Medical marijuana can help alleviate the symptoms of menopause. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Coleen Danger.

At 51, Tracy Edwards (not her real name) quit sleeping. There were the two hours of tossing and turning at bedtime, followed by perhaps two hours of fitful rest, then the dreaded lying awake for two more hours, only to fall dead asleep just as the 7 am alarm was ringing.

The hormone replacement therapy she had started a couple of years ago wasn’t helping with the tell-tale menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats and vicious mood swings. Coupled with ongoing lack of sleep, her mood was changing.

“I had the shortest fuse imaginable,” Edwards recalls. “Everything ticked me off. I felt like I was morphing into something evil – and I didn’t like myself very much.”

How medical cannabis’ affect on the body is an ongoing area of research. Photo: Shutterstock.

After one particularly rough night, she reached out on Facebook, hoping her hive could offer some help – any suggestion was welcome. That’s when a message from high school chum Dr. Shelley Turner appeared. She went on to explain her work in the medical cannabis field. After a consultation and the completion of some paperwork, Edwards became a medical cannabis patient.

“Most patients seeking medical cannabis fall within three categories; I can’t sleep, I have pain and my mood is not great. As many women in the menopause world know, two or three of these symptoms may be ruling their quality of life,” says Dr. Turner, who is highly involved in the research project dataCANN (datacann.mcmaster.ca) through the Centre for Medical Cannabis Research at McMaster University.

She is also a family doctor specializing in medical cannabis, addictions, and Indigenous health. She sees patients at National Access Cannabis clinics in Ontario and Manitoba. She’s the developer and instructor for the new Cannabis 101 course soon being offered at Red River College in Manitoba..

Through her experience in addiction medicine, she learned that medical cannabis was useful in some cases. That encouraged her to further her understanding of how it impacted the body and ways it might help some patients, including women going through menopause. How does it work?

Here’s where the science lesson starts.

“I think we need to start with the endocannabinoid system or ECS,” she said. “ECS is essentially the grand regulator of all systems. It is aligned with nervous system and the immune system. It works to amplify systems already in place. We make cannabinoid like structures in our body—and this helps communication and can boost the signals to improve mood, sleep and activate receptors that reduce pain in our bodies.”

Dr. Turner stresses that women should speak with their primary care provider regarding how to address the unpleasant symptoms of menopause and explore all the options that are available to them.

DataCANN is for anyone over 18, on medical cannabis, with chronic non-malignant pain. We hope to release data very soon, she explains. “Many woman have diagnoses of arthritis, as well as autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, fibromyalgia, to name a few. We hope to capture many of these women as it relates to their pain, but as we are using many assessment tools, we also hope to capture the population of menopausal women.”

Dr. Turner stresses that women should speak with their primary care provider regarding how to address the unpleasant symptoms of menopause and explore all the options that are available to them, whether it’s HRT, natural supplements, meditation, etc., or a combination. “From there, they can decide whether medical cannabis is an option for them.”

As for Edwards, she sent a note to Dr. Turner a few months after starting her medical cannabis prescription: “I feel like a new person, not like the recent one who wanted to bite the head off a chicken when she woke up every morning. The biggest improvement is the way I feel during the day. Thank you.”