I was 11 years old when I got my first period. This new discovery was more a source of confusion than anything else; I truly had no idea what was going on for about 2 days. But once I clued in my mom and she explained what was happening, I was elated to be entering into womanhood!
And then came the cramps.
The best way for me to describe my period pain is this: overwhelming muscle aches that roll and pound one after the other like earthquakes inside my belly and pelvis. No one had ever told me about cramps and as a kid who didn’t understand her body on a normal day, at best I’d simply ask my mom for a Tylenol and otherwise suffer quietly. Onward I went for a few years before eventually adopting ibuprofen as my pain relief of choice, but I had to do a lot of juggling. Prior to taking an Advil I had to power through the nausea to eat something before the pain was too intense or I wouldn’t be able to keep anything down, including the very pain pill meant to help me. I had to be proactive and plan ahead (a lot to ask my teenage self) so as not to be in a bad spot in class or on the bus ride home. On the really bad days I’d stay home from school and tuck into the fetal position on the bathroom floor, my sanctuary during the cold sweats. But on a good day when I’d successfully taken the ibuprofen, I had relief…for exactly 4 hours. Then the process started all over again.
In college I got on birth control pills specifically to regulate my period, giving me the ability to know when it was to start each month and therefore to prepare for the pain in advance. But for the nearly 15 years I used the Pill, I had to change brands from time to time in order to combat the havoc they wreaked on my emotions, weight and complexion. I gave them up in 2009 because I wanted to pursue a more holistic lifestyle, yet ibuprofen remained my only reliable source of pain relief.
At this point I’d indulged in cannabis recreationally on occasion, but I didn’t explore it holistically until 5 years ago when I found that it reduced stress and helped me sleep better. By its very nature cannabis encourages experimentation – I noted the ways in which different strains affected me, and eventually I moved beyond flowers to try topicals, tinctures and edibles to see their effects. About a year ago, I came across a brief article in a circular distributed by Oakland’s Harborside dispensary explaining the anti-inflammatory aspects of cannabis infused chocolates. I bought a pack that day.
Over the last year I’ve developed a wellness regime around my period that, while constantly evolving, has been able to provide me with the most convenient, consistent and holistic relief against cramps in 3 decades. Here’s how cannabis helps me:
- Reliable pain reduction. When I eat an edible before things get too uncomfortable, the pain is there but pushed to the background. I may not feel 100% but I am able to sit up, work on my laptop, and otherwise function.
- No more nausea. If I’m feeling queasy, ingestion by smoking or vaping helps reduce the likelihood of vomiting.
- Versatility and convenience. When I smoke the effects kick in immediately, when I take an edible I know it’ll work within 30-45 minutes, I don’t need a full stomach to do either, and I can do both together safely at home without fear of overdosing. Best of all, I can try different strains or ingestibles anytime without upsetting my hormones.
- I can sleep. If I take over-the-counter pain relief before bedtime, I can only count on about 4-6 hours of relief which inevitably means the pain will wake me up in the wee hours in the morning. The effects of edibles last longer than ibuprofen and relax my entire body, making it possible for me to get drowsy, fall asleep and stay asleep throughout much of the night.
Our culture has a visible discomfort with the topic of menstruation, and a result women who experience period pain likely don’t talk about it. Plus, based upon my own experience medical providers really don’t offer reliable long-term solutions for this issue. But as disturbing as it is to consider that a biological function puts some of us in debilitating pain every month for literally decades, I’m grateful my access to cannabis and for the control it affords me over my personal care and wellbeing.