Using Cannabis To Treat Endometriosis
Ashleigh Brown found little relief from epilepsy in traditional medicine.
In the summer of 2016, Brown was going on seven years of experiencing up to180 seizures a month when a friend suggested she try something unconventional.
Brown’s friend was treating some of her symptoms of Lyme disease with CBD oil and she wanted her to give it a chance. While Brown was initially dismissive, her friend told her to forget what she knew about marijuana and to think of the oil as medication, rather than recreation.
Brown tried a small dose and in the 24-hours that followed, she didn’t experience a single seizure.
“It’d been seven years without relief and then overnight, all of a sudden, we saw the potential of this medicine,” Brown tells The GrowthOp from Winnipeg.
Brown followed up with her doctor, who put her in touch with a local cannabis clinic. Her experience at the clinic was great, she says — there was no stigma or judgement. But there was a general lack of information
At the time, there were only a few producers making cannabis oil and Brown wasn’t sure which formulations might work the best for her condition, or how much oil she should be taking. “I was kind of left to my own devices,” she says.
That gap in information drove her to establish SheCann, a digital community where Canadian women can share insight, resources and their experience with medical cannabis. Since launching in 2017, SheCann has grown to more than 5,000 members.
That community is where Brown first learned that medical cannabis could be used to treat another condition that she has: endometriosis.
Endometriosis is defined by the Vancouver-based World Endometriosis Society (WES) as a disorder in which “tissue similar to the lining inside the uterus is found outside the uterus, where it induces a chronic inflammatory reaction.”
It can lead to lesions and cysts and other growths, as well as infertility and medical complications.
According to WES, endometriosis affects an estimated one in 10 women. The condition also presents differently across patients and can affect other systems of the body, beyond the reproductive system.
For Brown, her symptoms came on quickly and the pain was debilitating.
In the SheCann community, she learned other women were applying cannabis topicals on their abdomens or using cannabis oil internally or taking edibles to treat their symptoms. She began experimenting and learned a 1:1 THC/CBD oil seemed to offer some relief, as did certain cannabis cultivars, particularly those high in myrcene, a cannabis terpene that may help reduce pain and induce sleep.
“Without that community, I may have never really explored the potential of cannabis for endometriosis,” Brown says. “It was an unexpected gift to be able to find the lived experience of so many other people.”
The conversations also touched on other aspects of endometriosis, including the double stigma that accompanies using cannabis to treat a heavily gendered condition.
“Endometriosis is still something that is dismissed,” Brown says. “Women are told that when you get pregnant, your symptoms will disappear, so they should have a baby. They’re told ‘it can’t be that bad’ and that they can just go on birth control or other methods.”
There is no known cure for endometriosis, though surgery can be conducted to remove scar tissue and endometrial tissue but it is not always effective in providing a long-term solution. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, endometriosis symptoms can return in up to 80 per cent of people within two years of surgery.
Patients are often forced to advocate for themselves, Brown says, to illustrate how impactful and painful the disorder can be. “Having to put that forward, and then on top of that, saying, ‘Hey, I found this medicine that works for me’ and being dismissed, it’s really kind of carrying a dual burden that is very unique to the condition and to that choice of medical cannabis,” she says.
Brown highlights the work the non-profit Endometriosis Network of Canada (ENC) is doing to bring more information to light about the disorder. The organization often refers patients to SheCann who are facing “that exact double stigma.” The community offers a space for women to discuss how they are managing the condition and share tips on how to approach doctors about using cannabis as a therapy option.
“They are trying to get a diagnosis or they’re trying to advocate for better care and they found that [cannabis] works and now they’re trying to make a case for using it,” she explains.
According to Brown, 95 per cent of SheCann members have indicated that they will participate in clinical trials, research studies and product development.
She doesn’t claim that cannabis is a cure-all, and she still experiences about 15 to 30 seizures a month, but it has restored her quality of life, she says.
“I’m really excited for this community and for Canadian women to have a voice in the future of medical cannabis because we have a long way to go in terms of really dialling in the treatment and having success faster instead of having so much trial and error,” she says. “The future of access for women, the future of medical cannabis, I think, lies in ensuring that we have a voice and we share our experiences.”