- Endocannabinoids or CBD for Menopause?
Endocannabinoids or CBD for Menopause?
Menopause is when a woman stops having periods and can no longer conceive a child naturally.
It is a normal part of the ageing process and begins when the cells in the ovary fail and can no longer produce oestrogen and progesterone.
Menopause has three main stages:
- The first is perimenopause; this is the transition period when hormone levels reduce and periods become irregular. It's defined as starting from the first irregular cycle to the last menstrual period.
- The second is menopause itself which occurs at the time of the previous period. However, this can only be labelled retrospectively after 12 consecutive months without a period.
- The final stage is post-menopause; this is the time following the last period during which the symptoms of depleting oestrogen levels are still experienced.
Menopause commonly occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, but some women experience it before they reach 40 years old.
Various factors influence when menopause takes place, but how they affect its onset can vary from person to person.
Common elements include age, the age of the first period, oral contraceptives, the regularity of the menstrual cycle and the number of pregnancies.
Menopause comes with a range of symptoms that are caused by oestrogen deficiency.
For most women, these will last for between 4 to 12 years after their last period. Common symptoms include:
- hot flushes
- night sweats
- lack of sleep
- low sex drive
- brain fog
- vaginal dryness discomfort
- low mood
- joint pains
Treatment for menopause is currently either to reduce the symptoms with hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) or to treat symptoms individually as they present themselves.
HRT involves taking oestrogen in the form of tablets, patches or implants. Some other methods used to treat the symptoms of menopause are lubricating creams for vaginal dryness and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) for low mood.
What is CBD?
CBD is one of over 100 cannabinoids found in plants of the cannabis genus.
It's non-intoxicating and is extracted from hemp to be used as a food supplement.
The CBD extract is combined with other beneficial ingredients to make a range of products, including oils, capsules, e-liquids or gummies.
When you consume CBD, it enters your cells and tissues and interacts with a broad range of chemical messenger molecules, enzymes and receptors.
These interactions support your body's ability to restore your body systems to a state of healthy balance.
Learn more about CBD with our guide: CBD 101 – Everything you need to know
CBD and Your Endocannabinoid Tone
CBD works in your body in many different ways, but one of the most vital interactions is how it stimulates the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and raises your endocannabinoid tone:
What is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system is a collection of signal molecules (endocannabinoids), receptors and enzymes.
It's active throughout the body, particularly in the central and peripheral nervous systems.
When the ECS is activated, it makes tiny chemical adjustments that enhance the signalling capacity of cells within your body.
This allows your various body systems to communicate effectively and quickly restore a healthy balance following damage or illness.
What is your endocannabinoid tone?
Endocannabinoid tone refers to the level of potential endocannabinoid activity in your body and the ability of your endocannabinoid system to respond to any problems.
This can be affected by a range of factors, including genetics, diet, stress and disease.
If your endocannabinoid tone is low, your endocannabinoid system is unlikely to be able to restore your body systems to a state of healthy balance. As a result, you may feel unwell or experience symptoms related to anxiety.
Regular consumption of CBD can stimulate the action of your endocannabinoid system (ECS) and raise your tone.
To learn more about how CBD raises your endocannabinoid tone, you can read our article: Endocannabinoid Tone and CBD.
CB1 and CB2 – These are the most common endocannabinoid receptors.
- CB1 is found in the central nervous system.
- CB2 is present in the central nervous system, the peripheral nervous system and in immune cells throughout the body
Anandamide (AEA) and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) – These are endocannabinoid signalling molecules present in humans and animals. They can interact with a range of chemical receptors, including CB1 and CB2.
Endocannabinoid Tone and Menopause
The symptoms experienced during menopause are triggered when oestrogen levels drop.
Oestrogen is a hormone that is responsible for sexual function in a woman.
It’s predominantly produced in the ovaries, regulates the menstrual cycle and promotes the growth of the uterus lining in preparation for supporting an embryo.
Hormones like oestrogen act as chemical messengers to communicate what needs to be done and when. They do this by interacting with other systems and binding with receptors.
The hormone system that oestrogen is part of works in a similar way to the endocannabinoid system.
Studies have found that oestrogen and the endocannabinoid anandamide have many similar roles, and some of the effects produced when they bind with receptors produce overlapping results.
One study found that depleted levels of oestrogen placed a particular strain on the cardiovascular system of post-menopausal women.
When oestrogen levels are low, several other receptor systems, including the heme oxygenase (HO) and nitric oxide synthase (NOS) systems, become depleted.
Scientists found that by treating low-oestrogen rats with anandamide, both the HO and NOS systems recovered within two weeks. Treating the rats with replacement oestrogen produced the same effect.
This indicates that a naturally high endocannabinoid tone may take up some of the slack created by low oestrogen levels.
As well as supporting recovery from the effects of low oestrogen, a medium or high endocannabinoid tone supports the body to respond to many of the key symptoms of menopause:
Hot flushes are the sudden feeling of heat that can occur to women during menopause.
They occur because the low levels of oestrogen make the hypothalamus more sensitive. The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that controls temperature regulation.
In 2002, researchers observed endocannabinoid activity and the effects of cannabis on the brain and temperature regulation. They concluded that the endocannabinoid system plays and important role in visceral functions such as temperature control.
Consequently, it's likely that a brain with a high endocannabinoid tone will retain better control over these functions and reduce the incidences of hot flushes.
Endocannabinoids help the brain to control each part of the sleep cycle and move from one phase to the next.
When anandamide and 2-AG bind with CB1 receptors, they modulate the release of neurotransmitters that alter the activity of synapses involved in sleep.
Research indicates that this will allow someone with a higher endocannabinoid tone to have a healthy sleep cycle and be less likely to experience insomnia.
When endocannabinoid tone is high, there are more endocannabinoids and more CB1 and CB2 receptors.
Both receptors also produce a range of other effects that regulate chronic pain when they're activated by anandamide or 2AG.
This includes the release of endorphins, moderation of inflammation and the regulation of neurotransmitters that control pain processing within the central nervous system.
A 2012 study found that CB1 receptors are particularly abundant in the areas of the brain responsible for combining emotions and memories (fear conditioning).
In the brain of someone suffering from general anxiety disorder, these anxious memories remain for a long time.
However, in the brain of someone with a medium to high endocannabinoid tone, those memories are forgotten quicker.
Also, the learned fear response is significantly reduced in those fear-related memories when the endocannabinoid tone is higher.
As a result, some scientists describe the endocannabinoid system as an effective 'regulatory buffer' for emotional response.