medicinal aid for labor contractions in the Dispensatory of the United States, a pharmaceutical reference manual. Also in the US, physician T.L Wright noted the benefit of cannabis in relieving morning sickness, pointing to the case of a woman who had exhausted all other available remedies. In a letter, he wrote, “In a patient of mine, who was suffering to an extent that threatened death, with vomiting, I found the vomiting complete arrested by cannabis indica, given in repeated doses of three grains every four hours, until several doses were taken.”
Women have used cannabis for more than physical medicine for a long time too. Stories of women consuming cannabis for enjoyment or ritual come from places as far apart as India, South America, and Russia. In the late 20th century, archaeologists discovered the 2000-year old body of a Scythian princess and priestess placed in a hallowed tree trunk, frozen in a tomb in Siberia. She was so well preserved that intricate tattoos could still be seen on her left arm. A few of her possessions were buried alongside her, including a small container of cannabis, which she probably smoked for pleasure and used in pagan rituals.
Despite the long history of women and cannabis use, lingering stigma around the plant has prevented women from understanding how cannabis can successfully provide natural and holistic relief and support during all the phases of her life. Women are intuitive creatures, and cannabis is powerful medicine. My goal with this series of posts is to enhance a woman’s knowledge of how cannabis works along with her body to achieve her own version of wellness and health.
In the next post, we’ll explore the endocannabinoid system and how a woman’s body enables her to take advantage of cannabis’s unique therapeutic aspects.Posted byTabitha FritzPosted inCannabis as Natural Medicine, Natural Medicine for WomenTags:History of Cannabis2 Commentson Women and Cannabis: Part 1EditWomen and Cannabis: Part 1
QUESTION: My 72-year-old mother is taking 10mg of CBD in MCT oil every night before bed to help her stay asleep, but it’s not really working. She still wakes up every few hours, and doesn’t feel rested in the morning. Should we increase her dose?
The first place to start is to make sure there’s no underlying health issue causing your mom’s poor sleeps. If she hasn’t seen a doctor to ensure it’s not sleep apnea or some other type of sleep disorder, then that’s the first place to start!
But assuming her doctor has given the all clear, there are a couple different things that could help her achieve a more restorative sleep, and they each depend on the factors causing the poor sleeps. If you don’t know already, have a conversation with your mom and ask about the reasons she wakes up. Is she feeling anxious? Is she in pain? Is there no real reason, just lots of waking up?
CBD helps to reduce both anxiety and general pain from inflammation, each of which can interfere with a good night’s rest. If your mom is having trouble sleeping because of anxiety, then it’s a good idea to avoid too much THC, which can cause anxiety, and increase her dose of CBD instead. Try increasing it by 2.5mg a night for a few nights to see if it helps. It’s important to know that some stomachs can be sensitive to too much CBD, so keep an eye out for that, and revert to her standard dose if it becomes a problem.
You can also try adding a very small amount of THC oil to her CBD oil, perhaps with 1 mg of THC with her nightly dose of CBD, or even 0.5mg of THC. If she’s able to tolerate the effects without increasing her anxiety, then you can increase her THC by 1 mg each night, until she sleeps better.
If anxiety is not the underlying causes of her insomnia, she probably will find taking more THC along with her (or instead of) CBD to be most effective, since THC helps both with sleep and pain management.
The effects of cannabis are unique to each person, so the optimal ratio of THC to CBD will be unique to each consumer and condition. While you’re finding the best dose for her, you want to follow the rule “start low and go slow“. I usually recommend that people who are new to THC start with 2mg for their first dose, taken half-an-hour before bedtime. If better sleep is achieved, great! If not, you can increase the dose by 2mg each night until she sleeps better, or the effects become too strong for her. Some possible effects of increasing the THC dose too much could be intoxication before she falls asleep, which will actually make it more difficult for her to get to sleep, or grogginess the next morning, which usually goes away with a cup of coffee or ginseng tea.