If it seems like you need to toke a little extra when you need it most — yes, during those very special, very crampy days of your period — you're not making it up. Many people find that weed is great at easing the fatigue, mood fluctuations, and pain that may come with PMS and your period. But those monthly hormonal changes can make marijuana more or less potent depending on the time of the month. And, unfortunately, it may be at its least effective during menstruation.
"A woman may be using cannabis for cancer therapy, fibromyalgia, or chronic pain, and having to simultaneously think about your period is very complicated and frustrating," says Rachel Knox, MD, co-founder of TheCannaMDs and the American Cannabinoid Clinics. "There are points during the menstrual cycle where cannabis may be more potent, and [women may be] having variable experiences with cannabis but not realizing that, yet again, their menstrual cycle is ruining their life."
As with so many other ups and downs we deal with throughout the month, it all comes down to estrogen. Not only does estrogen directly affect how potent your cannabis is, it also messes with the way your body's naturally occurring cannabinoids work, Dr. Knox explains. First off, estrogen helps break down the main psychoactive compound in weed, tetrahydrocannanibol (THC), into a compound that's more potent within the body, Dr. Knox explains. So, when your estrogen levels are higher, your body does this job more efficiently, and therefore reduces the amount of cannabis you need to get high.
Estrogen also comes with another pretty wonderful property that can help you feel calm and content — without the help of pot. Specifically, estrogen makes it harder for an enzyme, fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), to do its job. Normally, FAAH breaks down anandamide, a cannabinoid your body makes naturally. So, when we have more estrogen flowing, it blocks the breakdown and lets anandamide do its thing — reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Fun fact: Another compound found in marijuana, CBD, also blocks FAAH. So, estrogen kind of acts like CBD, Dr. Knox says.
Remember, though, that your estrogen level will be at its lowest during the days that you're on your period. So, at the same time that you'll be experiencing the tail end of PMS, along with the fatigue and cramping of your period, you'll need to use more THC than you would during other times of the month to get the same effect. That's because that low estrogen means weed won't be as potent and you won't be getting the extra anandamide boost. Pretty annoying, huh?
Once your period has passed, Dr. Knox says it's a good idea to cut back on the THC because, as your estrogen levels start to rise, you won't need as much to feel the same level of high. If you're on hormonal birth control, however, none of this really applies to you — your monthly hormonal changes are kept in check via synthetic hormones, so your reactions to cannabis will be more consistent throughout the month.
In all cases, though, Dr. Knox recommends keeping track of your periods, your cannabis use, and the THC and CBD content of your cannabis. She also encourages people who get periods to experiment with marijuana at different times of the month to figure out what works for them — keeping in mind that the right dose may change throughout their cycle. "Cannabis remains a highly individualized medicine," she says. The bottom line is to "be in tune with your body, be in tune with how cannabis is affecting your body, and make changes throughout your cycle to keep your subjective experience where you want it."
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