At some point over the last few years, you have probably heard about CBD – for managing stress/anxiety, reducing pain, all without the high. CBD is literally taking the country by storm, and what you might not know is that it can also be good for the pelvic floor! As CBDs benefits are becoming more understood and researched, it is becoming less “taboo” and people are loving the non-high effects on stress and pain. Let’s dive into the science of CBD and how it can affect pelvic floor dysfunction, pelvic pain, and menstrual cramps!
WHAT IS CBD?
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the second-most active ingredient in cannabis (marijuana), with the first being THC. THC is the compound in cannabis that causes the “high” you have heard about or even experienced. CBD doesn’t contain THC, which means that you can use it for its other medicinal purposes, such as pain-relief, without the mind-altering effect. CBD can also be derived from the hemp plant - a cousin to the cannabis plant that does not contain any THC. CBD works by attaching to the cannabinoid receptors in the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) – this is a natural biological system found in mammals. The ECS works to maintain homeostasis (balance) in our bodies by regulating temperature, mood, appetite, energy levels, blood pressure, sleep, and more. Because CBD attaches to these receptors, it can help our bodies achieve homeostasis when there is an imbalance. Many common medications work this way too – they “mimic” the naturally produced cells in our bodies to promote well-being or positive changes. The difference is that common medications are synthetically produced in a lab and CBD is produced by a natural extraction process.
PAIN RELIEF: CBD PRODUCTS VS OTC MEDICATION
Research suggests that CBD can affect various inflammatory and pain-sensing systems in the body. Our body contains endocannabinoid receptors because, guess what? Our body produces our own naturally occurring cannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system regulates the following functions in our body: metabolism and appetite, mood and anxiety, and pain perception. OTC pain medication alleviates inflammation and pain, however through a completely different process.
Ibuprofen, for example, addresses the symptoms of pain by decreasing the body’s natural prostaglandin hormones – aka inflammation hormones – but doesn’t alleviate the cause of the inflammation. CBD is thought to work with the body’s natural systems to help bring it back to homeostasis to alleviate the underlying condition that is causing your pain. CBD has also been studied for its effects on decreasing muscle spasms, which means that it can provide even more relief to people with pelvic floor dysfunction than regular OTC medication.
ARE THERE RISKS TO USING CBD?
CBD is constantly being researched and our understanding of its many uses is evolving. Right now, we know that CBD does have some potential side effects such as nausea, fatigue, and irritability. Additionally, Cannabis-derived products can interact with certain medications, so make sure to check with your healthcare provider before adding anything to your routine. The largest concern is that CBD isn’t currently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that you can’t be sure that any CBD product you purchase has the ingredients it claims to have or not have. This makes it extremely important to conduct your own research on brands of CBD and make an informed decision before buying!
SO, WHAT PELVIC FLOOR CONDITIONS DOES CBD HELP?
CBD can offer relief for any type of chronic pain condition. In those with pelvic floor complaints this means it can help manage endometriosis, vaginismus, vulvodynia, interstitial cystitis, among others. CBD comes in many ways to be consumed – suppositories for pain, lubes, topical creams, oil, tinctures, serums. Using a topical form (creams, oils, serums) can manage more chronic conditions; a vaginal/anal suppository or a lube might be more beneficial for those who have painful sex as the CBD will target the most sensitive pelvic floor muscles. A tincture will allow CBD to enter the bloodstream directly.
All the brands have oils/lubes/serums that help the pelvic floor muscles and tissues relax and provide lubrication for sex. Foria and Pacific Roots additionally have suppositories. Not all topicals are compatible with latex condoms or silicone sex toys, so do your homework prior!
CBD may be helpful in reducing your chronic pelvic pain as well as acute pain with penetrative sex. If you have been thinking about using CBD to help manage your symptoms, look through the literature below, have a discussion with your physician, and purchase a high-quality product. How to know if a product is high-quality?
1) Do you know how much CBD is in the product? The best products are clear and explicit about CBD concentration – don’t only look for the amount of liquid in the product, but also look for the Certificate of Analysis that will prove how much is in the bottle.
2) Less is More regarding ingredients. You don’t need additional elements, flavorings, or fillers. CBD extract and carrier oil – it’s all you need!
3) More is more regarding cannabinoids. There are over 140 cannabinoids that occur naturally in the cannabis plant, not just CBD. There are benefits from consuming multiple cannabinoids versus just one – this means that CBD can be more effective when consumed with others. A CBD product that contains multiple cannabinoids is considered full-spectrum or whole-plant. CBD only products are called isolates.
4) Not all CBD is created equal. The best way for you to know if you are getting a quality product is to buy organic, locally domestic grown CBD where you know there is less contamination, as opposed to foreign grown CBD plants that aren’t regulated in the same way.
5) Contamination is a “thing”. You should make sure that the CBD you purchase has been tested for everything. Clearly stated on a company’s website should be the following contamination tests: Pesticides, Insecticides and Fertilizers; Chemical Solvents; Microbials like Salmonella and E coli; Heavy Metals. USDA Certified Organic hemp has already been through soil and water testing and must be completely clean to pass.
Grinspoon, P. (2021, September 24). Cannabidiol (CBD): What we know and what we don’t. Harvard Health. Retrieved October 20, 2023, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476
Martinez Naya N, Kelly J, Corna G, Golino M, Abbate A, Toldo S. Molecular and Cellular Mechanisms of Action of Cannabidiol. Molecules. 2023; 28(16):5980. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules28165980
Vučković, S., Srebro, D., Vujović, K. S., Vučetić, Č., & Prostran, M. (2018). Cannabinoids and Pain: New Insights From Old Molecules. Frontiers in pharmacology, 9, 1259.