Why are women using CBD products — and do they work?
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil and other products containing CBD are being touted as a natural, organic remedy for a wide range of women’s health concerns. Sellers of these products make many claims: CBD has calming effects on sleep, mood, and anxiety; eases hot flashes and improves bone density by balancing hormonal changes of menopause; and has anti-inflammatory properties that clear skin, cure acne, and calm rosacea. It’s promoted for PMS symptoms like bloating and mood swings. And CBD-infused lubricants claim to boost arousal and enjoyment of sex. So, how much of this is true?
First, what is CBD?
CBD is a major ingredient in cannabis plants (like hemp and marijuana). It comes in different strengths and forms, often as CBD oil, but also in pills and powders. It can be absorbed through the skin, ingested, or inhaled. (Vaping it, however, may not be safe, as this blog post and web page from the CDC explain.)
Unlike marijuana, pure CBD products don’t make you feel high. A different ingredient in marijuana called THC makes people feel high.
Does CBD have proven benefits?
So far, there’s not much evidence on the medical benefits of CBD, partly because laws on marijuana made it difficult to study. Until we learn more, it’s wise to keep in mind that few high-quality studies have been done.
- In 2018 the FDA approved a drug derived from CBD to treat rare forms of childhood epilepsy. This medication was shown in randomized clinical trials to reduce the frequency of seizures (see here and here).
- A few studies have found CBD may improve anxiety, but the studies were small and of poor quality (see here and here).
- Some laboratory research on human cells suggests CBD may have anti-inflammatory effects on oil-secreting glands in the skin. This might have implications for acne and other inflammatory skin disorders, but further research is needed to confirm this. And while CBD in skin products is unlikely to harm you, most dermatologists agree that there are more effective and better-studied medications and treatments for acne and inflammatory skin disorders.
Other potential benefits of CBD aren’t clear. No high-quality research shows that CBD improves sex drive, decreases pain, treats depression or mood disorders, decreases PMS symptoms like bloating and cramps, or relieves symptoms of menopause like hot flashes. This may change as more studies are done, but for now, the jury is out.
Are CBD products safe?
The short answer is this: pure CBD seems to be safe for most people. However, we don’t have rigorous studies and long-term data to prove whether or not a wide range of CBD products are safe for everyone. For example, there is no evidence to suggest that CBD is safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding, or for people who are immunocompromised.
Because CBD products aren’t regulated by the FDA in the way that drugs are, there is huge variation in quality and, quite possibly, safety. In 2017–2018, counterfeit CBD oil was found that contained synthetic cannabinoids and led to a poisoning outbreak in Utah.
Testing shows purity and dosage can be unreliable in many products. One study found less than a third of the products tested had the amount of CBD shown on the label. Another study of 84 CBD products bought online showed that more than a quarter of the products contained less CBD than stated. In addition, THC (the component that can make you feel high) was found in 18 products.
Does CBD cause side effects?
CBD can cause side effects like dry mouth, diarrhea, reduced appetite, and drowsiness. Additionally, it can interact with certain medicines, such as blood thinners and antiseizure drugs. If you would like to start using CBD products, it’s best to first talk to your doctor.
There are a lot of extravagant product claims out there about the benefits of CBD for women, but little high-quality research supports them. CBD oil and other CBD products aren’t well regulated. It’s possible what you are buying is counterfeit or contaminated. Before using CBD — especially if you plan to vape or ingest it — first talk with your doctor or healthcare provider to learn whether it could be safe and helpful for you.
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
I am a 55 year old woman who has suffered with neuropathy since 2004 (amplified by a trauma in 2011); as well as a sciatic nerve issue and other complication since my trauma. One thing I found out (very quickly!), many of the drugs (natural or not) are either recomended for short term relief and used very long term, or the probable cause of added, often more sever, side effects. I don’t believe, for me personally, any medication that has the potential to do more harm than good, especially when it can only treat symptoms and not the cause, would be ideal, unless there is ‘no other option’ or perspective hope. Limited and controlled ecersizes along with diet, seem to have worked best for me personally; but, yes it is very difficult many days. However, I plan to watch my grandchild grow-up, and I plan to do that watching with as clear a mind as possible for today and tomorrow. Side-effects of CBD have been relatively unstudyed or unpublished for lack of verification. That is not promising. All of that being said, I am sure for some people CBD oil could be a God send of relief, most especially for some seizure and cancer patients.
Cannabis Sativa and Hemp are two different plants. Marijuana is not a plant, it’s a slang term used by rhetoric spewing racists seeking to profit from a new prohibition. How can you publish this when you clearly don’t know the basics?
As a woman with a cervical level spinal cord injury, who has experienced many benefits through the use of CBD … this article had absolutely no relevance to its title.
8 Menopause Symptoms CBD Could Help
Unfortunately, you may have discovered that the medical system is often woefully unprepared to deal with the symptoms of menopause. Previous generations of women were so quiet about “the change” that the medical system is only just now waking up to the needs of peri- and post-menopausal women. So, like many others, you may be turning to traditional herbal medicines – like CBD oil – for support, because our great- great-grandmothers were probably on to something.
Most of us never seriously consider menopause until we find ourselves on its doorstep — woefully unprepared to deal with its many symptoms. Some of us might not even recognize these symptoms during the early stages of perimenopause. But the sooner we notice and proactively respond to the changes happening within our bodies, the better our future health.
Cannabis & Hemp for Menopause
Menopause is one of the top three reasons women use therapeutic cannabis products — menstruation and sex are the other two. The good reputation that hemp and cannabis-derived CBD oils are gaining for treating peri- and post-menopausal symptoms isn’t based just on testimonials — scientific research also indicates how cannabidiol (CBD) could be useful for:
- Aches & joint pain
- Mood swings or depression
- Weight gain / diabetes
- Hot flashes
- Genitourinary syndrome (vaginal dryness, atrophy and bladder control problems)
- Sleep disruptions / insomnia
- Memory loss
In this article, we’ll explore how menopause triggers inflammation and brain chemistry changes — which are at the root of most of these symptoms — and how CBD and other interventions could help.
More than Estrogen: A Sea of Changes
You’re probably familiar with the estrogen story by now: women are born with millions of immature eggs in their ovaries. Starting at puberty, our bodies are pumped full of estrogen every time an egg matures — approximately once a month. However, over the years, our supply of eggs dwindles. And once all our eggs are gone, our periods stop and the estrogen bursts go away, triggering menopause.
But in reality, menopause is not so clear-cut. For years before the menopause (a period called the perimenopause), our estrogen levels swing unpredictably high or low before the final plunge. And it’s not just estrogen that goes on a roller-coaster ride — a full supporting cast of hormones that (more-or-less) kept our bodies operating smoothly over the years also begin rebelling.
Controlled by these hormones, countless molecules in our bodies also increase or decrease. Our brain neurochemistry changes. Our bodies ramp up production of inflammatory molecules. From brain function to fat accumulation to bone reabsorption — menopause changes the inner workings of our bodies. And each woman’s experience of menopause will be unique.
Menopausal Symptoms: Causes & Support
If menopause has left you feeling like the medical system doesn’t understand your needs, you’re probably right. Scientists are still uncovering why and how our bodies change during menopause.
Much of the information in this article is at the cutting edge of menopause research, and may have never been explained to you by your doctor — but we believe that the more you understand about your symptoms, the easier it will be for you to find support.
Here are some of the most widespread issues women face during menopause:
Aches & Joint Pain
What’s going on: Does your body hurt more than it used to? Don’t be so quick to blame it on age – without estrogen, our bodies produce higher levels of inflammatory molecules (specifically, tumor necrosis factor, or TNFα). This means arthritis symptoms could skyrocket during menopause. More than 60% of women aged 40 to 64 suffer from pain in their muscles and joints.
How CBD could help: It is more important than ever to reduce inflammation in your body during menopause. Cannabidiol has proven anti-inflammatory properties . In mice, CBD is anti-arthritic, protects joints against inflammatory damage , and lowers levels of inflammatory TNFα. Low-impact exercise and dietary changes are also excellent resources in a fight against inflammation.
Mood Swings & Depression
What’s going on: It’s not unusual for women to experience anxiety or depression during menopause. Estrogen and progesterone influence the activity of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain — which directly affect mood. As levels of these hormones become erratic and eventually plummet, your neurochemistry will change.
How CBD could help: If you’re emotionally distressed, you should seek the support of a medical professional. They might suggest therapeutic or pharmaceutical solutions. If you supplement your treatment with CBD oil, it turns out that CBD activates serotonin receptors , similar to the anti-anxiety drug buspirone. (For more on this topic, read our articles about the different ways that CBD could help anxiety or depression .)
Hot Flashes & Night Sweats
What’s going on: Hot flashes and night sweats are frequently joked about, but in reality they’re no laughing matter. They disrupt our sleep and daily routines, which can reduce the quality of our lives. These “vasomotor” symptoms are caused by altered neurochemistry in the hypothalamus — your body’s thermostat control. In other words, your body’s cooling system — blood vessel dilation & sweat response — gets switched on way too easily. When tested in the lab, women who suffer from hot flashes are triggered when their body temperatures increase by only 1.5 degrees , whereas other women’s bodies don’t switch on the cooling system unless their temperatures increase almost 3 degrees.
How CBD could help: Because hot flashes have a neurochemical basis, some SSRIs and antidepressants can help relieve hot flashes . Although there aren’t studies that have specifically tested CBD for hot flashes, its influence on the body’s serotonin system could be one reason why some women swear by CBD for this symptom. Other treatments like therapy, hypnosis and relaxation techniques that calm the nervous system can also influence your neurochemistry and help reduce hot flashes.
Weight Gain & Diabetes
What’s going on: Hormones shape our bodies on so many levels, including controlling our metabolism. Without estrogen, our bodies burn fewer calories — even while sleeping — and we also burn less fat during exercise. Even if you cut calories and maintain a stable weight throughout menopause, the ongoing hormonal shift tells your body to trade in lean muscle mass for abdominal fat. And this pattern of fat storage unfortunately raises your predisposition to insulin resistance, diabetes and cardiovascular disease .
Genitourinal Syndrome (Vaginal Dryness, Atrophy & Bladder Control)
What’s going on: Sexual health and bladder control after menopause might seem like two separate subjects, but they are so intimately related that they are now lumped into a single medical condition. Estrogen helps keep blood flowing to the pelvic region, delivering fresh oxygen to the tissues of the urinary tract and sexual organs — keeping things elastic and healthy. Once menopause arrives, women should give their pelvis some extra love and attention to keep up the blood flow. (For more on this topic, read our article on sexual health after menopause .)
How CBD could help: Along with regular sexual activity, a topical lubricant that contains cannabinoids like CBD or THC — which are both potent vasodilators — can increase blood flow to the pelvic region. This keeps tissues healthy while also moisturizing the vaginal canal. Topical CBD can also fight inflammation, relax muscles and calm pain-perceiving nerves in the vulva and vagina , making CBD-infused lube and suppositories one of women’s best companions through menopause.
What’s going on: Our bodies constantly move calcium and other minerals into — and out of — bones. As we enter perimenopause, the net result is often bone resorption (where more bone is taken away than is added), lowering bone density and increasing our risk for fractures. We’ve all heard about the importance of dietary calcium and exercise for preventing osteoporosis, but new research suggests that inflammation from arthritis or other conditions might be one of the biggest causes of bone resorption . Inflammatory TNFα is particularly adept at telling your body to increase bone resorption .
How CBD could help: The same anti-inflammatory features that make CBD oil a popular remedy for arthritic symptoms might also prove useful for bone health. In rats with periodontitis, CBD lowers TNFα levels and prevents oral bone loss . However, human evidence for this application is lacking, and we encourage you to use every medical resource available if you’ve been diagnosed with low bone density. Resistance exercise also decreases TNFα levels, which may explain why exercise can help prevent bone loss.
What’s going on: Many peri- and post-menopausal women have trouble getting a good night’s sleep. And sleep deprivation can really wear a person down — triggering fatigue and a full spectrum of other health issues. Menopause might disrupt your sleep a number of different ways, including through night sweats and increased anxiety or depression . You’ll need to identify the biggest hurdles between you and a good night’s sleep before you can troubleshoot the best solutions. Track your sleep or ask your doctor about a sleep study if you need help.
How CBD could help: People of all genders and ages report that CBD formulations help them get restorative sleep. Whether or not CBD could help you get a better night’s sleep depends on the source of your disruptions. CBD’s influence on neurochemistry and anxiety could help improve sleep for women experiencing insomnia or disruptive night sweats.
What’s going on: It’s tempting to blame memory loss on age, but even younger women who go through surgical menopause can experience rapid memory loss . The brain region responsible for memory, learning and emotion, the hippocampus , is a hotbed of synaptic plasticity. Hormones like estrogen and progesterone encourage neurons in the hippocampus to form new connections , and our memories might suffer without these hormones.
How CBD could help: Scientists are actively investigating CBD for encouraging synaptic plasticity and neuroprotection , particularly in the hippocampus. However, there is not yet solid evidence for its recommendation, and there are many other ways you can protect this important brain region. If you want to improve your memory, check out 9 ways to naturally rewire your hippocampus .
Self-Directed Care for Menopause
Now, more than ever, is an important time to observe the changes happening within your body and life. Be honest with yourself and others about how much support you need.
Estrogen and progesterone shouldered a lot of responsibilities within your body, and CBD should only be one of many resources that help you through (and beyond) menopause.
For more suggested tips to help you thrive through this transition, see our handy article on 9 essential sources of support for menopause.
CBD: Are You Doing It Right?
For those who are new to the world of CBD, in addition to purchasing a high-quality product, it’s important to optimize your dosage and delivery for the desired effect.
For instance, vape pens deliver immediate benefits that dwindle within an hour or two, whereas oral CBD oil takes longer to kick in — but its effects can last 8-12 hours.
Want more? Sign up for our newsletter