Women with endometriosis turning to cannabis to alleviate symptoms

Women with endometriosis turning to cannabis to alleviate symptoms. Photo by Shutterstock

A study published in Journal of Obstetrics Gynaecology Canada has found one in eight Australian women with endometriosis use cannabis to alleviate pain and other symptoms, rating the plant based medicine as the most effective way to self-manage the disorder.

Researchers from NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University and UNSW Sydney surveyed 484 Australian women with endometriosis between the ages of 18 and 45 to determine the types of strategies they used to self-manage symptoms.

They found more than three-quarters of Australian women with endometriosis are turning to self-management strategies including breathing techniques, yoga, dietary changes, heat and cannabis. Cannabis was ranked as the most effective treatment by women.

The women said that along with reducing pain, they felt that cannabis significantly reduced symptoms of nausea and vomiting, gastrointestinal symptoms, problems with their sleep, feelings of depression and anxiety.

Women using cannabis also reported a decrease in the medication that they normally took for their endometriosis symptoms, with just over half saying they decreased their medication by 50 per cent or more. Reported side effects were mild and relatively rare.

Endometriosis is a chronic condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus is found outside the uterus, and commonly causes pelvic pain and fatigue, with many women reporting significant negative impact on many aspects of their life including education and work, friendships, and sexual relationships.

In Australia, around one in nine women born between 1973-78 were diagnosed with endometriosis by age 40-44. The condition may cost up to $9.7 billion in Australia per year, mostly through productivity losses.

Aside from surgery, current treatments for endometriosis include use of oral contraceptive or progestogens, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which do not always provide adequate pain control, or have side effects that are hard to tolerate for some women. Opioid analgesics are often prescribed for pain, however there is a risk of dependency and overdose.

Lead author on the study, NICM Health Research Institute Research Fellow and Coordinator of the Australian Medicinal Cannabis Research and Education Collaboration, Justin Sinclair said that due to the limitations of existing medical treatments for endometriosis, women are turning to self-care or lifestyle interventions for symptom relief and research is needed into the effectiveness of these self-management strategies.

What is endometriosis?

A disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside the uterus.
With endometriosis, the tissue can be found on the ovaries, fallopian tubes or the intestines.
The most common symptoms are pain and menstrual irregularities.
Effective treatments, such as hormones and excision surgery, are available.
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