Highs and Lows: Hormones and Cannabis

How getting high affects your hormones… and how your hormones affect your high.

Words: Annie Brookstone
Image: Larry Carlson

There are things you learn in a body that experiences regular menstrual cycles. When to stock up on chocolate, when to avoid sad movies, when to resist the urge to text your ex (even if your ovaries are making a passionate plea for stupidity), when to be extra sure your canna-stash is not running low… Whether you’re clinging on for dear life during the weepy-furious–hungry–exhausted-weepy-again thrill ride of PMS or surfing the jubilant good-skin, good-boobs, flirting-game-on-point flush of ovulation, female sex hormones are one hell of a drug.

“Hold up, the drug I came here to read about is weed.”

Yeah, we’re getting there. See – and most people reading this will likely be sagely nodding their heads in agreement – cannabis, too, is a hell of a drug, and there are things you learn as a habitual user. The right strains for falling asleep and the right ones for waking up; how to dose your edibles (in a word: cautiously); if you’re my ex-girlfriend, how to roll a perfect joint in gale force winds… The thing most of us haven’t learnt is exactly how that drug, cannabis, reacts with the chemicals in our own bodies. As with any other time chemicals are mixed together, add cannabinoids to a system already swirling with hormones – chemical messengers themselves – and interactions can and do occur. 

For people with ovaries specifically – and especially those who are not on any form of hormonal birth control or other synthetic hormones that moderate monthly surges and dips – your hormone levels will plummet, peak and plummet again throughout the month as your cycle progresses. An actual fucking roller coaster. During a single cycle, half a joint may knock you on your ass one week and the next you’ll be contemplating drinking bong water just to get a buzz (please don’t). Variable experiences can but don’t necessarily mean you’re dosing your cannabis wrong – it’s likely your body’s own oestrogen dose that has fluctuated.

Here’s what you probably already know about oestrogen: oestrogen, the dominant female sex hormone, peaks just before ovulation and then begins to drop again shortly after, gently rising, and then dropping even further to reach its lowest levels during your period. Here’s what you might not know about oestrogen: your oestrogen levels are directly linked to your weed tolerance. This is because oestrogen helps break down THC, the main psychoactive component in cannabis, into an even more potent and readily absorbable compound. The higher your oestrogen levels, the more efficiently you break down THC, and the higher your, well, high.

THC isn’t the only cannabinoid that oestrogen affects either. Anandamide, also known as the ‘bliss molecule’ (its name comes from the Sanskrit word ‘ananda’ meaning ‘joy, bliss or delight”), is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter of the body’s endocannabinoid system, and yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds. Also found in chocolate (because obviously), anandamide, which reduces anxiety and depression and promotes feelings of euphoria, is broken down by an enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). Oestrogen acts to block the action of FAAH, meaning calming anandamide gets to hang out longer in your system. 

All well and good until your oestrogen levels take the plunge before your period and PMS strikes. Your natural feel-good chemicals are at a low, THC isn’t slapping like it did two weeks ago and your mood is all over the place. This is when CBD gets to take centre-stage. CBD, second-most prevalent of marijuana’s myriad cannabinoids, mimics oestrogen in the sense that it also blocks FAAH and allows anandamide to do its soothing thing. While THC may not feel as effective or, when it is, can even exacerbate the anxiety associated with PMS and your period, CBD will take your head to its warm bosom, gently stroke your hair and reassure you that everything will be okay. Adding or increasing CBD-dominant products during this time can help reduce most of the more unpleasant symptoms you might experience.

Interestingly, it’s not just your hormone levels affecting how much of your stash you might need to burn through. Cannabis use can influence your hormones right back. Progesterone peaks in the second half of the cycle, and as it turns out, the higher your levels of this particular hormone, the more kak your PMS symptoms. However, there’s good news too… if you’re a stoner. Some studies have shown that cannabis can modulate progesterone levels during this time, levelling out the effects of the hormone for a PMS experience that’s more mild spin on the teacups and less riding the Cobra until you throw up. And with more and more cannabis products being developed specifically to ease hormonal symptoms, you don’t even have to spark up anymore to bliss out.

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