This Is What Cannabis Can Do For Your Vagina At Any Age
As more and more states make various cannabis products that were previously off-limits readily available to consumers, we’re only beginning to unlock the full potential ways the plant can be used to benefit our health and wellness. Despite countless brands having a CBD-this or a THC-infused that and more high-profile folks loudly and proudly embracing the cannabis market (hello, Martha Stewart!) , it can be hard to decide what to buy when you don’t fully know what you’re paying for — as mainstream research still needs to catch up with the products on the market.
From the reproductive and vulva-owning person’s health perspective, one area that’s super interesting to cannabis connoisseurs and healthcare experts is the potential cannabis has for the vagina — particularly in how it can benefit people going through menopause and perimenopause or experiencing chronic reproductive health conditions. After all, our vaginas, like the rest of our bodies, change as we age and grow and finding ways to balance out and feel comfortable as we go through those changes has a lot of appeal.
“Cannabis helps the body right the ship and restore balance.”
Patty Pappas and Carrie Mapes, co-founders of Cannabis Vaginal Suppository start-up Hello Again, both came to personally appreciate the benefits of cannabis when they were going through menopause themselves — and it was that hunt for a perfect product that would address their needs that lead them to creating their business.
“Cannabis is a multi-faceted plant with a reputation for psycho-activity, but a long history of providing wellness and balance.The hundreds of cannabinoids in cannabis, as well as the particular terpene profile in each strain are partly responsible for user experience. Equally important is the method of delivery into the body. Low (THC) dose products will generally deliver less psycho activity than high dose. But, if the cannabis enters the body through a vaginal suppository, THC does not deliver the same psycho-active high as the edible or smoking/vape options,” Pappas and Mapes tell SheKnows. “ This makes a cannabis vaginal suppository (we call it a vagitory!) an ideal way to address the biological chaos that happens during menstruation and during menopause.”
You had us at biological chaos. But, like, what does it actually do for you and your body (especially when you’re going through hot flashes, pain, mood swings, dryness during sex, etc.)?
Spoiler alert: It’s all about regaining balance, baby!
“In each case, shifts in hormones throw the body’s systems off balance. Sleep systems, mood systems, energy, cognition all take a hit,” they tell SheKnows. “When the plant’s cannabinoids combine with the body’s cannabinoid receptors (and there are plenty in the female reproductive tract!), the biological response is equilibrium. Cannabis helps the body right the ship and restore balance.”
CBD vs. THC — What does it mean and who should use what?
SheKnows also caught up with Chief Medical Officer at Cannabis Doctors of New York Dr. Kenneth Weinberg M.D. to get a little more insight into what we know (and don’t yet know) about cannabis’ health potential. As someone who works with patients of all walks of life, Weinberg says he has seen a lot of anecdotal evidence of cannabis’ benefits, but does clarify that its history as a schedule one drug has greatly delayed the quality of research we have on the plant — and its potential to help people.
While Weinberg says he wouldn’t recommend cannabis-use to people who are pregnant or nursing because the lack of research and the knowledge that cannabis does cross the placenta and into breast milk, there’s more data available to show the benefits for non-pregnant or nursing people who are living with endometriosis, dealing with extreme menstrual discomfort, pelvic floor issues or those going through perimenopause or menopause. While there’s a lot to be understood about the whole plant, he points unpacks two of the most common cannabinoids you’ve probably heard about — THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol) — and what they can do for the body.
“There are several things that go on certainly both THC and CBD and other minor cannabinoids,” Dr. Weinberg says. “In New York state, We’re really just looking at CBD and THC. But if you’re using the whole plant, then you’re getting all the minor cannabinoids and the terpenes all of which have have their own effect. But if we just stick the THC and CBD, which I am forced to do as a as a cannabis doctor in New York state, THC is a very, very good pain reliever. It also is very good for muscle spasticity. And if you think about it, any of these conditions where there is a chronic pain or an acute pain, your body tends to involuntarily hold itself in certain ways and [you have] tightened up muscles. And so a lot of times the muscle tightness and spasticity adds to these pain syndromes and THC very good for muscle spasticity mean. Incidentally. I have a lot of patients with multiple sclerosis where muscle spasticity is the major issue that they’re dealing with. And a lot of them use high THC, just for that reason.”
Meanwhile, CBD (which has exploded all over the market in many states that don’t have recreational cannabis legalized) is all about fighting inflammation: “Then CBD, it’s main benefit is the anti-inflammatory benefit,” Dr. Weinberg says. “So in all of these situations inflammation is such a major contributor that CBD is very helpful. It’s also very good as a pain reliever as well. It’s a good anxiety medicine. And as I’m sure you can imagine anxiety and psychological issues very quickly become intertwined with any ongoing or even acute medical condition.”
“ Utilizing the vaginal suppository to deliver cannabis in the proper dosing can address all kinds of localized pain and systemic imbalances.”
So for symptoms like hot flashes, brain fog, anxiety, changes in energy or sleep patterns, there’s some clear ways that a high-quality cannabis product might be a fit for a person going through menopause — particularly using the vaginal suppository application method that allows the product to reach directly where the discomfort is coming from without experiencing any high (and, to be clear, this product doesn’t smell like weed.) Pappas and Mapes said that creating their suppositories came from the goal of getting back to feeling normal (like themselves again) — and restoring some of that internal homeostasis — so their product really focuses on addressing what needs addressing in the most comfortable and efficient way possible.
“Since we launched our Hello Again suppositories for menopause, we have received great feedback from women of all ages who are using the products for endometriosis pain, menstrual cramps, arthritis, bursitis, and fibromyalgia,” Pappas says. “Utilizing the vaginal suppository to deliver cannabis in the proper dosing can address all kinds of localized pain and systemic imbalances. This is why it’s no surprise to us that Hello Again is helping women of all ages with a variety of challenges. We definitely formulated for menopause, but are so happy to be helping women of all ages.”
“Women in perimenopause, menopause and post-menopause often struggle with vaginal dryness. Many are experiencing painful sex for the first time in their lives and can revitalize their sex life by bringing personal lubricant into the bedroom,” Mapes says. “There are many cannabis-based lubricants and for good reason. The THC is a vasodilator, bringing blood to the area and CBD helps relax muscles, like the pelvic floor. Cannabis can also enhance the sense of touch and put a person out of their head and into their body. “
Overcoming decades of stigma
When it comes to cannabis and reproductive health (menopause, particularly) there’s sort of a meeting of two deeply stigmatized spaces on the mend. Our cultural attitudes about what it means to be perimenopausal, menopausal or even a menstruator have changed astronomically in the last ten years and we’ve seen similar changes in attitudes about what it means to be a person who uses cannabis.
But that’s one area where Pappas and Mapes have seen opportunity, allowing people to drop their preconceived ideas of both and embrace a time of their life (that until very recently hasn’t been considered a time to embrace) and take advantage of the full wellness benefits of a plant that has also been given a pretty bad rap over the years.
“We often talk to women in their 40s who describe to us their hot flashes, sleeplessness, irritability and brain fog, but insist they are not in menopause. We get it. Women resist identifying with something they associate with aging,” Pappas says. “We definitely have some friends who are convinced that they cannot try a cannabis product because they had a bad experience with pot in high school. The cannabis in products today is so different from the bag of weeds and sticks they remember smoking. The cannabis industry is highly regulated for consumer protection. Our products go through rigorous testing for both potency and purity. An organic apple or standard tea bag wouldn’t pass the standards required for cannabis.”
A version of this story was published August 2021.
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Menopause: Cannabinoids & Sexual Health
“Use it or lose it.” This piece of time-worn wisdom is said about everything from your brain to your muscles. But did you know that it also applies to your most intimate of body parts?
It’s true! Although many people don’t think of their genitals in terms of exercise & fitness, research shows that regular sexual activity helps to keep the vagina healthy, flexible, and strong. And — just like exercise — it becomes even more important to “use it” as we get older.
If you’re approaching menopause, you might be hearing this sort of thing from a variety of sources — friends, social media, TV doctors, or your own doctor. And since sexual pleasure for its own sake is so often shamed in our culture, the “use it or lose it” folks often explain that an active sex life has important health benefits: cardiovascular health, stress relief, boosted immunity, better sleep, pain reduction, pelvic floor strength and reduced incontinence.
But if you’ve lost touch with your sexual desire — whether due to lack of a partner, life stress, sexual pain or other challenges — it can be tricky to relight the fire without a little extra help.
Which is where cannabinoids could help. Many peri- and post-menopausal women report that cannabinoids have revolutionized their sex lives — with or without a partner.
Menopause & Estrogen
Remember your old frenemy, the menstrual cycle? During our reproductive years, our ovaries pump out estrogen every menstrual cycle right before they ovulate. As women’s periods become less frequent, so do these estrogen boosts.
What was estrogen doing?
- Keeping up the blood flow.Estrogen dilates your blood vessels , and increased blood flow to your vagina helps it stay healthy and lubricated.
- Raising your libido. Many reproductive-age women have an increased interest in sex right around the time they ovulate — when their estrogen levels are highest.
- Keeping the pH low. Estrogen tells your vagina to secrete glycogen, which feeds beneficial bacteria. These lactobacillus bacteria make lactic acid, which keeps the pH low and protects the vagina from malicious microbes . (Note: These aren’t the same lactobacillus you find in yogurt, but they are very closely related.)
- Protecting the urinary tract. Estrogen receptors are spread throughout the vagina, bladder, urethra and pelvic floor. Up to 70% of women with urinary incontinence experience its onset at menopause . Estrogen also helps protect women from urinary tract infections .
How Menopause Affects Your Sex Life
Unfortunately, without regular bursts of estrogen, your sex life can become a little bit more complicated.
Peri- and postmenopausal women often discover that their libidos take a nose-dive. Sex might not feel as good when the skin lining your vagina gets thinner and produces less lubrication. Also, with fewer acid-producing lactobacilli , postmenopausal women are more susceptible to infections. To make matters worse, without estrogen, vaginas become densely innervated with pain-perceiving nerves and other nerves that further cut off the blood flow.
Sexual pleasure is just one of many things a woman can lose when her vagina atrophies. Genitourinary syndrome of menopause — a condition where the vaginal tissue becomes thinner, drier and more inflamed — affects more than half of postmenopausal women . As it gets worse, it can become painful to sit, walk, or urinate. It also ups your risk for incontinence.
How to Address this Problem
Menopause is not a disease or disorder — it’s a natural condition. When estrogen exits stage left, the transition period will be easier if you can bring in new supporting characters, stage right.
For your vagina, that means finding new ways to keep your blood flowing and your skin healthy. That’s why the first thing a doctor will typically suggest is to stock up on moisturizers and lubricants. Most women find that moisturizers applied three times a week will help their vaginal skin stay moist, while lubricants help keep up regular sexual activity.
Why is regular sexual activity so important? It triggers your vulva and vaginal tissues to swell with blood — delivering oxygen and carrying away toxins. Sex keeps vaginal skin healthy and improves its elasticity and natural lubrication, and can even boost levels of androgens and other hormones.
The evidence agrees: Women who are sexually active experience less vaginal atrophy — and those benefits come whether or not a partner is involved.
So… once you purchase a good moisturizer and lubricant (pH balanced, of course), where do you go from there? Moisturizers and lubricants might make it more possible for you to have sex, but what if you’re having trouble getting turned on? What if sex is starting to feel less pleasurable. or even painful? What extra tools are available?
Get your Blood Pumping: Cannabinoids & Other Methods
Best-case scenario: Even if you have a well-lubricated sex life nearly as active your pre-menopausal years, your vagina probably receives less oxygenated blood than it used to. Without estrogen, you should find new ways to get the blood pumping through your pelvis.
Menstruation, sex, and menopause are the top three reasons that women use cannabis for self-care. In addition to treating other symptoms of menopause, more and more postmenopausal women are loving the juice cannabis adds to their sex lives.
Why is cannabis so effective at spicing things up in the bedroom? The natural compounds in cannabis, cannabinoids, are potent vasodilators — they relax blood vessels, increasing blood flow.
When plant-derived cannabinoids are applied directly to your vulva, they encourage blood to flow into the tissues.
This increased blood flow can do amazing things in the bedroom. Many women who use cannabinoids on their vulvas report stronger, more pleasurable orgasms, while others experience an overall boost in their sexual sensations. If you want to hear more about the personal experiences of women who have tried topical cannabinoids, start here .
What else increases blood flow to your vagina? It turns out that clitoral stimulation and sexual fantasy can increase blood flow to the vagina in ways that pelvic floor contractions and exercise cannot.
If you haven’t already, experiment with sensual materials that can wake up your fantasies — vibrators, romance novels, or whatever form of pornography inspires your imagination. If you have a partner, explain to them that this is for your future health, and see if they want to get involved.
Partnered or not, experiment with extending your foreplay into full-body sensual massage and gentle oral and manual stimulation. If you want some hard evidence that these activities are pumping restorative blood through your vagina, feel around — your clitoris will get perky and your inner labia may expand, especially with extended lubricated massage and suction.
Extra Perks Cannabinoids Bring to the Bedroom
Cannabinoids like CBD and THC do much more for your vagina than just increase the blood flow and your ability to feel pleasure. They can soothe inflammation and feelings of pain — both of which might increase as estrogen decreases. Cannabinoids also encourage your muscles to relax, which can further alleviate penetration-related pain. How?
- Fights inflammation: Both CBD and THC have proven anti-inflammatory properties — and inflammation levels increase for women with genitourinary syndrome. CBD acts on the same target as NSAIDs , decreasing your body’s production of inflammatory prostaglandins. Meanwhile, THC helps prevent your immune system from releasing the inflammatory proteins called cytokines.
- Reduces pain: Some of the increased pain postmenopausal women experience during penetration comes from an increased density of pain-perceiving nerves. Cannabinoids fight back by desensitizing these nerves. Both CBD and THC target nerve receptors that help decrease the sensation of pain (TRPV1 and CB1, respectively).
- Relaxes muscles: Another source of pain in the bedroom could come from overly-tight pelvic muscles. Cannabinoids help relax muscles in two ways. First, when they desensitize pain receptors, they prevent nerves from triggering muscle contractions. Second, CBD and THC have been shown to reduce maximum level of contraction in muscles .
Similar to localized estrogen creams and suppositories, localized application of cannabinoids delivers the compounds exactly where they are needed, while keeping their bloodstream levels low.
Rebooting your Sexuality
Sexual activity is most effective against genitourinary syndrome before the symptoms of vaginal atrophy get severe. However, it’s never too late to start showering your lady parts with personal attention and increased blood flow.
If you’re waking up your vagina after a period of hibernation, start slow. Don’t jump into penetration if you’re experiencing pain or inflammation. Instead, try to increase blood flow to your sensual zone — with vibration, fantasy and/or topical cannabinoids — and just focus on the pleasant sensations you might experience.
This exercise doesn’t need to lead anywhere — you can get the benefits of increased oxygenation to your vagina without intercourse, orgasm, or a partner. However, you might find that allowing some extra time to become sexually aroused can make masturbation and intercourse more enjoyable.
For further support, consult with a doctor, physical therapist, or sexological bodyworker to develop a pelvic rehabilitation plan. They can suggest pelvic floor exercises and vaginal dilator techniques after they determine which muscles need to be strengthened or relaxed.
Many women find that the benefits of reviving their sexual organs extend beyond the pleasure zone: Incontinence and other urinary issues might improve with proper rehabilitation.
Although regular use of moisturizers and sexual lubricants are often just as effective , many doctors will prescribe hormonal therapy for women with moderate or severe symptoms of genitourinary syndrome.
Topical estrogen is most frequently prescribed, since it helps keep the overall levels of this hormone low in your body. Hormone replacement therapy can be very effective for treating the symptoms of genitourinary syndrome, but they are generally only prescribed for short-term use — and many women cannot take them for medical reasons.
Whether or not you are on hormone therapy, we encourage you to talk with your doctor about incorporating cannabinoids into your sexual health routine. (Feel free to share this article with your doctor, as well as our other articles on cannabinoids and sexual health .)
We want to be clear about one last thing… What your body needs most right now is for you to have the patience and freedom to feel AS GOOD AS POSSIBLE.
Don’t just grab that bottle of lube and rush through your sexercises. Numerous studies show that it’s the quality of the sex that confers many of sex’s health benefits . Now is the time for you to experiment and learn how to maximize pleasure.
You might find that the blood-pumping, pleasure-promoting and pain-relieving properties of CBD and other cannabinoid products are perfect for improving the quality of your sexual life. Or you might discover other ways to increase your stimulation before and during sex. Either way, you won’t know until you try.
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