A recent study shows that women are using cannabis to treat their menopause symptoms, despite a lack of research about its effectiveness.
Katherine Babyn, a second-year medical student at the University of Alberta, conducted the two-phase study with her supervisor, Nese Yuksel, from the faculty of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences. Yuksel is also the incoming chair of the Canadian Menopause Society.
Phase one found that of the women over 35 currently using cannabis, 75 per cent use it for medical purposes. These users were more likely to report experiencing menopause symptoms.
Menopause marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years. Symptoms of menopause include period loss, hot flashes, trouble sleeping, and mood changes.
Yuksel has around 25 years of experience in menopause research. Recently, there’s been a rise in women using cannabis for menopausal symptoms, which Yuksel noticed.
“After the legalization of recreational cannabis, [Lois Hole Hospital for Women] started seeing more and more women feeling comfortable to express that they were on [cannabis]. Or they were starting to use it for a lot of these symptoms because it was easier to access,” Yuksel explained.
“Women are turning to other options, their own solutions,” Yuksel says
Yuksel said that there is a lack of access to menopause care and limited research on the matter. Because of this, women are looking for help elsewhere.
“Women are turning to other options, [and] their own solutions. Cannabis is right there. They can purchase it and use it for medical reasons,” Yuksel said.
Babyn added that only 22 per cent of current cannabis users reported that their cannabis is medically prescribed. In turn, Babyn said many women are buying cannabis from regular dispensaries.
The study also found that women are not getting information for treating menopause symptoms from health care professionals. Rather, women largely turn to online resources, or friends and family.
Yuksel noted that women are hesitant to speak about menopause with their primary-care providers because of the negative stigma and lack of knowledge in the area. Additionally, she said women’s primary-care providers often lack information and time to talk with patients about their symptoms. This leaves women unaware of any available options and recommendations for treatment.
“A lot of [health providers] didn’t study [menopause] and so women don’t feel comfortable even getting that conversation started. We’re trying to bring more to our medical education.”
There’s “an emphasis on women learning about [menopause] on their own,” Babyn says
Current available treatment options include menopausal hormone therapy, non-hormonal prescriptions, and lifestyle changes. Menopausal hormone therapy is “the most effective option for bothersome symptoms,” Yuksel said.
Phase two of Babyn and Yuksel’s study will involve publishing the qualitative part of their research. As well, it will include developing informational tools for women and health care providers. Babyn said that based on one-on-one interviews with current cannabis users, there’s lots of overlap between cannabis use and menopause.
“In general, there’s a lack of information available, limited health care provider support, a stigma that still exists in both of those worlds, and an emphasis on women learning about it on their own,” Babyn explained.
To ensure health care providers and women are more informed on menopause and cannabis use, Babyn and Yuksel will be compiling information to share publicly. By sharing information, they hope to get the conversation around menopause and cannabis use started.