Endometriosis is a chronic, inflammatory condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus is found outside of the womb. Cannabis is now popular for its treatment. It affects around one in ten women of reproductive age, causing pain, infertility and gastrointestinal symptoms.
Women often report difficulty getting their pain and other symptoms under control, despite medication or even surgery.
We surveyed 484 women with surgically diagnosed endometriosis about the self-management strategies they used.
Out of all of the self-management techniques, cannabis was rated as the most effective for managing pain.
Women who reported higher levels of pain were more likely to use cannabis than those with milder symptoms. This may be because they couldn’t get relief through other measures.
Respondents who used cannabis also reported improvements in other symptoms including gastrointestinal problems, nausea, anxiety, depression and sleep.
How could cannabis help treat endometriosis symptoms?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex regulatory system comprised of various receptors, chemicals that bind with these receptors, and enzymes. It helps maintain balance (homeostasis) in our bodies and is important for a wide range of actions, including metabolism, inflammation and immune function.
The ECS is distributed throughout most organs in the human body, but is more abundant in the central nervous, immune and female reproductive systems.
Chemicals from cannabis, including the cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), can interact with the ECS and other receptor types. This suggests a mechanism for how cannabis may alleviate pelvic pain in women with endometriosis.
Emerging research shows medicinal cannabis can help manage a number of conditions, including chronic pain in adults, the spasticity of multiple sclerosis, intractable epilepsy (where seizures can’t be controlled with medication) and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
Is it legal?
Medical practitioners in Australia can legally prescribe medicinal cannabis through regulated pathways such as the Special Access Scheme Category B and the Authorised Prescriber Scheme. These pathways are typically used by doctors for unapproved medicines.
According to discussions with prescribing doctors and patients, approvals for medicinal cannabis for pain associated with endometriosis have been successful through these regulated, legal channels.