Marijuana could help debilitating condition with no cure that affects MILLIONS of women, study suggests
Cannabis could help the millions of women suffering from endometriosis combat the pain associated with the debilitating condition.
Endometriosis is a chronic disease that affects 6.5 million women in the US. It causes extreme pain during menstruation and sex, as well as chronic pelvic pain, abdominal bloating, nausea and infertility.
There is currently no cure and treatment, aimed at controlling symptoms, includes invasive surgery.
Research has suggested that microbiota – a collection of bacteria in the gut – and neurons called endocannabinoids bind to receptors in the central nervous system that play a role in the development and progression of endometriosis.
Endocannabinoids, as well as cannabinoids, which come from external sources such as marijuana ingestion, have analgesic effects that suppress the processing of pain signals to the brain.
The gut is part of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which has been found to influence pain levels, making it a promising target for treating chronic pain associated with endometriosis, researchers say.
An imbalance of these three things can cause inflammation and increase the presence of bad bacteria in the body, contributing to the worsening of endometriosis.
The condition affects women of all ages and can cause pain, heavy periods, nausea and diarrhea. It is also a cause of infertility: 30 to 50 percent of women who have difficulty conceiving have endometriosis (stock image)
The uterus is lined with endometrial tissue called the endometrium. The body generates new endometrium with each menstrual cycle in preparation for a fertilized egg, but in cases of endometriosis, that tissue grows on the outside of the uterus
In the female reproductive organs, endometrial tissue called the endometrium forms the uterus. The body generates a new endometrium with each menstrual cycle in preparation for a fertilized egg. But in people with endometriosis, that tissue grows outside the uterus.
As tissue builds up, it increases the risk of painful cysts, scarring, inflammation, and tissue that connects and binds organs together.
This buildup of tissue can block the fallopian tubes (the eggs travel down the fallopian tubes to reach the uterus) or can form scar tissue, making it more difficult to become pregnant.
There is currently only one ongoing study on the use of cannabis for endometriosis pain, specifically involving CBD – which doesn’t get you high – and vaporized THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis.
The latest research by researchers from Australia and New Zealand builds on findings from more than 140 journal articles suggesting that circulating blood levels of endocannabinoids are correlated with endometriosis pain, with low levels of endocannabinoids associated with increased pain.
Endometriosis has been described by some researchers as an ‘endocannabinoid deficiency’. In people with endometriosis, low levels of CB1 receptors have been linked to disruptions in the ECS and appear to affect the regulation of endometriosis-associated pain.
Activating specific receptors in the brain – CB1 and CB2 – with endocannabinoids found in the body or cannabinoids from elsewhere by smoking or vaping THC can reduce the brain’s perception of pain signals and produce an analgesic effect.
Experimental models of endometriosis studied in mice have shown that repeated exposure to cannabis disrupts the growth of endometrial tissue outside the uterus.
A similar study showed that exposing mice to CBD reduced the diameter, volume and area of uterine lesions, demonstrating its ability to counteract free radicals in the body that can damage cells.
The researchers therefore suggest that using cannabis may help women manage the pain levels associated with the serious condition.
But the evidence on whether cannabis can actually reduce pain is mixed.
Marijuana proponents claim the drug has numerous health benefits, including soothing aches and pains.
But a US government-backed analysis of 25 studies has concluded that there is “very little scientifically valid research” supporting marijuana as an effective painkiller.
The authors of the latest report from the researchers from Australia and New Zealand said: ‘These promising findings highlight the potential therapeutic benefits of CBD and THC for endometriosis-associated pain, justifying the need for human studies.’
Their report was published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.
While more than 176 million women worldwide suffer from endometriosis, many struggle to get a diagnosis despite the pain that disrupts daily life.
There are three types of endometriosis, depending on the location.
The most common is superficial peritoneal endometriosis, which affects the peritoneum, or the thin membrane that lines the abdomen and pelvis. This occurs in 80 percent of diagnosed women.
A second type of endometriosis also affects the ovaries and causes endometriomas. These are dark, fluid-filled cysts, or “chocolate cysts,” most common on the ovaries and affecting 17 to 44 percent of patients.
Deep infiltrating endometriosis, which causes extreme pelvic pain in one to five percent of endometriosis patients, refers to endometrial tissue that has invaded organs including the intestines and bladder. It can develop into nerves, usually the sciatic nerves, that run down each leg.
It is possible to have more than one type of endometriosis and it is not clear whether they all behave the same way.
Doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes endometriosis, but some believe genes play a role, as does a condition called retrograde menstruation, in which menstrual blood containing endometrial cells flows through the fallopian tubes to the pelvic cavity where they stick to organs.