Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common but painful condition. It can be debilitating and cause problems with fertility. Pharmaceutical treatments can have side effects and may not work for everyone. People suffering from PCOS are turning to natural treatments such as cannabidiol (CBD) to ease symptoms and naturally bring pain relief.
CBD And The Endocannabinoid System
A natural assumption is that the word “cannabinoid” is something to do with the cannabis plant. While this is accurate, many people do not understand that all animals, including humans, have a biological link with cannabinoids.
Everyone has an endocannabinoid system, or ECS, whether they use cannabis or not. It’s a cell-signaling system that researchers still do not fully understand. Researchers believe that the ECS acts to regulate homeostasis, which is the natural balance of the body.
Scientists know that the ECS regulates several mental processes including appetite, memory, mood, pain, sleep, reproduction, and fertility.
How Does The ECS Work?
The ECS has three parts: endocannabinoids, endocannabinoid receptors, and enzymes that control the level of these chemical messengers.
Endocannabinoids are similar to the cannabinoid compounds found in the cannabis plant. The difference is that the body makes them internally or endogenously.
Currently, scientists know about two primary endocannabinoids. There is the anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). The body produces them as needed, to keep normal processes maintained within specified limits.
Endocannabinoids activate specialized receptors by binding to them. In response to a stimulus, such as pain, the activated receptor triggers the cell to send a chemical message to the body. Stimuli can upset homeostasis, and so the ECS works to restore the balance.
In the central nervous system, cannabinoid receptor one (CB1) is the primary receptor, although it also exists in other locations in the body. Cannabinoid receptor two (CB2) is associated with the immune system and the peripheral nervous system.
Endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) from the cannabis plant can bind to either CB1 or CB2. What happens in the body depends on the particular endocannabinoid and the location of the receptor.
There are two enzymes in the ECS which break down cannabinoids after they have performed their function. Fatty acid amide hydrolase breaks down AEA, and monoacylglycerol acid lipase breaks down 2-AG.
The Cannabis sativa plant contains a multitude of chemical compounds, including approximately 60 cannabinoids. The most well known are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and cannabidiol, or CBD. THC is a psychoactive compound, whereas CBD is not. This means that it cannot cause a feeling of intoxication or the usual “high” associated with cannabis.
Thanks to the ECS, CBD from the cannabis plant can also bind to cannabinoid receptors and bring about positive changes in the body. There is abundant research supporting its medical benefits for conditions including anxiety disorders, seizure disorders, pain, and inflammation.
How Does The ECS Affect The Female Reproductive System?
Like the ECS, the female reproductive system is complicated. Researchers now believe that the ECS is involved in premenstrual syndrome, period cramps, and menopause. It is also involved in conditions such as endometriosis and PCOS.
Researchers also believe that the ECS and the female reproductive system are closely linked because of high levels of AEA in the uterus. The ECS changes in response to hormone fluctuations and helps to regulate the menstrual cycle and plays a role in fertility. Additionally, researchers believe that the ECS could regulate how the ovarian follicles develop because of the relationship between the ECS and levels of estrogen.
What Is PCOS?
PCOS is a common endocrine issue, affecting the hormone balance of females in their fertile years. It is challenging to know how many women it affects. In some research, up to 69 percent of those affected by PCOS are undiagnosed.
As part of the ovulation process, usually, there is a singular or sometimes two ovarian cysts. However, problems occur when there are several. In people with PCOS, doctors can find several fluid-filled sacs or cysts on the ovaries.
Symptoms vary but can include:
- Enlarged, cyst-covered ovaries that do not release eggs regularly, leading to fertility issues.
- Excessive androgens, or male hormones. In turn, this can cause physical changes such as hirsutism, or excess facial and body hair, acne, dandruff, weight gain, and male-pattern baldness.
- Issues with the menstrual cycle, including irregular and missed periods, abnormally heavy periods, and excessive pain.
Some people with PCOS also report sleeping disorders, fatigue, and headaches. Anxiety and depression are also common PCOS side effects.
What Causes PCOS?
Doctors are not entirely sure why some people develop PCOS. They do know that it is a condition driven by imbalances in reproductive and metabolic hormones. Hormone systems have complex feedback loops to keep them balanced. Even small shifts can produce significant side effects.
Factors associated with PCOS could include:
- Family links: Some research suggests that PCOS could be due to genetics.
- Inflammation: The body fights infection with substances that the white blood cells produce, which, in turn, can cause inflammation. People with PCOS often have inflammation, which research associates with higher levels of androgens.
- Insulin resistance: Cells need the hormone insulin to use sugar from food as energy. Up to 70 percent of women with PCOS cannot respond to insulin properly. This condition is known as insulin resistance.
- Obesity: Obesity is linked to PCOS and can worsen the symptoms. Obesity is often associated with insulin resistance, too.
Can CBD Treat PCOS Naturally?
Research has not identified a drug or treatment that can cure PCOS yet. Doctors can prescribe medications to decrease or eliminate the symptoms, and using CBD might be a beneficial option.
“Because PCOS is a syndrome, or a collection of symptoms that occur simultaneously, the systemic effects of CBD can provide relief for various symptoms associated with this diagnosis.”
CBD Has Anti-Inflammatory And Pain-Relieving Effects
Dr. Bell-Biggins explains that:
Some symptoms of PCOS, including pelvic pain, sleep disorders, fatigue, and mood disorders, can be helped with the use of CBD. The anti-inflammatory effects achieved by stimulation of the endocannabinoid system with cannabidiol can provide additional relief for the PCOS patient.
Research confirms that there is evidence to support the use of cannabinoids for chronic pain and for PCOS pain relief.
CBD Could Balance Insulin
There is a correlation between insulin imbalance and PCOS. Dr. Bell-Biggins points out that yet another symptom of PCOS, hyperinsulinemia, or high insulin levels in the blood, can also be helped with CBD. Studies show that CBD use can lower insulin resistance due to its modulation of the CB1 receptors.
Researchers looked at data from an extensive study of 4,657 people who use marijuana and have diabetes or prediabetes. There was a 16 percent lower insulin resistance in regular marijuana users, probably due to how CBD modulates CB1 receptors.
In animal models, blocking CB1 receptors improves insulin sensitivity, suggesting that the ECS is essential to how insulin works in the body.
CBD Could Help Tackle Obesity
Obesity is associated with PCOS. Symptoms such as fatigue and issues with sleep can lead to low levels of physical exercise during waking hours. Problems with insulin resistance and diabetes can also contribute to weight gain.
CBD could potentially help with weight loss through two major mechanisms:
- Appetite reduction, which leads to lower calorie intake.
- Enhanced insulin resistance, which improves blood sugar regulation.
CBD Could Ease Anxiety
PCOS can cause anxiety due in part to pain or other physical symptoms it can cause or because of an increase in stress hormones like cortisol.
Gamma Butyric Acid or GABA is a neurotransmitter in the brain. It acts as an inhibitory chemical in the nervous system, slowing down or blocking neuron activity. The opposite is true of glutamate, which is an excitatory neurotransmitter.
A healthy brain has a balance of these chemicals. High GABA is calming, and high glutamate is stimulating.
Stress leads to loss of GABA, which increases anxiety. CBD can help reduce anxiety by interacting with GABA receptors in the brain, which is how anti-anxiety drugs such as benzodiazepines work.
The take-home message from Dr. Bell-Biggins is that, “Overall, CBD can be an effective option to address a variety of symptoms for those who suffer with PCOS.”
You can find CBD products in various forms, including CBD oil, topicals, edibles, and capsules. This allows you to choose the form of CBD that’s right for your body and your lifestyle.
Zia Sherrell is a digital health journalist and content creator with over a decade of healthcare experience and a Master’s Degree in Public Health. She covers diverse topics from public health to medical cannabis, nutrition, and biomedical science. Her mission is to empower and educate people by bringing health matters to life with engaging, evidence-based writing. When she’s not typing madly, Zia enjoys traveling and chasing after her dogs. You can find her writing on Premium Health Content.
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