Marijuana Side Effects: Women’s Hormones and Birth Control

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Woman Holding Birth Control Pills
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The federal government’s prohibition on marijuana poses a wide range of problems. From the injustices of cannabis incarceration (especially for POC) to the restriction of medical relief for patients to the growth of an illegal drug market that benefits drug cartels, organized crime, and gangs, national marijuana laws are understatedly problematic.

Another serious issue with marijuana’s illegality is the consequential lack of research that gets done on the plant. While broad-based topics such as “marijuana and substance abuse” can be found within several studies, it is the specific questions that leave much to the imagination.

Are there any marijuana side effects that 12affect a woman’s hormones and birth control?

Maybe with federal funding, we could find out.

The Facts

So far, here’s what we know:

Some birth control leads to increased cardiovascular risk. There are several forms of contraception. With a doctor’s prescription, choices are available based on the patient’s needs. When considering cardiovascular risk, there are two categories: birth control that either does or does not contain estrogen. Estrogen is a hormone responsible for both the regulation and development of the female reproductive system, as well as secondary sex traits. While hormonal birth control is a good fit for some people, it can be problematic for others. The FDA states that certain kinds of hormonal birth control, such as NuvaRing, lead to a 56 percent increase for blood clot risk; the percentage climbs even higher if smoking is involved.

Cigarettes and some types of birth control do not mix. While it is understood that tobacco and cannabis have several differences, a parallel can be a useful tool. One significant similarity between tobacco and marijuana to keep in mind is that both elevate blood pressure.

Hormonal birth control, when combined with tobacco, is a bad combination. If birth control does not contain estrogen (methods include IUDs, the shot, the implant, and progestin-only mini-pills), smoking will not increase the risk of birth-control-related health complications. However, it is good to know that smoking while using estrogen-containing birth control (most birth control pills, the patch, the ring) can increase the chances of blood clots or stroke, especially over the age of 35.

It is best to discuss birth control options with a doctor to properly assess the risks and benefits of different forms of contraception.

Cannabis can help with symptoms of certain hormonal birth control. An increase in estrogen and progesterone can lead to very specific symptoms, and women have turned to cannabis as a source of relief.

Hormonal Relief

While research is lacking in several areas, there is evidence to suggest that marijuana can help women suffering from birth-control-caused endocannabinoid deficiency.

Hormonal birth control, like all forms of contraceptives, works to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Hormones can include progesterone or a combination of progesterone and estrogen (as discussed above), which ultimately suppress ovulation (by reducing the release of female eggs) or prevent sperm from reaching the egg (often through thickening the cervical mucus). A common symptom of hormonal birth control is endocannabinoid deficiency.

The endocannabinoid system is the body’s way of regulating several physiological and cognitive processes, including fertility, pregnancy, mood, appetite, and memory. A 2007 report on the NCBI states that the endocannabinoid system “appears to play a very important regulatory role in the secretion of hormones related to reproductive functions and response to stress.”

When hormonal birth control leads to a deficiency within the endocannabinoid system, the results can get uncomfortable for women. Symptoms can include depressive mood swings, increased anxiety, headaches, increased pain sensitivity, decreased sex drive, and nausea.

Women have turned to marijuana as a form of therapy to address their endocannabinoid deficiency. Weed is full of chemicals called cannabinoids, including THC, which has psychoactive healing properties of its own. Overall, cannabis can help the hormonal pill be more bearable.

In the News

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Photo by: Chinnapong/Shutterstock
It seems like smoking and birth control may not be the only risk facing hormonal birth control users.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine released some alarming news for women: there is evidence to support a link between hormonal contraception and a risk of breast cancer. The New York Times reported that 1.8 million Danish women were studied over the course of a decade, leading to a significant figure: it is estimated that for every 100,000 women, hormonal birth control users have 68 cases of breast cancer per year, whereas nonusers have 55 cases annually.

The study followed women using hormonal birth control (typically a combination of estrogen and progestin pills, patches, and rings) as well as women who used the non-hormonal alternatives, including condoms, IUDs, and diaphragms.

Age, as well as exercise, alcohol consumption, and breastfeeding are all important factors. Both The New York Times and NPR wrote that the risk for breast cancer increases with age, and that it is very rare in the age group studied.

“The absolute increase in risk is 13 per 100,000 women overall, but only 2 per 100,000 women younger than 35 years of age,” David Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, wrote in an accompaniment to the study.

Help Us Out

The best advice is to use caution. Consult a doctor with any concerns, and do not be afraid to ask about the hard-hitting questions. Is using hormonal birth control safe for you? Is cannabis consumption while on the pill a good choice?

The bottom line, despite the uncertainty surrounding cannabis, contraception, and women’s health, is very clear: the answers we are looking for deserve funding, and soon.

Article by: Savannah Nelson