It’s 4am and I’ve spent the last hour moving from a foetal position on the bathroom floor to hugging the toilet bowl while being violently sick. You think I’ve overdone it on a night out... nope. When it comes to my period this is par for the course. Over the years, I’ve tried everything from traditional painkillers and birth control to acupuncture, supplements and herbal baths – they have helped to varying degrees, but I’ve always dreamed that one day I’d find a better solution.
Then CBD (cannabidiol) hit the 'shelves' and people began to extol its many virtues, claiming that it’s a cure for, well, pretty much everything! The odd time I’ve smoked a spliff on my period it has worked wonders, so could CDB quell my killer menstrual cramps?
Extracted from cannabis sativa (hemp), CBD is one of the cannabinoids that give the cannabis plant its medicinal properties. Our body is full of cannabinoid receptors and cannabinoids like CBD bind to these receptors, unlocking them and altering how our cells function, which is said to regulate everything from appetite and sleep to inflammation and pain. When it comes to menstruation, the theory is that CBD can alleviate the pain and inflammation created as the uterus contracts to expel its lining.
"There are no published research studies on using CBD for period pain relief, however, it does have well established, well studied anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects across a wide range of chronic pain conditions," says cannabinoid medicine expert, Dr Dani Gordon. In her clinical practice, she claims that patients who take CBD oil daily at a high enough dose for chronic pain, including cyclical period pain and PMS symptoms, report less severe symptoms after three months of consistent use.
Hearing these positive anecdotes, I decided to give it a go – and that’s where I became thoroughly confused. Buying CBD is a minefield, agree the founders of thedrug.store, a one-stop shop (not available in Canada) for all things CBD: "There is an ongoing battle in the emerging CBD industry to become the market-leading 'cannabusiness'. The view held by many European players in the CBD market is that the current product offerings are sufficient to make a quick profit. More than that, many pawn off substandard and grey-zone products containing THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) as legal for sale."
There are so many factors to consider when buying CBD: should it be organic? Ideally, as hemp (a strain of the cannabis plant, from which CBD oil can be extracted) has a natural propensity to draw toxins and metals from the soil. What extraction method does the brand use? C02 supercritical extraction is the gold standard, as it eliminates the need to use toxic solvents. Then there’s the option of taking full spectrum CBD, which includes a range of cannabinoids (CBD and THC aren’t the only ones), or CBD isolate, which is just pure CBD – more studies are needed, but some research suggests full spectrum may be more effective in treating inflammatory conditions.
Once you’ve got through that checklist, it’s time to decide what form you want to use: transdermal (placed on top of the skin) or sublingual (placed under the tongue so that it can enter the bloodstream). Oh, and then there's the dosage.
According to Nikki and Leah, founders of organic tampon brand Ohne, which has recently launched the topical Anti-Teardrops 1% CBD Oil: "Research into CBD has shown it to be biphasic, meaning that, taken in high quantities, the effects change – just as alcohol and coffee are both stimulants until you have one too many espresso martinis and start feeling sleepy AF. Previous CBD studies have reported the same sedating effects when taking high doses of CBD, meaning unless you’re aiming to go to bed, less is often more."
The rule of thumb is start low and over the course of a few weeks build up your dose to find the right amount to reach your 'sweet spot'.
Plant biotechnologist and chief science officer at Kloris CBD, Dr Mehrshahi
However, there is no one size fits all. Plant biotechnologist and chief science officer at Kloris CBD, Dr Mehrshahi, says the rule of thumb is to "start low and over the course of a few weeks build up your dose to find the right amount to reach your endocannabinoid system's 'sweet spot'."
I’m not a regular cannabis smoker but I assumed that when ingesting CBD you’d feel something similar to when you smoke a spliff. THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid (i.e. what makes you high), is present in only very small concentrations in most CBD products (the maximum legal content is 0.2%), but I did expect to feel something.
Alas, I felt no different upon ingesting it, but thinking back, I definitely felt more even-keeled emotionally during the week before my period, and generally more relaxed – take that, PMT! Disappointingly though, my cramps didn’t disappear. So I doubled up my efforts and applied the Anti-Teardrops Oil on my tummy and back and that seemed to help, until it didn’t. On the second night of my period the pain descended and after writhing around in bed for two hours, I reached for one ibuprofen and a paracetamol with codeine, for good measure. The next morning my first thought was, 'CBD for your period pain is all hype'. But I carried on with the ingestible Kloris oil, and started placing a couple of drops of the Ohne oil on my tampon as recommended by the brand.
A very important note: While some brands claim applying CBD oil on your tampon gets it 'straight to the source', this is NOT recommended by doctors. "There is no evidence to support this and doing so may upset the bacteria and acidity balance of your vagina. This could lead to an imbalance known as bacterial vaginosis, with symptoms such as unpleasant odour, discharge and soreness, or increase the chance of a candida yeast infection (thrush). Irritation could also occur since most CBD formulations have yet to be tested for use in this delicate area. Not to mention, tampons are ultra absorbable so most of the CBD oil will simply be absorbed by your tampon anyway," says Healthspan medical director, Dr Sarah Brewer.
"We are only beginning to understand the capabilities of CBD, and in the absence of clinical research it’s impossible to say what kind of effect CBD really has on menstrual cramping. It is an exciting new area of science but is heavily reliant on anecdotal evidence at this moment in time. What works for one person may not work for someone else," shares Dr Mark Ware, Canopy Growths chief medical officer, and director of clinical research at McGill University Health Centre.
During my periods I would have really bad headaches and, like everyone else, I was using pain relief. But that would barely scratch the surface.
Simona, a 24-year-old model and interior designer from Hendon, north London, claims that since she started taking CBD oil last year, her excruciating monthly period pains have subsided. She says: "During my periods I would have really bad headaches and, like everyone else, I was using pain relief. But that would barely scratch the surface. I often couldn't go to school or university or work because of the pain. I would have to leave in the middle of the day and it really affected my quality of life. I'd be crying from the pain. I couldn't stand up or breathe normally. It was horrible. I felt angry a lot of the time, probably because I was so frustrated with my circumstances."
Simona says she repeatedly begged her GP for help finding a solution to her problems but none came. She began taking CBD Armour ingestible oil a year ago and says she now has regular, shorter, pain-free periods. She says: "CBD oil has made such a difference and has regulated my period like clockwork. I sleep better and if I feel I'm getting pain or a headache I take CBD oil and it stops the pain extremely quickly."
Karin O'Sullivan from the Family Planning Association, a sexual health charity, says: "When it comes to managing period pain, different things work for different people." While there have been some studies that have shown CBD oil can inhibit certain types of pain, there have not been enough involving human subjects to be able to say what an effective dose might be and if it does affect menstrual cycles. O'Sullivan's advice is this: "We would recommend that anyone who is struggling with their periods speak with their doctor for advice on how to manage them."
For me, I feel like I have nothing to lose, so I have decided to carry on using CBD. But I’ll be keeping my hot water bottle and my painkillers handy.