October 27, 2022
- By Maureen Salamon, Executive Editor, Harvard Women’s Health Watch
A survey offers a glimpse into cannabis and CBD use among women in midlife.
Hot flashes and sleep or mood changes are well-known, troublesome symptoms that may occur during perimenopause and menopause. Now, one survey suggests nearly 80% of midlife women use cannabis to ease certain symptoms, such as mood issues and trouble sleeping.
Mounting numbers of US states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use in recent years. This wave of acceptance runs alongside skepticism in some quarters concerning FDA-approved menopause treatment options, including hormone therapy. But a lack of long-term research data surrounding cannabis use has led one Harvard expert to question how safe it may be, even while acknowledging its likely effectiveness for certain menopause woes.
“More and more patients tell me every year that they’ve tried cannabis or CBD (cannabidiol, an active ingredient in cannabis), particularly for sleep or anxiety,” says Dr. Heather Hirsch, head of the Menopause and Midlife Clinic at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Adding to its appeal is that cannabis is now legal in so many places and works acutely for a couple of hours. You don’t need a doctor’s prescription. Socially, it may be easier to justify than using a medication. But why is there a movement toward saying okay to something that has unknown long-term effects, more than something that’s been studied and proven safe?” she asks.
Survey reports on who uses cannabis, why, and how
The new Harvard-led survey, published in the journal Menopause, looked at patterns of cannabis use in 131 women in perimenopause — the often years-long stretch before periods cease — along with 127 women who had passed through menopause. Participants were recruited through online postings on social media sites and an online recruitment platform. Nearly all survey respondents were white and most were middle-class, according to income reporting.
The vast majority (86%) were current cannabis users. Participants were split on whether they used cannabis for medical reasons, recreational purposes, or both. Nearly 79% endorsed it to alleviate menopause-related symptoms. Of those, 67% said cannabis helps with sleep disturbance, while 46% reported it helps improve mood and anxiety.
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