PRIME TIME: WOMEN’S USE OF CANNABIS IN HISTORY

By: Marys Medicinal |
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 Sarah M. Cohen reports on sessions from CannMed 2018:

For his contribution to CannMed’s Women’s Health and Cannabistopic, Dr. Ethan Russo took a step back in time and shared some of the historical evidence that women have been using cannabis as a healing substance for millennia. One of the earliest references to cannabis use by women comes from Ancient Mesopotamia where it was used for “staying the menses” – often in combination with mint, saffron and beer. There is physical evidence too. Dr. Russo shared a photograph of a 4th-century tomb of a woman who died in childbirth that contained carbonized fragments of THC metabolites; presumably, cannabis was used to ease the pain of childbirth. Moving to the 19thcentury, Dr. Fleetwood Churchill refers to a “most efficacious preparation” of “Indian Hemp” with remarkable power to treat uterine hemorrhage. Numerous subsequent references mention cannabis to prevent abnormal menses, allay hyperemesis gravidarum (health-threatening, pregnancy-related nausea) and to ease childbirth. And, Dr. John Russell Reynolds, one of Queen Victoria’s physicians, often prescribed “Indian Hemp” to allay the pain of “great spasmodic dysmenorrhea.” In the 20thcentury, Dr. Morris Fishbein, as a 1930’s editor of JAMA, wrote that women may use cannabis to have a painless labor without concern for their babies’ health.

A 1999 study revealed that 51% of Australian women use cannabis to ease menstrual cramps. And, in a 2006 report, 65% of seventy-nine British Columbian women used cannabis in pregnancy; 68% of thosewomen used it for nausea; and 92% of thosewomen thought it was effective.

While there is appropriate concern about cannabis use during pregnancy, thirty-one studies of this issue reveal no significant evidence of low birth weight nor of premature delivery when confounders (such as alcohol or other drug use) are excluded. In fact, Dr. Melanie Dreher’s research in 1990’s Jamaica shows that babies born to women who used cannabis during pregnancy (who also refrained from using alcohol and followed a nutritious diet) demonstrated cognitive advances when compared to babies born to non-cannabis-using mothers. Lastly, current research indicates that neither THC nor CBD have teratogenic effects.

Dr. Russo speculated the reason that cannabis may be helpful for dysmenorrhea, endometriosis and hyperemesis gravidarum is because CBD may interact with cell receptors that play a role in these conditions. Clearly, more research is needed but current information indicates that THC and the terpene caryophyllene may be an effective treatment for gynecological pain. Add CBD to the mix and we may just end up with an effective treatment! ❖