Endometriosis affects an estimated 1 in 10 women between the ages of 15 and 49, which accumulates to approximately 176 million women in the world. While it is mainly known to affect women during their reproductive years, it can begin as early as a girl’s first period and its effects can continue through menopause, especially if she has scar tissue or adhesions from the disease and surgical attempts to quell it. Many women suffer undiagnosed endometriosis for extended lengths of time, due to a general lack of awareness across the board, as well as a normalization of its symptoms. While there is no cure, there are many treatments for its symptoms and side effects; each working differently on the individual patient. What works for one does not necessarily garner the same results for another woman, and because medical options can feel and be extreme, many are looking into holistic methods of management. Just as Cannabidiol, or CBD, has made its way into conversations involving holistic health, it has made its way into discussions and management options concerning endometriosis.
CBD is being employed as a symptom and pain management tool for women with endometriosis based on the knowledge of its interactions with the endocannabinoid system, and its effects on cell proliferation and nerve communication. To understand the benefits of CBD for endometriosis, we need to understand what endometriosis is.
What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis is defined as the presence of endometrial glands or stroma in sites other than the uterine cavity, such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes and the other abdominal areas. In easier-to-digest terms: it is a condition in which tissuesimilar to the lining inside the uterus (called the endometrium) is found outside the uterus. The tissues induce a chronic inflammatory reaction that may result in scar tissue. In extremely rare cases, the tissues have been found on the diaphragm and in the lungs.
The out-of-place endometrium tissues respond to the body’s hormones in the same way the tissues within the uterus do. Every month the endometrium builds up, then breaks down and sheds. The result is misplaced cells trapped in the body and excruciating pain due to inflammation from buildup and scarring as the body struggles to reabsorb the dead tissues.
Patients often suffer from diffuse and severe pain that can impact quality of life in many ways, including psychological distress and fatigue. The psychological effects can even amplify pain, resulting in revolving symptoms.
Women who suffer from endometriosis typically experience at least one of the following symptoms:
Traditional Endometriosis Treatments
Science has not facilitated an absolute cure for endometriosis yet. Treatments focus on pain and symptom management, as well as the prevention of its spread.
CBD: A Natural, Endo-Centric Approach to Endometriosis
Understandably, the traditional options for treatment are not on the list of first choices for many suffering with endometriosis. As research continues to describe the phytocannabinoid’s effects on the endocannabinoid system, its applications and benefits are being tested and tried true. CBD assists with the symptoms of endometriosis in a variety of ways, beginning at a cellular level.
CBD stops cell multiplication
When our bodies’ endocannabinoid systems are operating in harmony, we have the tools within ourselves to prevent the growth of aberrant (diverging from the normal type/ abnormal) cells and to destroy them before they become a problem. This ability is lessened in people who suffer from endometriosis. Supplementing the body’s endocannabinoid system through the introduction of cannabinoids, such as phytocannabinoids, helps to activate the receptors responsible for preventing abnormal cells from spreading.
CBD regulates nerve growth
While CBD is known to assist with nerve regeneration where needed, it is also believed to interfere with nerve growth in instances of oversaturation. The cannabinoid operates with the goal of homeostasis. That being said, women who suffer from deep-infiltrating endometriosis have lesions that spread deep into their abdominal tissue. Those lesions contain higher nerve density than others. CBD is believed to prevent the proliferation of nerves to these deep-rooted tissues by blocking the receptor that calls for them.
CBD has anti-inflammatory properties
Studies suggest that women with endometriosis have higher expressions of the CB2 receptor. It is thought that this is a result of the body’s inflammatory response, and reaction to its need for more cannabinoids. As we already know, CBD works with the body’s endocannabinoid system, mainly through CB2 receptors, to calm the stressed, over-firing receptors and ease the resultant pain-inducing inflammation.
CBD can ease pain
CBD eases pain through a variety of methods, beginning with its anti-inflammatory properties and ending with its interaction with the pain receptor TRPV1. Inflammation is a leading cause of pain for endometriosis sufferers. As the phytocannabinoid enters the endocannabinoid system, it reacts with both CB1 and CB2 receptors to calm overactive immune systems and reduce inflammation. Further, the compound is known to desensitize the pain receptor TRPV1, a receptor that responds to perceived dangerous situations by sending pain signals. While the receptor is essentially responsible for alerting us to temperature changes (such as scalding hot water) it can become extra sensitive in areas that are inflamed. CBD is known to desensitize this receptor, making it a useful tool in chronic pain management.
While the science behind CBD and its uses and benefits for those suffering from endometriosis is still being studied, the use of the cannabinoid is increasing amongst those suffering from the disease. As we grow to understand the endocannabinoid system and its role in endometriosis, we can extract parallels between CBD’s interactions with the main receptors in the ECS. As many in the endo-community will report, every woman’s journey with endometriosis is different, but many are choosing one that includes natural elements such as cannabis extracts and hemp oil to combat the disease.
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