Despite its self-reported effectiveness, women using cannabis for period pain are discouraged by the cost, judgement by peers and the risk of losing their driving licence, a medical cannabis conference has been told.

Speaking at the Australian Symposium of Medical Cannabis, NICM research fellow Justin Sinclair told delegates a survey of 371 women suffering from endometriosis found 13 per cent (48) used illegal cannabis to manage their symptoms.

Endometriosis is caused by tissue similar to the lining of the uterus growing outside of the uterine cavity, causing severe discomfort in sufferers.

Among the cannabis user group, it was ranked as giving the highest pain relief at 7.6 out of 10, compared to 14 other self-management strategies assessed.

Some 60 per cent said it reduced anxiety and nausea, 68 per cent said it helped with depression, 83 per cent reported improved sleep and 56 per cent said they reduced their pharmaceutical usage by more than half as a result of its effectiveness.

Only 10.2% reported negative side effects including drowsiness, anxiety and increased heart rate.

“One of the key points raised by women when asked about using cannabis is the stigma still attached to it, particularly for certain family members. Judgement by medical professionals was another point identified by the survey group.”

Despite the effectiveness of the treatment, users remained fearful of judgement by their family or doctor and worried they would lose their driving licence if stopped by the police. They also paid significantly more than they would for Government-approved medicines recommended for managing endometriosis at an average spend of A$100 per month.

Sinclair said the average for legal cannabis for pain conditions ranges from $200 to $350 per month: “So in a population already negatively impacted across domains such as work and finances, this could still be a potentially very significant obstacle to access.”

On top of the cost, stigma remained a key barrier to preventing women from using cannabis.

“One of the key points raised by women when asked about using cannabis is the stigma still attached to it, particularly for certain family members. Judgement by medical professionals was another point identified by the survey group.”

But despite the most commonly raised issue being the fear of a drug-driving conviction, Sinclair said the majority were willing to try an illegal cannabis product for their period pain knowing that under current laws they could potentially lose their licence.

Noting that 50 per cent of survey respondents reported smoking as the most common form of dosage, he said: “That’s definitely something we want to move women away from by bringing them under the legally prescribed cannabis products, which are standardized and have good quality assurance.”

While acknowledging the relatively small size of the cannabis-using cohort and the fact they were self-reporting, Sinclair said a New Zealand survey currently under peer review had resulted in very similar findings.

Of 2,125 women surveyed over three months, 213 (10 per cent) identified as using cannabis for endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Of those, 95 per cent used it to help with pain relief and sleep, 80 per cent reported an improved ability to cope and 78 per cent said it reduced nausea and vomiting.

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