Over time, women may experience a whole variety of unique physical health conditions and concerns. Although many of them including PMS, hormonal imbalances, pregnancy, and menopause may come with their challenges and cause discomfort, most of them are inevitable parts of the female life cycle. As one of the most… Dr. Sarah Lichenstein is leading a study on how CBD may affect behavior and the brain to determine how it affects women and if it affects women and men
Benefits of CBD for women
Over time, women may experience a whole variety of unique physical health conditions and concerns. Although many of them including PMS, hormonal imbalances, pregnancy, and menopause may come with their challenges and cause discomfort, most of them are inevitable parts of the female life cycle.
As one of the most popular natural wellness trends, studies have suggested that CBD may benefit female health and improve the overall quality of life. Read on to discover how women may benefit from using CBD…
WHAT IS CBD
CBD is a core ingredient in the cannabis plant, which is available in different strengths and forms. Often seen as CBD oil, but it is also available in personal care products, pills, powders, and MEDAHUMAN’s delicious drinks. CBD can be absorbed through the skin, ingested, or inhaled.
Potential Benefits of CBD for women:
CBD may have the ability to provide relief for women who suffer from hormonal imbalances. A small-scale study has indicated that CBD may help to regulate the secretion of one of our stress-activating hormones cortisol(1). High levels of cortisol can impact other hormone levels including thyroid-stimulating hormones and sex hormones. Any cortisol-reducing activities can therefore help to support overall hormone balance. In addition, when choosing hemp-based CBD products, you get a boost of omega fatty acids and gamma-linolenic acid, both of which can contribute to hormone health.
One of the biggest beauty trends of 2020/2021 has been the rise of CBD skincare. It is believed that CBD may provide beauty benefits such as improving the look and health of skin, minimizing the appearance of dark spots, and helping to strengthen hair follicles. Studies have also indicated that CBD may help to prevent acne by regulating oil production and lowering inflammation, with the use of topical CBD also being used for skin rashes, eczema, and psoriasis. (2)
CBD may have the ability to help balance out mood changes, reduce sleep disturbances and lower the rate of bone density loss that can happen during menopause. The endocannabinoid system is a group of cell receptors, called cannabinoid receptors, found in the brain, organs, and tissues throughout the body. This system plays a crucial role in menopause.
There are cannabinoid receptors throughout the female reproductive system too, with menopause disrupting the endocannabinoid system. This can explain some of the effects of premenopause such as anxiety, depression, mood swings, and lower libido.
It has been suggested that CBD may help to reduce symptoms of menopause (3), with a recent small-scale study finding CBD could help to relieve chronic pain, lower inflammation and improve sleep – all concerns that can occur during menopause. (4)
Women have to face all sorts of pains throughout their life, from PMS to childbirth, with studies showing that CBD may help to decrease pain by interacting with the endocannabinoid system to reduce inflammation and interact with neurotransmitters.
Women suffering from chronic pain such as headaches, cramps, arthritis, fibromyalgia and more, have shown improvement in their pain levels by using CBD.(6)
ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION
Studies have indicated that CBD may reduce stress and anxiety. CBD oil is often used by alternative medicine practitioners for patients with OCD and social anxiety. Since CBD activates receptors in the brain that produce high levels of dopamine, it may be effective for relaxing the mind and body, potentially reducing anxiety levels. (7)
Studies have shown that almost 72% of women have suffered from digestive problems, such as IBS within the past year (8). It has been suggested that CBD may help to regulate digestion and modulate bowel movements, with a study finding that CBD can alleviate the symptoms linked with digestive issues such as cramps, bloating, and nausea. (9)
How Does CBD Affect Women? WHRY Fills Gaps in the Science of an Exploding Market
WHRY is launching a study on how CBD may affect behavior and the brain to determine how it affects women and if it affects women and men differently.
Google the three-letter acronym “CBD,” and you will receive 177 million results. For comparison, a search for “FBI” produces 213 million hits, “IBM,” 305 million, and “FDR,” just 51.3 million. Do you know what CBD is? More important, do you know what it does?
CBD is short for cannabidiol, a seemingly non-intoxicating compound of the cannabis plant, as opposed to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the major psychoactive component responsible for the drug’s euphoric effect.
CBD is the main active ingredient in a growing category of products sold in all 50 states with little regulation. The substance can be found in nasal sprays, food supplement powders, skin patches, suppositories, capsules, chocolates, coffee, beer, gummies, lollipops, macaroni and cheese, hummus, honey, jelly beans, cereal, gum, popcorn, peanut butter, massage oil, lotions, face masks, deodorant, pet treats, and bath bombs.
In 2019, more than 64 million Americans reported trying CBD, the majority of whom are female.
Manufacturers of these products have claimed they can help alleviate anxiety and pain, promote sleep, and treat depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more. But there is little research to support these claims or the safety of regularly using such products over time. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only approved the use of CBD to treat two rare, severe forms of epilepsy.
Now, with a grant from Women’s Health Research at Yale, Dr. Sarah Lichenstein is leading a study on how CBD may affect behavior and the brain to determine how it affects women and if it affects women and men differently.
“The majority of research on the neurological effects of CBD in healthy adults derives from a single small study conducted entirely on men,” said Lichenstein, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. “If we are to make sure these products are safe and effective — and, if so, determine correct dosing — it is important to complement what has been done in men to understand how CBD affects the brain in women.”
In collaboration with Drs. Sarah Yip and Ayana Jordan, Dr. Lichenstein is focusing on CBD’s potential to treat anxiety disorders, the most common reason cited by CBD users for their interest in these products and a condition that is twice as prevalent among women than men. One in three women will meet the criteria for an anxiety or related disorder in their lifetime. In addition to direct negative impact on well-being, these disorders increase the risk of other significant harmful effects, including interpersonal difficulties, major depression, and suicide, as well as higher health care costs and higher rates of unemployment.
“We know that other substances used by women to manage anxiety, such as tobacco smoking, were once portrayed as non-addictive,” said WHRY Director Carolyn M. Mazure, Ph.D. “Yet smoking is in fact addictive and harder to quit for women compared to men.”
Currently, the most common medical treatment for anxiety disorders are benzodiazepines, medications which are twice as likely to be prescribed to women as men. These medications have been associated with a significant risk of abuse and fatal overdose when combined with alcohol or opioids.
“CBD presents a potentially promising alternative to benzodiazepines for treating anxiety, but there is a huge mismatch between the way these products are being marketed and the state of the science,” Lichenstein said. “We need to know much more about what CBD is doing, how it might operate in women, and if this is different in women and men — particularly as millions of Americans are already using it.”
Needed Research on CBD, Behavior, the Brain, and Women
Dr. Lichenstein’s study seeks to determine brain mechanisms behind how CBD affects the behavior of women, building on currently limited evidence showing that a single dose of CBD affects functional brain responses in healthy men and evidence that sex may influence how cannabis and its constituent compounds affect these responses.
“Most of what we know about how CBD acts on the brain comes from research on animals,” Lichenstein said. “There is evidence it acts on many different neural systems through diverse mechanisms of action, which makes it interesting to study. But also hard to pin down.”
Study participants will take either the FDA-approved CBD oral solution known commercially as Epidiolex or a similarly appearing and tasting but inert placebo. They will then undergo tasks proven to reliably induce low levels of stress in most healthy individuals while inside of a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. Researchers will gather data on self-reported measures of anxiety and subjective and physiological effects following the administration of CBD or the placebo while observing and recording activation of the insula and amygdala, areas of the brain associated with stress and anxiety.
Crucially, all participants will be female, providing necessary data to compare with existing male data and to prepare applications for additional external funding for a larger study that can directly compare the effect of CBD on women and men.
Dr. Lichenstein anticipates that CBD’s effects on the insula and amygdala — and associated reduction in perceived anxiety — could be greater in women than in men.
“Women seem to have more exposure from the same dose of CBD,” Lichenstein said. “Preliminary data suggest that women reach peak concentrations more quickly and reach higher concentrations than men.”
However, it is also possible that greater exposure among women could interfere with CBD’s effects on anxiety based on preclinical studies suggesting that neurobiological channels may block the effects of CBD at higher doses and are modulated by the female sex hormone estradiol.
“If there is a point at which higher doses trigger a neurobiological mechanism that blocks the anti-anxiety effects of CBD, that could very likely lead to different effects for women and men,” Lichenstein said.
Such differences, if found in the brain and through an observed effect on anxiety reduction, would indicate the need to establish sex-specific dosing recommendations for CBD.
“We don’t know if or where a dosing cutoff exists for humans in terms of safety or reducing anxiety,” Lichenstein said. “We need research in people with anxiety disorders and research on dosing over long periods of time. But first, we need to take this initial, essential step toward understanding what exactly happens to the behavior and in the brains of women when using this popular but largely unexamined substance.”