Why do women consume cannabis? Many try marijuana for medical reasons. They seek pain relief, relaxation, escape from stress, and reduction of anxiety. Medical marijuana offers an array of benefits for women’s health, and yet, the fear of old stigmas forces most women to hide their usage.

Fortunately, say experts, attitudes are changing. Legalization of medical marijuana in 34 states, including Pennsylvania, imparts new respectability to a product vilified by decades of misinformation. Medical marijuana is coming out of the shadows, and women are finding new options to improve health and quality of life.

Lingering stigmas of marijuana

A 2018 survey of women marijuana users in North America found that 70 percent feel a stigma attached to its consumption. So, 66 percent feel compelled to hide their usage. And although three in four say they use cannabis for medical reasons, only 25 percent feel they have a solid understanding of the science behind it. They go online for information, but 62 percent feel they lack a trusted resource.

“So much is expected of women throughout their lives,” said April Pride, founder of Van Der Pop, the women-oriented cannabis lifestyle brand which commissioned the survey. “The byproducts of high expectations are stress and anxiety. Who can relax (or sleep!) when there is a constant need to prove yourself? And who doesn’t want to take one less pill when possible?”

Survey respondents worried that cannabis use can shape their identities in the eyes of others, or that people will judge harshly their intelligence and decision-making capabilities.

And yet, the survey also found that 93 percent of users considered marijuana at least somewhat effective in addressing their health issues. Stigma will dissipate as women continue to consume and produce marijuana and brands position women in the industry as innovators, wellness pioneers, and entrepreneurs, said Pride.

Women’s health and medical marijuana

While research remains scant due to federal restrictions, mounting evidence supports the efficacy of medical marijuana for an array of women’s health concerns.

Marijuana contains compounds that correlate directly to the human endocannabinoid system, which helps regulate pain, mood and anxiety, metabolism, motor control, and immune function. Modulating the system – which marijuana accomplishes by interacting with cannabinoid receptors – can offer therapy for Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, and even osteoporosis.

All of these issues are central to women’s health. Medical marijuana offers relief from:

Menstrual cramps: The side effects of monthly periods can be debilitating. Cramps and pain impair the ability to function at work and home. Nausea and vomiting disrupt daily life. Medical marijuana offers pain-relieving properties, plus anti-inflammatory effects and the power to diminish nausea. With “chronic pain” on Pennsylvania’s list of qualifying medical conditions, sufferers can seek relief through medical marijuana. After all, even Queen Victoria consumed cannabis for relief from cramps.

Menopause: One of the primary casualties of menopause is sleep. Insomnia wracks the body, diminishing the ability to function. Hot flashes turn bedtime into a nightmare of restless tossing and turning. Medical marijuana has been shown to improve the symptoms of sleep disorders, for deeper and longer sleep. One study even shows that consuming higher levels of THC, the compound that delivers marijuana’s euphoric effects, could cool the body. Medical marijuana can also interact with the endocannabinoid system to help regulate mood swings and minimize the risk of depression.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): Among women of childbearing age, PCOS affects one in 10. Women with PCOS endure hormonal imbalances and metabolism problems that can cause irregular menstrual cycles, excess hair on the face and thinning hair on the scalp, acne, weight gain, darkening of skin, and skin tags. While researchers have yet to pinpoint the cause, some are finding that the symptoms of PCOS, including abdominal pain and depression, respond to cannabis use.

Changing attitudes about women and medical marijuana

The drive is on to enhance the scientific knowledge base of how cannabis use affects women’s health, even as women in the U.S. and worldwide gain better understanding of its medical uses. A new partnership between cannabis education and analytics company Cannvas MedTech and global women’s health network Ellementa will examine data on female cannabis users and deliver cannabis education tailored to their needs.

The partners noted that women – the major household decision-makers around health and wellness – are among the fastest-growing consumers of cannabis, and most are seeking therapeutic help. As cannabis use becomes based in fact, rather than misconceptions, women could help usher in an age of understanding, acceptance, and treatment options that offer new pathways to better health.