Can CBD oil help relieve the misery of chronic endometriosis pain? While many are loading up vape pens with the substance, scant scientific evidence exists Cannabis is becoming a popular choice for women with endometriosis. Does CBD oil help treat the condition aside from relieving endometriosis pain? This article points you to the right answers. Many women with endometriosis use cannabis and CBD for pain relief, and cannabis therapeutics may also limit the spread of endometrial cells around the body.
CBD Oil for Endometriosis Pain? Experts Warn: Buyer Beware
Can CBD oil help relieve the misery of chronic endometriosis pain? That’s the question we asked our community via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
“Yes,” wrote @michelleaveryjewelry, “I have my medical license and use CBD only and a 50:50 [ratio of] CBD to the THC oil. It does help the pain. I am off narcotics.”
“It really does help,” @nycgyno answered. “I am doing research on it with some patients, and most of them are very happy with the results and the relief.”
But, not everyone agreed. Endometriosis pain is a highly individualized experience, and CBD oil is not one size fits all.
According to @therealkatedavey, “For me post-excision surgery, two years out, CBD oil really helps my bad pain days. But I had to find one that worked for me. And that’s my experience…not everything works for everyone.”
So, it’s neither silver bullet nor the old fashion “snake oil” conjured up by traveling quacks from the backs of wagons in 19 th century frontier days and foisted off on a naïve public as a cure-all—though real snake oil is used in China—plant-based preparations including marijuana do have a long and respectable history in the traditional medicines of some cultures.
Marijuana only became illegal in the U.S. with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, though regulation rumblings had been growing since the 1920s.
Pharmaceutical-grade CBD oil, or cannabidiol oil, is derived from the cannabis plant and can be packaged in a variety of forms: gel cap, cream, oil, salve, tincture, or maybe even a transdermal or skin patch. Its effect is not the same as smoking and doesn’t produce the same cloudy euphoria and munchie giggles as the roll-your-own stuff you might have enjoyed in your college days.
Though @kadine_christie said “supposedly CBD oil shouldn’t get you high, but I hated every minute of it. It was [a] terrible feeling.” And one commenter noted, “I’m a working woman, a freelancer in the corporate world. I cannot afford to feel high.”
In many states, obtaining CBD products requires a doctor’s prescription. In others, it’s just plain illegal, though that appears to be changing rapidly.
California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. This year, the state began to allow sales for recreational use, but the California Department of Public Health stated that, “Until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules that industrial hemp-derived CBD oil and CBD products can be used as a food or California makes a determination that they are safe to use for human and animal consumption, CBD products are not an approved food, food ingredient, food additive or dietary supplement.”
The state agency explained, CBD and CBD oil are “allowable only in edible cannabis products that are produced according to the California Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulations and Safety Act including a source, manufacturing, distribution, testing and retail supply chain that is completely separate from regular foods and beverages.”
Though there’s something about the phrase “industrial hemp” that doesn’t feel quite right, recent news reports indicate that Coca-Cola is seriously interested in adding the product to its popular line of the soft drink which traces its root recipe back to cocaine.
Could artisanal “Can”-Cola be far away?
In June, the FDA made history when it approved the use of a purified form of CBD oil to treat seizures in two “rare and severe” forms of epilepsy. Dr. Orrin Devinsky, director of NYU Langone Epilepsy Center, noted at the time, “It’s very important to highlight that the drug used in this study, cannabidiol, was…purified to 99 percent purity.”
It’s promising news for CBD fans, but Devinsky also made it clear that buyers should beware. “This is not something you can get from a dispensary today. It is a very specific pharmaceutical-grade product.”
Despite the fact that @heavers_said, “It’s my saving grace” and Vitamin Weed author Dr. Michele Ross, Ph.D. swears by the stuff, there is not a lot of authoritative clinical evidence for its effectiveness.
Lately, inboxes have been filling up with a rising tide of emails recruiting volunteers, but only a few seem to have some degree of scientific authenticity—and those results aren’t in yet.
Director of the Brain Institute of the University of Utah, Deborah Yurgelun-Todd is “testing the analgesic effects of orally-dosed Cannabidiol on subjects with non-cancer pain.”
Canada seems to be a sweet spot for legitimate clinical trials.
That’s where Ramesh Zacharias, the Medical Director of Hamilton Health Sciences Corporation in collaboration with the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Pain Research and Care at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and Dr. Antonio Vigano and Dr. Maria Fernanda Arboleda of McGill University in Montreal are doing related studies.
These studies have passed the rigorous rules of the Institutional Review Boards of the respective university.
And if you’re thinking of buying a bottle from Amazon or any other online source, remember this warning.
“Among CBD products purchased online, a wide range of CBD concentrations was found, consistent with the lack of accepted dose. Of products tested, 26 percent contained less CBD than labeled which could negate any potential clinical response. The over labeling of CBD products in this study is similar in magnitude to levels that triggered warning letters to 14 businesses in 2015-2016 from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (e.g., Actual CBD content was negligible or less than 1 percent of the labeled content).”
That’s according to a study published online last year by the Journal of American Medical Association entitled “Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online”.
And it’s nothing to fool with. “There is evidence,” according to Dr. Tomar Singer, director of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, “that cannabis oil or cannabidiol can decrease fertility by affecting ovulation and implantation.”
CBD Oil for Endometriosis Pain: Does It Help?
Endometriosis is an autoimmune disease involving the abnormal growth of cells similar to those found in the womb’s lining. According to statistics, the condition affects 1 in 10 of women of reproductive age — contributing to 176 million instances worldwide.
Researchers still don’t understand why endometrial tissue begins to grow in the uterus, spreading to the nearby pelvic organs, such as ovaries, bladder, and bowel.
The problem with endometriosis is that the errand cells start to bleed during the bleeding phase of a woman’s menstrual cycle. But unlike the normal cells, the ones triggered by endometriosis can’t pass their blood outside, causing inflammation, pain, and formation of scar tissues.
Today, we explore the benefits of using CBD oil and other types of cannabis extracts for endometriosis pain and related symptoms.
Can CBD Help with Endometriosis?
Women with endometriosis are typically prescribed pain medication, hormone therapy, or need to undergo laparoscopic surgery.
Hormonal treatments are known to cause undesirable side effects; for example, Gn-RH, a popular hormone, may trigger artificial menopause on top of causing headaches and bloating.
The efficacy of NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, for EM-associated pain, is also questionable.
According to a review published in Deutsche Arzteblatt International, 70% of young women with endometriosis don’t respond to NSAID treatments .
That’s why alternative options, such as CBD oil, are becoming more popular for this disease.
The BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine published a cross-sectional online survey that evaluated the efficacy of self-management strategies .
Among the most popular choices, such as hot compress, diet changes, yoga, and exercising, CBD oil scored a high place.
The study found that women who took CBD oil reported the highest pain relief scores among women who participated in the study.
Another study posted in Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management mentioned that CBD produces anti-inflammatory effects. The author added that CBD was able to stop the release of proinflammatory cytokines in animals .
A follow-up cross-study published by Proc Natl Acad Sci USA confirmed these results, showing CBD’s immunosuppressive action through decreasing cytokine production .
Clinical Research On CBD & Endometriosis
So far, there have been no clinical trials examining the efficacy of cannabis medicine in women with endometriosis.
Two clinical trials are about to investigate the effects of phytocannabinoids on endometriosis pain and related symptoms.
In a Spanish open-label phase II trial, women with endometriosis-induced hyperalgesia will receive an oral spray with a 1:1 ratio of THC and CBD .
In another phase III double-blind placebo study, patients will be administered norethindrone acetate, a hormonal treatment, supplemented with either 10 mg or 20 mg of CBD for the management of endometriosis pain .
Gathering sufficient robust evidence to convince the medical world that cannabinoids are effective for endometriosis may take years. In the meantime, cannabis will undoubtedly play a significant role in the self-care routine of women around the world when it comes to easing their endometriosis pain.
How Does CBD Oil Work to Help with Endometriosis Pain?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a vast network of endogenous cannabinoids, enzymes, and G-coupled receptors that are spread throughout the body.
These receptors (type 1 and 2) are present in the central nervous system, immune system, and peripheral organs. The main role of the ECS is to promote and maintain homeostasis in the body.
ECS modulation has been associated with therapeutic effects in several health conditions, including anxiety, insomnia, neurodegeneration, epilepsy, and chronic pain.
The CB1 receptor can be found in pain circuits; it also participates in producing pain-killing and anti-inflammatory effects. Meanwhile, the effects of CB2 receptor activity are mostly expressed in the immune system.
A 2017 study explained how THC and CBD act on these receptors. Their activity might be beneficial for women with endometriosis pain or even when their menstruation stops and other chronic pain conditions .
Several studies have implicated that CBD and other cannabis compounds can inhibit proinflammatory cytokines.
One study published in Pain journal found CB1 receptors in the rodent uterus. The research team suggested that CB1 receptors are a potential target treatment to curb hyperalgesia (sensitivity to pain) in that area .
The study also provided evidence that endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids could be useful in alleviating endometriosis symptoms.
How to Use CBD for Endometriosis
There are several types of CBD to choose from; the three main types include full-spectrum CBD, broad-spectrum CBD, and CBD isolate.
Full-spectrum CBD contains the original phytochemical profile of the source plant, including minor cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and traces of THC. Read our Full-Spectrum CBD guide to learn more.
These compounds work synergistically to enhance the beneficial effects of the major cannabinoids and mitigate their potential side effects. This concept is known as the entourage effect.
Broad-spectrum CBD is much like its full-spectrum counterpart, save for the lack of THC. The intoxicating compound is removed from the extract after the initial extraction.
CBD isolate is exactly what it sounds like — pure cannabidiol. It occurs as whitish crystals that are then turned into a powder and mixed into different products. Isolates have no odor or flavor, and they also don’t evoke the entourage effect.
Let’s take a look at which type of CBD is more helpful in managing endometriosis pain.
Full-spectrum vs. Isolate: Which is Better for Endometriosis?
Focusing on individual cannabinoids and their mechanisms makes it easy to think that the cannabis plant has little to do with endometriosis.
Dr. Ethan Russo, a neuroscientist and passionate proponent of the entourage effect, underlines the importance of whole-plant cannabis medicine as a treatment for endometriosis and other conditions.
Russo says that there are “multiple components of cannabis that can be put together in the right preparation to treat endometriosis, both in terms of symptoms, the pain, and affecting the disease process itself. It’s rare these days that an issue like endometriosis or cancer or diabetes is going to be successfully treated with one agent.”
Conventional pharmacology tends to isolate a compound, give it a target, and observe how it deals with it — which can be very specific.
However, this pharmacology ignores the bigger picture, so it’s unlikely that one molecular mechanism will take care of the whole symptoms associated with endometriosis.
It’s worth noting that throughout human history, plants have been used medicinally. Synthetic drugs were developed later, but many of them are based directly or indirectly on plant-based chemicals.
CBD Oil for Endometriosis
CBD oil is the most popular form of CBD for endometriosis. It’s a thick hemp extract that is further diluted with a carrier oil for improved bioavailability — and bottled up with a dropper to make dosing easier.
CBD oil can be ingested in different ways. It can be taken under the tongue, where it should sit for around 60 seconds. The sublingual mechanism ensures a faster onset of effects, higher bioavailability, and better absorption. That’s because CBD enters the bloodstream directly through the tiny blood vessels in your mouth.
Other popular formats include capsules and gummies, which are better for people who dislike the taste of natural CBD oil and are looking for a precise dose in each serving.
Vaping is the fastest and most effective way to deliver CBD to your system. When you inhale CBD through a vape pen, it enters the bloodstream through the lung tissue, providing almost instantaneous effects.
CBD Cream for Endometriosis
A lot of women with endometriosis combine two forms of CBD oil — oral and topical.
When you take CBD oil, gummies, or capsules, they target EM symptoms from within, which is great for symptom control and reaching the underlying cause.
But, when you experience endometriosis flare-ups, they may require a more localized approach, such as a topical formulation.
Topical products like CBD creams, lotions, gels, and salves, are applied directly to the skin. From there, they interact with the skin’s CB2 receptors, producing a relaxing and anti-inflammatory response.
This, in turn, may contribute to effective pain control. Topicals can take between 10 and 60 minutes to start working, depending on the formulation.
CBD Dosage for Endometriosis
Most of our modern pharmaceutical medications come with standardized dosages and guidelines regarding their use.
On the other hand, CBD is a very personalized substance and can have different dosages even for people of the same height, weight, and lifestyle.
Cannabis dosages always start from low amounts and take time to gauge the effective dosage for each individual. Doctors will start you on a medication they believe will work best for you and then titrate the dose to adjust it to the severity of your symptoms and your individual body chemistry.
The goal of successful CBD dosage for endometriosis is to find the amount that gets you maximum effects with few side effects.
Can You Use Medical Marijuana for Endometriosis?
Yes, medical marijuana can be helpful in endometriosis. While CBD can effectively reduce EM pain, THC uses another important mechanism to benefit women with endometriosis.
With fewer CB1 and CB2 receptors in endometrial tissue available for endocannabinoids to bind with, the natural process of cell death (apoptosis) may be compromised, allowing for the malignant cells to multiply and spread.
Preclinical research indicates that endogenous, Phyto, or synthetic cannabinoids that target these two receptors can control the development of endometriosis.
In a 2017 study, the authors showed that drugs stimulating CB1 and CB2 receptors contributed to decreased proliferation and growth of endometrial tissue and its breakdown or what we call apoptosis .
While this may sound bad, apoptosis is a normal programmed cell death that’s part of their life cycle, and it’s disrupted in abnormal growth such as cancer or endometriosis.
This would explain why THC and potentially other molecules in cannabis would be symptomatically helpful and also target the actual pathology of endometriosis.
A recent study evaluating the effect of THC on a mouse model of endometriosis concluded that THC not only reduced pain markers but also inhibited the growth of an endometrial cyst.
Final Thoughts on CBD and Endometriosis
Animal and preclinical human studies have shown that CBD has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. These effects may be useful in targeting pain that is difficult to treat, such as the one triggered by endometriosis.
Since all cannabinoids and terpenes can interact with the endocannabinoid system, many of them have similar anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties, whole-plant extracts appear to be the most effective form of cannabis treatment.
If you live in a place with a legal medical marijuana program, you can combine CBD oil with a high-THC product to optimize your treatment and use a holistic approach.
Currently, the only federally legal way to use CBD for endometriosis is by taking CBD oil and/or cream. This way, you can both support your endocannabinoid system and target localized pain.
A consultation with a doctor experienced in cannabis use should help you determine the right dosage and avoid negative interactions with any medication you might be taking.
- Armour, M., Sinclair, J., Chalmers, K.J. et al. Self-management strategies amongst Australian women with endometriosis: a national online survey. BMC Complement Altern Med 19, 17 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-019-2431-x (1)
- David Garcia Cinca, Hospital Clinic of Barcelona. (2019). Effect of Cannabinoid (THC / CBD 50%) on Hyperalgesia of Patients with Deep Endometriosis (EndomTHC). Available at: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03875261 (2)
- Deimling, A.T. (2020). Cannabidiol and Management of Endometriosis Pain. Available at: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04527003 (3)
- Dmitrieva, N., Nagabukuro, H., Resuehr, D., Zhang, G., McAllister, S. L., McGinty, K. A., Mackie, K., & Berkley, K. J. (2010). Endocannabinoid involvement in endometriosis. Pain , 151 (3), 703–710. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pain.2010.08.037 (4)
- Bilgic, E., Guzel, E., Kose, S., Aydin, M. C., Karaismailoglu, E., Akar, I., Usubutun, A., & Korkusuz, P. (2017). Endocannabinoids modulate apoptosis in endometriosis and adenomyosis. Acta histochemical , 119 (5), 523–532. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acthis.2017.05.005 (5)
Nina created CFAH.org following the birth of her second child. She was a science and math teacher for 6 years prior to becoming a parent — teaching in schools in White Plains, New York and later in Paterson, New Jersey.
CBD & Cannabis for Endometriosis
Endometriosis, the abnormal growth of cells similar to those in the lining of the womb, is a condition that affects 1 in 10 of women of reproductive age. That’s a staggering 176 million women worldwide. 1
For reasons still not fully understood, endometrial tissue begins to grow outside the uterus, gathering around the nearby pelvic organs such as the fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder, and bowel. The trouble is, every time a woman goes through the bleeding phase of her menstrual cycle, so do the errant endometrial cells. Although in their case, there is nowhere for the blood to exit the body, causing pain, inflammation, and in some cases the formation of scar tissue.
Not all women experience the excruciating pain and heavy periods associated with the disease, but even in these less severe cases, if left untreated, endometriosis can lead to infertility.
‘A woman’s lot’
Carrie, 29 from the UK and author of The Endo Monologues, started noticing she had heavier periods than her friends at the age of fourteen. Like many women and girls with ‘problem periods,’ she was put on the pill which helped at first.
Women sufferers are frequently told to simply ‘put up with’ the pain as it’s part of being a woman.
“My pain kind of started to get worse in my late teens, early 20s,” recalls Carrie. “I was missing school, I started missing university. And it just felt like I had a hot knife piercing around my pelvic area and my back.”
Echoing the experience of most endometriosis patients, the pain was worse around her periods. “I’d be bed bound,” says Carrie. “Being on the pill kind of shortened it but it hurt to go to the toilet, it hurt to walk, it hurt to sleep, I couldn’t have sex, it just became unbearable.”
For years Carrie’s pain was not taken seriously, reflecting an overall gender bias in drug research and medicine itself. 2
It’s been reported that when it comes to pain, women are more likely than men to be given sedatives rather than actual pain medication, probably stemming from an erroneous link between women’s health and hysteria dating back to the Ancient Greeks. 3 This was certainly Carrie’s experience.
“I was made to think that I was just being overdramatic and that maybe I was just over exaggerating it because I wanted the attention and was almost being gaslit to be made to feel that it was in my head. They said, ‘Oh, well, you know, it’s just your period, that’s how it is.’ It very much got brushed aside.”
In Carrie’s case, accusations of promiscuity were even made by her doctor, and she was sent off to a STI [sexually transmitted infection] clinic before her symptoms were finally taken seriously. A laparoscopy revealed stage 4 endometriosis on her ovaries, uterus, bladder, bowl, and pouch of douglas. The stray endometrial tissue was surgically removed.
But endometrial cells are tenacious and persistent, and surgery provides only temporary respite from the pain. The tissue almost always returns accompanied by the all too familiar excruciating symptoms. In addition to over-the-counter pain medication, such NSAID s and paracetamol, standard treatments include the contraceptive pill or coil containing progesterone, which limits the development of endometriosis in a percentage of patients. (Estrogen on the other hand encourages endometriosis to grow and spread.)
With many patients still enduring unbearable pain, self-care methods such as breathing techniques, yoga, and stretching, as well as cannabis and CBD oil, are commonly used to bridge the gap. One Australian online survey interviewing women from an endometriosis support group found that cannabis and CBD oil were the most effective of all the self-care techniques for endometriosis pain. 4
For Carrie, CBD oil was a game-changer in managing her symptoms. With suggestions gleaned from endometriosis online forums, she began applying CBD lube, vaping CBD , and using CBD tinctures.
“I finished the bottle and I kind of thought, did it make a difference?” recalls Carrie. “And then after not taking CBD for a week, I realized how much pain I was actually in. And I was like, you know what, I’ve got to keep taking this. So I use the vape if I’m having a really bad flare-up, and I take it as an oil daily now to the point where I haven’t had to use over-the-counter painkillers for nearly a year. There’s been a couple of times when I’ve run out and I’m in so much pain that I’m stuck in bed or I’ve had to come home from work because I can’t move. So I use it religiously now. And it’s made such a difference to my pain levels and my mental health. I just feel better when I’m taking it.”
Endometriosis & Endocannabinoid Dysfunction
While cannabis brings pain relief to thousands if not millions of women around the world with endometriosis, it’s possible the plant’s therapeutic potential may stretch beyond just managing the pain and could limit the spread of endometrial cells around the body.
A dysfunction of the cannabinoid receptors ( CB1 and CB2 ) may explain why overeager cells are left unchecked in endometriosis.
In a similar way to cancer, endometrial cells tenaciously refuse to die and migrate to other parts of the human organism. When functioning optimally, the endocannabinoid system – the body’s innate regulating system – should be able to cause apoptosis (natural cell death) and prevent unwanted cell proliferation. However, in the case of endometriosis, for some reason the cells are left to run riot.
Exactly how or why this happens is not fully understood by medical scientists. Whereas copious anecdotal evidence attests to the efficacy of cannabis for symptom relief, the molecular mechanisms for these effects still need to be elucidated.
Could an endocannabinoid system deficiency be a contributing factor to the development of endometriosis? Project CBD posed the question directly to Ethan Russo, MD , who originally coined the phrase clinical endocannabinoid deficiency. Dr. Russo is currently the director of CR eDO Science, a company developing and commercializing cannabinoid-related innovations with medical, diagnostic, and industrial applications.
Russo suggests that a dysfunction of the cannabinoid receptors ( CB1 and CB2 ) may explain why overeager cells are left unchecked in endometriosis. “In endometriosis lesions compared to controls, there has been a decrease in both the CB1 and CB2 receptors,” he notes.
THC & Cell Death
It’s possible then to surmise that with fewer CB1 and CB2 receptors in endometrial tissue available for endocannabinoids to bind with, the natural process of apoptosis may be disrupted, allowing aberrant cells to multiply and spread. In preclinical research, cannabinoid compounds – endogenous, phyto or synthetic – that target these two receptors appear to control the development of endometriosis.
“In 2017 there was a study 5 ,” Russo recalls, “that showed that drugs that stimulate CB1 and CB2 both were responsible for decreased proliferation, growth of endometrial tissue, and promoting its breakdown or what’s called apoptosis. Which sounds bad, but this is a normal, programmed cell death that should occur in normal cells, and it’s lost in abnormal growth such as tumors, or in endometriosis. It helps to explain why THC [tetrahydrocannabinol] and potentially other components of cannabis would be symptomatically helpful, and also affect the actual pathological process of endometriosis.”
In a recently published paper 6 examining the effect of THC on a mouse model of endometriosis, the psychotropic cannabinoid not only reduced pain measurements but also limited the development of endometrial cysts.
But it’s not just THC ’s binding activity at CB1 and CB2 that Russo believes might limit the spread of endometrial cells. Other receptors beyond the canonical endocannabinoid system may also regulate the symptoms and progression of this disease.
CBD for Pain Relief
Endometrium patient forums are alive with anecdotal accounts of patients finding pain relief from taking CBD oil. This may well be attributable to CBD ’s activation of the TRPV1 vanilloid receptor, which can be overly expressed in endometriosis patients. 7 TRPV1 is a gated ion-channel that generally causes pain when stimulated.
“It’s made such a difference to my pain levels and my mental health. I just feel better when I’m taking CBD .”
According to Russo, “Cannabidiol is a stimulator of the TRPV1 receptor that is able to desensitize it. That’s a way of saying that after a little bit [of stimulation], the TRPV1 receptor doesn’t respond anymore. So it’s a way of treating pain.” Indeed, the soothing feel of a hot pad is partly thanks to mild activation of heat-sensitive TRPV1 receptors, which leads to desensitization and painkilling. 8
Russo also draws attention to “ GPR18 ,” another receptor that may play a role in endometriosis. GPR18 is activated by several endogenous lipid neurotransmitters that also interact with the endocannabinoid system. For example, GPR18 is known to bind with N-Arachidonyl glycine ( NAG ly), a compound formed when anandamide, the endocannabinoid, is metabolized by the FAAH enzyme. By inhibiting FAAH , cannabidiol ( CBD ) slows the breakdown of anandamide into NAG ly (a GPR18 stimulant) and other metabolites.
Says Russo: “We know that when GPR18 is stimulated, it will increase cellular migration. So in cancer, for example, if you have something that stimulates GPR18 , it makes metastasis more likely. As it turns out, some years ago, cannabidiol was shown to be an antagonist of the GPR18 receptor … Because CBD is an antagonist at this receptor, it should help prevent the abnormal spread of the endometrial tissue.” 9
However, as is often the case in preclinical cannabinoid research, there are more questions than answers and nothing is quite as clear cut as it seems. Contradictory findings are not uncommon when targeting a receptor like an on/off switch. Both THC and anandamide also activate the GPR18 receptor in preclinical studies, and activation of this receptor promotes endometrial cell migration – not exactly the desired therapeutic effect for an endometriosis patient. 10
Research conducted by Heather Bradshaw’s group at Indiana University suggests that endocannabinoid dysregulaton – specifically aberrant anandamide metabolism – may be a key factor in the etiology of endometriosis. And while CBD ’s potential to halt endometrial cell migration is speculative at this stage, its efficacy as a painkiller is much appreciated by women with endometriosis.
Whole Plant Cannabis Not Isolates
With all this talk of individual cannabinoids and their mechanisms, it would be easy to think that the cannabis plant in its entirety has no place in treating endometriosis.
A passionate proponent of the entourage effect, Dr. Russo is adamant about the importance of whole plant cannabis medicine as a healing modality for endometriosis and other conditions. 11 He maintains there are “multiple components of cannabis that can be put together in the right preparation to treat endometriosis, both in terms of symptoms, the pain, and affecting the disease process itself.”
“We’re dealing with complex problems here,” he says. “And it’s rare these days that an issue like endometriosis or cancer or diabetes is going to be successfully treated with one agent. You know, the tendency in traditional pharmacology is to pick a target and be very specific dealing with it. But it may be ignoring the bigger picture, so it’s rare that one molecular mechanism treating it is going to take care of the whole syndrome of associated symptoms.
“And this is a situation where I like to remind people that throughout human history, plants have been medicine … We’ve developed these new chemical entities – drugs – but a lot of those were related directly or indirectly to plant-based substances. And often, these are going to be not only as or more efficacious, but generally speaking, are going to have fewer side effects than some of the synthetic molecules that our bodies may not recognize or break down terrifically well. So they can tend to have a lot of associated toxicities.”
Endometriosis Clinical Research
In what is possibly yet another reflection of the underrepresentation of women’s health in scientific research, thus far no clinical trials have taken place examining the efficacy of cannabis medicine in women with endometriosis.
The closest example has been a randomized placebo trial studying the effectiveness of N-Palmitoylethanolamine ( PEA ), another endogenous lipid signaling molecule (and a close relative of anandamide), alongside trans-polydatin (a natural precursor of resveratrol), for the treatment of chronic pelvic pain associated with endometriosis. 12 The PEA /polydatin treatment showed some promise; it was more effective than a placebo in decreasing cramping, pain during intercourse, and general pelvic pain, but not as effective as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug used in the trial.
Two phytocannabinoid clinical trials are in the offing. In a Spanish open label phase II trial, 13 a 1:1 ratio of THC and CBD will be administered in a bid to reduce hyperalgesia in endometriosis patients. While in another phase III double blind placebo study 14 patients will receive norethindrone acetate, a type of hormonal treatment, plus either 10mg or 20mg of CBD for the management of endometriosis pain.
But it will be years before sufficient robust evidence is gathered to convince the medical profession that cannabinoids are an effective way to manage endometriosis symptoms. In the meantime, cannabis will no doubt continue to play an indispensable role in the selfcare repertoire of women around the world in managing their endometriosis pain.
Dr Ethan Russo’s full interview about endocannabinoid deficiency can be heard on the podcast Cannabis Voices.
Mary Biles, a UK -based journalist, educator, and Project CBD contributing writer, is the author of The CBD Book (Harper Collins, UK ).
Copyright, Project CBD . May not be reprinted without permission.