For most women, the pain associated with their menstrual cycle is manageable: Take a Midol or an Advil and get on with your day. But for roughly 20 percent of women, according to the American Family Physician, the pain is severe — so severe, in fact, that it prevents women from going about their daily lives and can relegate them to days at a time in bed. Pain of this level goes by the name dysmenorrhea, and it’s chronic.
When it comes to treatment, the options are fairly limited: oral contraceptives, over-the-counter pain relievers, dietary changes, and hot baths. But for pain that is often described as debilitating, that is not even close to enough. “Perhaps unsurprisingly, modern medicine has not advanced much beyond the creation of Midol in the early 1900s,” New York State Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, who drew attention by helping pass anti-tampon-tax legislation, tells Yahoo Beauty. “Though women may be prescribed the birth control pill or opioids to help control or ease the pain associated with dysmenorrhea, these are not alternatives for everyone.”
But a new treatment — and relief — may be on the horizon, at least for women in New York. In late May, the New York Assembly’s Health Committee passed an initiative — championed and written by Rosenthal — that would add dysmenorrhea to the list of conditions that can be legally treated with marijuana use.
Studies have shown that marijuana has positive effects in treating and managing chronic pain, and many women who already use medical marijuana to treat period cramps have reported relief. While there are still many steps necessary to turn this initiative into law — including approval from the New York State Senate and Gov. Andrew Cuomo — the committee’s vote of 21-2 might be a good omen.
At present, medical marijuana is legal in New York, but only to treat a very narrow set of health conditions considered to be “severe, debilitating, or life-threatening.” Those include cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury with spasticity, epilepsy, Huntington’s disease, neuropathy, and inflammatory bowel disease. In no states is dysmenorrhea on that list.
As for actually using marijuana to treat period pain, that is already a well-established remedy, and there’s even a growing market around treatment products. The treatment has even been championed by celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg, who, along with marijuana entrepreneur Maya Elisabeth, has her own line of cannabis products — Whoopi & Maya — targeted exclusively toward helping women manage menstrual pain. The line includes topical ointments and bath soaks — a much gentler alternative to the opioids that are often prescribed.
“For far too long, policies that affect women’s lives have been written by men who have little knowledge or understanding of our health, our bodies, or our lives,” Rosenthal tells Yahoo Beauty of why legalizing medical marijuana for dysmenorrhea is important to her. “None of us should abide it any longer. We women have a responsibility to each other to stand up and speak out and make positive change where we can. I take my responsibility seriously.”
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