Study: Cannabis eases discomfort in endometriosis sufferers

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Could cannabis be used as a treatment for endometriosis? Based on the findings of a new study, quite possibly so. 

Endometriosis is a painful condition that affects one in 10 women during their reproductive years. This is according to the World Endometriosis Society. Someone who is diagnosed with the disorder will have abnormal endometrial tissue growth on their ovaries, bowel, and tissues that line the pelvis.

Fortunately, researchers from the University of Otago, the University of Western Sydney and an organization known as Endometriosis New Zealand believe that the cannabis plant could offer females some respite from their symptoms. 

Collectively, after surveying 213 women, the team of researchers found that cannabis may ease endometriosis-related discomfort better than over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. 

The women who partook in the study 170 of whom were current cannabis users reported their experiences after using either prescribed or illicit weed. Non-users attributed difficulties in procuring the plant to their discontinued use.

Co-author Professor Neil Johnson, believes that endometriosis-sufferers may turn to desperate measures in a bid to eradicate unwanted symptoms. Nonetheless, he stresses the importance of being cautious.

“While the women who took part in this survey obviously found relief from their symptoms, cannabis won’t be a magic bullet, it won’t work for everyone. And, just like any potential medication, we need to be aware of the side-effects and consequences of use, particularly in young reproductive-age women,” said Johnson, who is affiliated with Auckland Gynaecology Group.

98 percent of endometriosis patients experienced no negative side effects from cannabis 

Co-author of the study, Dr. Geoff Noller, says that the research demonstrates cannabis’ ability to provide patients with sufficient relief from endometriosis symptoms. Dr. Noller, who is also an Assistant Research Fellow in Otago’s Department of General Practice and Rural Health, noted how the plant did not cause side effects in 98 percent of patients. 

“What I think this study highlights are the difficulties those with endometriosis face dealing with their symptoms on a day-to-day basis. We still have a long way to go to adequately provide for those who have to deal with this disease,” said Dr. Noller, who says that cannabis “should at least be considered as an option for treatments.”

In order to come to this conclusion, Dr. Noller and his team gleaned information from a cross-sectional online survey that was conducted from May to July 2019. The survey focused on patients who were using cannabis to relieve health-related conditions. Data relating to a subgroup of endometriosis sufferers was pulled from the survey and used to hash out the New Zealand team’s latest research.

“It also suggests that for these patients at least, the current medical treatment or management of their conditions were not meeting their needs,” the researchers wrote. “Having noted that, we’re not for one second saying all women who have endometriosis should take cannabis—that would be irresponsible and inaccurate. Cannabis might be an option, but it is important that option comes with solid information about the pros and cons so clinicians and patients can make informed choices.”

Endometriosis patients used cannabis for different reasons 

The vast majority of the 213 women who partook in the study (96 percent) either used cannabis for pain relief or as a sleep aid. Among those females who relied on cannabis as a natural pain reliever, 81 percent said that their endometriosis symptoms were “much better”, while 79 percent experienced an improvement in their sleep cycle and 61 percent felt that their nausea or vomiting eased post-consumption.

On top of that, 81 percent of women claimed that cannabis successfully helped them to replace normal over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Meanwhile, 50 percent managed to completely quit their prescribed medication, such as analgesics, opioids and paracetamol.

“Again, this potentially suggests that patients’ current treatments and medications may not be meeting their needs. This could be for a variety of reasons including both that cannabis may be more effective in managing some of the patients’ symptoms and also possibly that it has less negative side effects than some prescribed medications, for example opioids, which are recognised as having negative effects including constipation, as well as a significant potential for physical dependence,”says Dr. Noller.

He feels satisfied that the varied demographics including the median age of 31 years, median income of $35,000-$40,000 and 52 percent working confirms that the data is not just a sample of recreational cannabis users.

“Appreciating that patients with specific conditions appear to find relief from symptoms by using cannabis suggests that researchers should consider more specific inquiries regarding the use of cannabis for specific conditions. Additionally, research could be directed at health professionals concerning their knowledge and views about medicinal cannabis,” the report concluded.

The paper, which was co-authored by Endometriosis New Zealand CEO Deborah Bush, Otago’s Dr. Noller, Dr. Jane Girling and Maria Larcombe, Western Sydney University’s Dr. Mike Armour, Mahmoud Al-Dabbas and Justin Sinclair, and doctors Neil Johnson and Erika Hollow, is published in the Journal of Women’s Health.