Proponents of cannabis have long been outspoken about its medicinal benefits (e.g. pain/nausea relief), but some potential uses of the plant are more surprising—and very intriguing.
Psychiatrist Dr. Julie Holland, a psychopharmacology specialist who has run a private psychiatric practice in Manhattan for more than two decades, has found that the effects of cannabis may be particularly adept at treating hormonal and emotional issues that are common among women.
Cannabis, Holland explains, could be the solution to treating monthly PMS symptoms, painful cramps, irritability, insomnia, depression, and anxiety, as well as symptoms of perimenopause.
The most underrated benefit of cannabis according to Holland? Its anti-inflammatory effect. Holland is quick to point out that more research on therapeutic cannabis use is merited—still, her current take on its womanly uses is compelling.
"Stress and inflammation are inextricably linked, and the key to combating both lies in a system called the endocannabinoid system, which is made of cannabis receptors throughout the body and internal cannabis-like molecules. When stress nearly knocks you overboard, your internal cannabinoid system helps to right the ship," she said. "Even if you’ve never smoked a joint, your brain and body use cannabis-like molecules to make you resilient to stress, similar to the way your endorphin system provides you with natural pain relief. These cannabinoids tamp down inflammation and reactivity in the body, maintaining your metabolism, immune functioning, learning and growing processes."
The endocannabinoid system is involved in nearly everything we do: eating, sleeping, exercising, having sex, giving birth, and nursing.
Cannabis and naturally occurring cannabinoids in the body can help counter the effects of stress and enhance resilience. Not only are cannabinoids anti-inflammatory, but you can think of the whole endocannabinoid system as an anti-inflammatory system.
Cannabinoids alter immune reactions in the body and in the brain, influencing white blood cells and cytokine production. Immune cells can synthesize their own endocannabinoids, or they can be influenced by administrated cannabinoids, as many immune cells throughout the brain and body have cannabinoid receptors on their cell surfaces.
Anandamide, our main internal cannabis molecule, helps to tamp down the stress response and return our hormones and nervous system to a normal balance, or homeostasis. Higher anandamide levels are associated with better stress tolerance. When cortisol is released, anandamide levels rise, trying to put things back in order. This is an example of the endocannabinoid system “righting the ship” after it’s been rocked.