health

Cannabis, PMS and how it could soon help treat everything from stomach cramps to mood swings.

You might have heard of Whoopi Goldberg. You might have seen her movies, you might have watched her on your small screen.

You might not have known that Whoopi Goldberg, along with her business partner Maya Elisabeth, has launched her own line of cannabis medical products. These ones exist to specifically treat period pain among women. Of course, none of them are designed to provide a mental high, but a body high as a means of contributing to pain relief.

Experiencing severe period pain herself, Goldberg told Vanity Fair in March this year that PMS is so heavily entrenched in her family, it was a natural cause for her to want to address.

“I have grown granddaughters who have severe cramps, so I said this is what I want to work on,” she said at the time.

She’s also not alone in her pursuit of period pain relief through the use of cannabis.

Just this week, Psychiatrist Dr. Julie Holland spoke to Goop about how cannabis can be specifically effective in treating hormonal and emotional issues that are common among women, particularly around their periods.

Do you avoid using the ‘period’ word? Post continues after video.

So where does that leave us in Australia? Is it possible, after all, that medicinal cannabis could reach our own shores to specifically target the kinds of pain reserved for the most dreaded, bed-ridden kinds of periods?

Perhaps.

Dr. Nial Wheate, an Australian pharmaceutical chemist at the University of Sydney, is cautiously optimistic about the potential for medicinal cannabis to be used for women across the country side-lined by troublesome periods.

Firstly, will it work?

The shortest answer Dr. Wheate can give us is that it’s likely medicinal cannabis will be effective in treating period pain.

However, despite its use in the Unites States, statements claiming it is wholly, 100 per cent effective aren’t supported in Australia by a heap of evidence or studies to prove one way or another.

“At the moment, there is no medical evidence, because no-one has done any studies, to uncover how well cannabis can treat period pain and cramps,” Dr. Wheate explains.

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“I think it’s likely that it would be useful because we know it’s very good for chronic pain and we do know it’s useful for muscle cramps. It’s likely to be useful, but there’s no evidence to support it as of yet.”

Can I get my hands on it now?

No, you can’t.

You might have read only a few weeks ago that medicinal cannabis was finally made legal in Australia after years of debate and a massive push from health professionals strident in their belief it can be a saviour for those experiencing chronic pain.

"There's still one hurdle blocking the widespread use of medicinal cannabis in Australia." Image via iStock.

But there's still one hurdle blocking the widespread use of medicinal cannabis in Australia.

"At the moment, any doctor in Australia can prescribe medicinal cannabis, although no-one is currently allowed to provide it," Dr. Wheate explains.

"The only limitation right now is that no-one is allowed to import it or produce it in Australia. As soon as we have someone who is approved by the government to manufacture it and produce it it would become available to all women through that off-label prescribing."

So, what's off-label prescribing?

Glad you asked. Basically, when a drug is approved, it's approved for a certain condition or group of patients. However, doctors can use their expertise to look at your condition, look at the drugs available and say that they'll prescribe you one that isn't designed for that very condition, but that it might work well anyway.

"A doctor can use their own judgement and say, 'Well I know it’s not meant to be for this, but I’m prescribing it for you because I think it can still be useful'. A doctor can still do that, although we are trying to train them to not do that," Dr. Wheate says.

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Assuming the government approves somebody to manufacture medicinal cannabis soon, technically a doctor can prescribe you cannabis for period pain if they have a legitimate belief it will help manage pain.

Women confess their most embarrassing period stories. Post continues after video.

According to Dr. Wheate, women would not need to wait for a clinical trial to prove its usefulness to necessarily get access to it.

"That could be important because I haven’t yet heard of any studies looking into that, so it might be many, many, many years if we’re waiting for a clinical trial to approve that," he says.

However, it's still important to be reminded that although many benefits of medicinal cannabis are known, we haven't totally uncovered its impact and side effects if it is prescribed for period pain.

Would there be any side effects?

Like any drug, there are short-term side effects that come with taking it. According to Dr. Wheate, medicinal cannabis comes with increased heart rate, increased risk of stroke, short-term memory problems and it can bring on anxiety, psychosis and panic.

However, to know the full extent of the side effects, Dr. Wheate believes "we need to look into a lot more than what we are".

"The bigger issue here is that the period pain and the cramps aren’t going to go away with time, so if you’re using medicinal cannabis for pain relief or mood stabilisation, you’re going to be on it for a long time. And there are direct links between cannabis use and mental illness and lots of other chronic problems. I wouldn’t want anyone to use it as a long time solution," he says.

But is it necessary?

It's not as if period pain is a cause that has been ignored for years. Of course, no-one has found a perfect way to cure cramps and pain, but there's no shortage of drugs. Medicinal cannabis is just, Dr. Wheate believes, another option.

"I am all for people having as many options as possible and finding what works best for them. I can see medicinal cannabis playing a much larger role over the coming decade and I would have no problem having it being used to treat things like period pain and cramps," he says.

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