Could Cannabis Be the Answer to Endometriosis Pain? Here's What You Need to Know

What Lena Dunham sought out earlier this week at a West Hollywood medicinal marijuana dispensary is anyone’s guess. But the visit, a month after she bravely chronicled her decadelong endometriosis battle in Vogue, could be an inadvertent reminder of cannabis’s increasing role in managing the chronic pain her condition causes. Dunham’s inflammatory disease affects one in 10 women worldwide, yet a definitive diagnosis and treatment plan can be frustratingly elusive, prompting women to proactively seek out alternative therapies such as cannabis. To resolve her endometriosis, Dunham was open about undergoing eight failed medical procedures and tried to manage her pain through acupuncture, yoga, and even what she called “a brief yet horrifying foray into vaginal massage.” Last year, she underwent a hysterectomy, and yet, as Dunham writes in her poignant essay, the pain associated with endometriosis can still persist. “I know,” Dunham concedes of her surgery, “that it’s not a guarantee that this pain will disappear.”

In addition to legalization, and as awareness about endometriosis grows, more women are seeking promising new therapies for their pain and the medical community is responding to their call. About 29 states and Washington, D.C. have some state-regulated medical marijuana program and eight states now have recreational marijuana laws, yet the federal government still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug. The stamp that ranks it alongside heroin, surpassing the dangers of cocaine and crystal methamphetamine, also limits researchers’ abilities to study the drug for medical purposes, meaning peer-reviewed studies are few and far between. Still, the drug’s effect on chronic pain—endometriosis’s most debilitating characteristic—tops the short list. UCSF professor of clinical medicine Dr. Donald Abrams led an influential 2011 study on the pain-reducing effects of cannabinoids, the principle chemical compounds that naturally occur in medical marijuana. His findings confirmed that cannabis can dramatically reduce pain

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