Endometriosis is a health condition that has long been ignored and under researched. For decades, millions of women, transgender men, and nonbinary individuals — 10 to 20 percent of people with a uterus in America to be exact — went misdiagnosed, undiagnosed, or simply suffered in silence from pain that can range from mild and cyclical to almost constant and debilitating.
To make matters more complicated, even if you do get accurately diagnosed with endometriosis, there’s a dire lack of effective pharmaceutical treatments. So, like with many other illnesses, such as chronic fatigue and Lyme disease, people all over the world started searching for alternatives — one of the major ones being CBD.
What We’re Learning About CBD and Endo
“I'm not sure that people understand just how much endo can disrupt so many aspects of your life – your work, relationships, and self-worth,” says Jessica Murnane, a cookbook author, and podcast host who suffers from endo. Everyone experiences endo differently (part of the reason why it’s often misdiagnosed) but the most common symptom is pain in the abdomen and lower back and extreme menstrual cramps, which is what most turn to CBD to mitigate.
Ashley B. was diagnosed with endo about three years ago, right after she had her first baby. She incorporates CBD into her daily life for her endo and general well-being. “I incorporate CBD into my daily life for my endo and general well-being. It has helped tremendously with the pain and inflammation and also really helps me focus and keeps my mental health in check,” she explains.
Murnane’s own endo got so bad that she fell into a major depression. As she explains it: “I didn't want to wake up each morning and face what my endo had in store for me.” Being in the wellness space, Murnane says that at first, when she saw all the thousands of CBD products popping up — “anything from $8 breath sprays to $100 CBD pillows” — she was skeptical. “But the more I've researched it, found reputable brands that truly care about women's health, and heard first hand accounts of CBD being a game changer for people in the endo community...I'm all for it,” she says. Murnane recently collaborated with the CBD brand Juna on a “CBD and Endometriosis” event.
Jewel Zimmer, founder of Juna, didn’t initially set out to create a product that helped people with endo, “but we seem to have gained a very organic cult following,” she says. One woman found our CBD ingestibles helpful for her endo and the rest was history. “It’s been viral. It’s all happened girlfriend to girlfriend. The endo community is so small and they all share information,” she explains. People struggling with endo leave comments, send DMs, and often end up connecting with each other over the relief they’ve experienced from Juna’s products.
And it’s not just pain that women are using CBD for. In fact, Brooklyn Chesser of @the_endo_chronic_ill likes to add Juna Balance X drops to her facial moisturizer at night. “I’ve noticed a reduction in inflammation and dryness caused by my hormonal acne topical medications,” she says.
How CBD Could Help Women with Endo
Because of her personal struggle, Murnan founded Know Your Endo to educate and support people with endo and is currently working on a book (Know Your Endo, April 2021). As she explains it: “Endometriosis at its core is an inflammatory condition. And that inflammation can take a huge toll on the minds and bodies of those who carry that inflammation load each day.” CBD has displayed strong anti-inflammatory properties in both animal and human studies, which is one of the main reasons why women are experimenting with it. “It's exciting to think that CBD could help with that inflammation load so many of us with endometriosis carry. To give our bodies a little break and help calm it all down a little,” continues Murnane.
Unfortunately, at this stage, the research on CBD for endo is scarce at best. According to Dr. Jacyln Tolentino, a doctor of osteopathy, hormone specialist, and a clinical cannabinoid medical practitioner at Parsley Health, “We don't have a lot of robust clinical data on CBD as a potential therapy for many conditions, including endometriosis.” There are a lot of reasons for this, including the fact that it’s extremely difficult to get approval to study cannabinoid-based therapies in humans and the fact that there are huge gaps in our knowledge about endometriosis and women's health issues in general.
Taking a Holistic Approach to Endo and Women’s Health
The lack of research and lack of regulation hasn’t stopped endo sufferers from turning to CBD and finding the right products, though. For the ones that experience relief, that’s enough. Murnane has started experimenting with CBD in addition to changing her diet, implementing stress-management practices, and moving her body in different ways to decrease inflammation. “I don't need studies to know these tools have given me my life back and I will continue to use them every single day. I look for doctors now that support my decisions to use these tools and not doubt them,” she explains. And she’s not the only one, either.
As Erika Denver of @endometriosisenlightened writes, “I had to jump on board and try out what I like to call #endometriosis friendly products, since I am someone who deals with anxiety, which in return affects my physical health and flare ups associated with endo (bloating, discomfort, acne, etc.)”
According to Dr. Tolentino, “We do know anecdotally that lots of women are using CBD to help alleviate symptoms of endometriosis, and that CBD does have the capacity to inhibit neuropathic pain and inflammation.” Therefore, there are “a lot of reasons to feel encouraged about the future of CBD and endo. “The research possibilities are very exciting, even if there's a lot we still don't know right now,” she continues.
Murnane also wisely reminds us that turning to alternative medicine can be taken too far. “No matter how many diet, lifestyle tools, and CBD products you use -— sometimes surgery is necessary,” she says. If left untreated, “endo lesions can fuse your organs together and can cause major damage to organs if it's not treated,” she continues.
The best treatment approaches for endo appear to be those that take the best from both conventional and alternative medicine.
Drawing Parallels Between CBD and Endo
At the end of the day, it’s not surprising that CBD and endometriosis have managed to find each other. They have a few things in common, after all. As Dr. Tolentino explains, “I think the [endometriosis] misdiagnosis issue is really rooted in cultural myths surrounding women's bodies.” And well, if you know anything about CBD and other cannabinoids — which have been inaccurately maligned for years as dangerous drugs with no medicinal value — you know they’re all too familiar with the consequences of cultural myths and misconceptions.
Both CBD and endo have been ignored and underestimated for far too long. It’s no wonder endo sufferers are looking to CBD for the type of support and relief they haven’t been able to get elsewhere.
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