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Using cannabis for menopause symptom management is common, at least in a sample of midlife women veterans from across California.
The study, which was presented at the 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), found that among 231 women with a mean age of 55.95 years, 27% reported that they currently or previously used cannabis for managing menopause symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, and genitourinary symptoms.
An additional 10% of participants expressed interest in using cannabis in the future to manage their menopause symptoms.
Principal investigator Carolyn Gibson, PhD, MPH, a psychologist and health services researcher at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care System, said, “These findings come from a larger study I conducted to examine the experience of menopause and menopause-related care among midlife and older women veterans, which is an understudied population that comprises over half of the women we serve in the VA.”
Dr. Gibson was inspired to add questions about cannabis use for menopause symptom management because, over the past several years, popular press articles about its use started appearing regularly in her newsfeed.
“It seems apparent that as cannabis use becomes increasingly mainstream, a growing number of midlife and older women are interested in or using cannabis to help manage menopause symptoms,” Dr. Gibson said. “However, we had no data on actual numbers, or if use is helping or harming women.”
Cross-sectional data were gleaned from the Midlife Women Veterans Health Survey, which was an observational study of women veterans, aged 45 to 64, who were enrolled in VA health care across Northern California. Data were collected between March 2019 and May 2020.
Cannabis use was more frequently reported among women reporting hot flashes (67% vs. 50% for non-users; P = 0.03) and night sweats (68% vs. 47%; P < 0 .01) in the past two weeks.
But there were no differences observed for other menopause symptoms between the two groups.
“I was expecting some women to report cannabis use for menopause symptom management, but was a little surprised to see a rate approaching 30%,” Dr. Gibson said. “This is in comparison to 19% of women in the sample who reported menopausal hormone therapy use.”
Dr. Gibson also expected to find some differences, such as cannabis use for menopause symptoms being more common among women who were younger or less engaged in VA care, but this was not the case.
The study did not address frequency of use and/or potency of the cannabis.
“Patients may not always disclose cannabis use, especially in the VA health care system, where cannabis is considered illegal under federal guidelines, regardless of state laws,” Dr. Gibson said. “Nonetheless, providers should be aware that their perimenopausal and postmenopausal patients may be using cannabis to manage their menopause symptoms.”
There is much to be learned about the potential benefits and harms of cannabis use, particularly related to menopause and aging, she said. “However, existing evidence raises concerns about its impact on cognition, cardiovascular health and mental health,” she said.
Future areas of research include who is using cannabis for menopause symptom management, what type of cannabis products they are using, what symptoms they are targeting and whether cannabis is actually effective.
“We also need to know whether our numbers would look the same outside of Northern California, and how typical patterns of use impact health and functioning among perimenopausal and postmenopausal women,” Dr. Gibson said.
Dr. Gibson reports no relevant financial disclosures.