Marijuana is gaining popularity for managing menopausal symptoms, a small study in California found.
Among 231 female veterans based in northern California, 27% reported that they used cannabis to treat symptoms such as night sweats, hot flashes, or insomnia, and an additional 10% were interested in future use, reported Carolyn Gibson, PhD, of the San Francisco VA Health Care System, and colleagues.
Considerably fewer — only 19% — used conventional treatments such as hormone therapy, according to the group’s abstract presented at the North American Menopause Society 2020 virtual meeting.
Gibson said that while she expected to see some women use cannabis to manage their symptoms, she was surprised to see a rate of nearly 30%.
“We know that in general, cannabis is often used for insomnia and anxiety, which may be part of the picture for peri- and postmenopausal women,” Gibson said in an email to MedPage Today. “But whether it is actually helpful or harmful for these and other symptoms is unclear.”
Stephanie Faubion, MD, medical director at NAMS, said it was concerning to see women using cannabis at a higher rate than hormone therapy. She told MedPage Today that menopausal hormone therapy is not only safe, but is the most effective treatment for menopausal symptoms.
“The benefits outweigh the risks for most symptomatic women under the age of 60 and within 10 years of the menopause transition,” she said in an email. “Cannabis, on the other hand, is unproven for menopause symptom management and is associated with multiple potential harms, described elsewhere.”
In this study, Gibson and colleagues used data gathered from March 2019 to May 2020 as part of the Midlife Women Veterans Health Survey, an observational study of female VA patients ages 45-64 in northern California.
Participants, with mean age 56, reported current and previous methods of menopause management, as well as other health information via questionnaires.
More than half of respondents said they had bothersome menopausal symptoms. Around 54% had night sweats and hot flashes, 27% suffered insomnia, and 69% had genitourinary symptoms.
No differences in age, race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status or mental health conditions were seen in those reporting cannabis use versus others.
Past or current cannabis use was more likely to be reported by women who had hot flashes (67% vs. 50%, P=0.03) or night sweats (68% vs. 47%, P<0.01) in the previous two weeks. No differences for other menopause symptoms were observed.
Because this study was conducted in one small region of the United States, results may not be generalizable in a national context, the investigators acknowledged. But Gibson said existing research on use of cannabis to treat other health conditions in the general population suggests that it is relatively mainstream nationally.
Gibson cautioned that, even though cannabis use is becoming more widespread, there are still many unknowns about the potential harms, especially among aging and menopausal women.
“In addition to talking to their peri- and postmenopausal patients about menopause symptoms and traditional treatment options, healthcare providers should consider asking about cannabis use and other approaches that patients may be trying outside of what has been prescribed or recommended,” Gibson said. “Not asking may mean a missed opportunity to discuss risks and understand potential benefits.”
This research was supported in part by VA Health Services Research & Development Career Development Award.
Gibson and colleagues did not disclose any relevant relationships with the industry.