By Andrea Holmes, Ph.D. and Amanda McKinney, M.D.
CBD is all the hype! Cannabidiol (CBD), the major non-psychoactive constituent of Cannabis sativa L. has gained a lot of attention as a treatment for chronic pain, emotional health, sleep and improves quality of life. (1,2) It is widely available in CBD dispensaries, grocery stores and online. Consumer demand for CBD is high and growing. But how does CBD affect women in particular? Women have very specific health and wellness needs that differ dramatically from men. The modern scientific and medical literature are beginning to reveal how CBD can be used for personalized female applications. Let’s examine how CBD affects female specific topics including menstruation, peri-and post-menopause, vaginal health, skin, hair, and emotional health, female-specific cancers, anti-aging, and more.
Vaginal and Uterine Health:
Primary dysmenorrhea is menstrual pain. This involves abdominal cramps before and during menstruation and has the capacity to negatively affect a woman’s ability to function in a serious way. Menstrual pain has complicated biological mechanisms, is mostly recurrent in nature, and treatment can be difficult. Young women and girls in their early years of menstruation are more likely to suffer menstrual pain. CBD can help because it is a powerful anti-inflammatory, muscular and vascular relaxant and clinical studies show that CBD can decrease the contraction of the uterine muscles, the source of menstrual pain.(3,4) It has also been found that CBD binds to a receptor in the endocannabinoid system located in the central nervous system, which is involved in the regulation of pain of endometriosis.(7) This indicates that CBD could present a promising new direction for developing new treatments.
The fiber portion of hemp also contains active ingredients such as CBD, flavonoids and alkaloids and it has been shown that CBD has antifungal and antibacterial properties against Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli and Candida albicans.(5) Products like panty liners or sanitary napkins with CBD containing adhesives or CBD infused tampons may soon flood the market to help prevent and treat menstrual pain and vanginal infections. Even the soft-processed, oxygen-rich fiber of hemp could be used as an absorbent to prevent moisture-related bacterial and yeast growth in the vagina.(6)
Perimenopausal, menopausal and postmenopausal women can suffer from a variety of symptoms that include irregular periods, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, chills, night sweats, sleep problems, mood changes, weight gain, and slowed metabolism. Hemp and its phytocompounds can be used orally or topically and in combination with other natural products to address these symptoms. (8) Terpenes are a class of compounds found in hemp that, through the entourage effect, can improve the ability of CBD to address hormonal imbalances. (9) This opens the door to a new market niche and innovative product formulations that are bespoke and personalized for women who are seeking solutions for symptoms related to hormonal imbalances. (10)
Skin and Hair Health:
Women are paying attention to creams, lotions, serums, maskes, eye-creams, exfoliants and other novel products that have anti-aging effects. Anti-aging cosmetic formulations consisting of herbal extracts like hemp can help with psoriasis, acne, dermatitis, allergic reactions, psoriasis, wound healing and even skin cancer. (11-13) CBD also has antioxidant properties and protects skin from UV radiation. (14) Long, thick, healthy, luscious hair is another important beauty aspect that women are very interested in. In department stores, the shelves are full of shampoos, conditioners, gels, sprays, and deep-conditioning masques. CBD is starting to play an important role in this arena as more and more CBD-infused hair products are entering the marketplace. Topical CBD application at low concentrations has been shown to have therapeutic effects in hair-growth management. (15)
While breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women, it is the second most lethal cancer in women preceded by lung cancer. (16, 25) However, it is important to note that cervical cancer is the most lethal cancer amongst black women and calls for urgent therapeutic strategies. (17) Surgery, chemo- and radiation therapy are the most frequently used treatments for these cancers but CBD is quickly becoming an important adjunct in treating various cancers as effective, targeted, and non-toxic therapies for women are urgently required. For example, studies have shown that breast cancer cell growth and their spread to other organs can be decreased by treatment with CBD. (18,19) Likewise, CBD has been shown to reduce the growth of and induce death in cervical cancer cells. (17) One case report has also identified a striking response of a lung cancer tumor to CBD in a patient who refused both chemotherapy and radiation therapy. (24)
Depression and anxiety can manifest uniquely in women with varying signs, symptoms, and causes. Reproductive hormones and the menstrual cycle, social pressures, poor physical health and diet, lack of exercise, and family circumstances can lead to depressive symptoms and lowered self-confidence and body image. Low levels of serotonin have been implicated in depression, suicide, aggression, anxiety, and bulimia and it has been found that female brains produce over 50% less serotonin than men. (20) This leads to depression being more common in women than in men, However, it now appears that CBD is a viable treatment for depression as it binds to and activates the serotonin receptor, reducing depressive symptoms as well as pain and anxiety. (21).
CBD during Pregnancy
Pregnancy is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting and while CBD has been shown to have anti-emetic (vomiting and nausea) properties, (22) there is currently not enough evidence to recommend its use during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Broad marketing of CBD appeals to people of all backgrounds, sexes and age groups, including pregnant women. Despite the fact that CBD is readily available, (23) Exposure to CBD during pregnancy may not be safe and can affect fetal brain development negatively. Further research is needed before recommending CBD use during pregnancy.
References Hemp CBD and Women’s Health
17. Lukhele ST, Motadi LR. Cannabidiol rather than Cannabis sativa extracts inhibit cell growth and induce apoptosis in cervical cancer cells. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2016;16(1):335. Published 2016 Sep 1. doi:10.1186/s12906-016-1280-0
21. De Gregorio D, McLaughlin RJ, Posa L, et al. Cannabidiol modulates serotonergic transmission and reverses both allodynia and anxiety-like behavior in a model of neuropathic pain. Pain. 2019;160(1):136-150. doi:10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001386
24. Sule-Suso J, Watson NA, van Pittius DG, Jegannathen A. Striking lung cancer response to self-administration of cannabidiol: A case report and literature review. SAGE Open Med Case Rep. eCollection 2019.