Welcome to our new series dedicated to exploring the intersection of menopause and cannabis. In today’s episode, we kick off the conversation by delving into the complexities of menopause, debunking myths, and shedding some much deserved light on this significant life transition that is often only spoken about in whispers. We’ll hear expert insights into perimenopause and menopause, and personal stories from women who are finding relief with cannabis. Over the next few episodes, we’ll continue to unravel the mysteries of menopause and its relationship with cannabis, so stay tuned!
Ellen Scanlon (00:00):
This podcast discusses cannabis and is intended for audiences 21 and over.
Carrie Mapes (00:06):
If you do get to a place where you feel good, this is an amazing time of life. It really is. I mean, the wisdom that you have, your outlook changes, your energy level can change. You might have a little more time for the things that you like to do, and you also have changes of interests, and it’s just a reawakening, this time period, but you’ve got to take care of your body, mind, and soul.
Ellen Scanlon (00:32):
Welcome to How to Do the Pod, a podcast helping you feel confident about cannabis. I’m your host, Ellen Scanlon.
You just heard from California-based Carrie Mapes, the co-founder of cannabis brand Hello Again. This is the first episode in our new series all about menopause. I chose to start the show with Carrie’s quote because if menopause is talked about at all, it’s often been in a whisper. Carrie’s description is not how a lot of women think about entering this phase of their life. I hope this series can offer a new perspective.
A few months ago, I came across a New York Times magazine article called Women Have Been Misled about Menopause. After reading it, I was stunned by how little I knew about something that’s going to happen to every single woman. I’m in my 40s. How is it that I’ve never had a conversation with a doctor about these important health issues?
So I started seeking out menopause experts, and as I learned more, I found myself texting articles and videos to friends, bringing menopause up with women whenever I can. It’s not because I want to make anyone uncomfortable, it’s because many women may already be experiencing symptoms of menopause without even knowing it. If you are older than your late 30s and having issues with sleep, sex or weight gain, that feels new or unusual for you, it could be related to your hormones.
Menopause is not just the stereotypical hot flashes. There are over 30 different symptoms, and menopause affects every woman differently. The good news is that menopause is having a moment. Recently, there’s been a lot more attention paid to it, more press about it. Celebrities like Oprah and Michelle Obama are sharing their stories publicly. Doctors are being asked about it and investment dollars are funding menopause startups. And as safe legal cannabis is becoming more accessible, data is showing that one in four women are trying cannabis as a treatment for symptoms of menopause. Often, these women are visiting dispensaries maybe for the first time, then experimenting on their own or without a lot of help.
Good information about menopause can be hard to find. High quality research about cannabis is in its early stages. My goal with this series is to share with you what experts do know about cannabis and menopause, and to give you the practical information that can help you feel your best. In today’s show, we’ll cover what menopause is and how to prepare yourself for its symptoms. We’ll hear from women who have been through menopause who offer tips about what they wish they had known a lot earlier, and I’ll share resources for how to find a doctor with expertise in menopause.
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Dr. Lauren Streicher is a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She’s an MD, a menopause expert, and a strong advocate for women’s health. I discovered her excellent podcast, Dr. Streicher’s Inside Information, because she has an episode about cannabis and menopause. Dr. Streicher got curious about cannabis when she realized how many of her patients were trying it and finding relief for their menopause symptoms. Talking with her has given me a lot of hope for women entering this phase of life. Something she likes to say inspired this series, “When women have good information, they make good choices.” I asked Dr. Streicher to talk about what menopause is and to explain a word you might not be familiar with yet, perimenopause.
Dr. Lauren Streicher (06:00):
When people think about perimenopause or even menopause, which is when your ovaries are completely done making estrogen, they think of grandma. They think of someone who’s 60 years old, 70 years old. So when women come to me in their earlier mid-40s and give me the classic symptoms of perimenopause, missing periods, maybe not sleeping well, hot flashes, maybe a little vaginal dryness, and I’ll say, “This could be perimenopause,” and they’re like, “Oh, no. Oh no, that’s impossible. I’m only 46.” And when I say, “Actually, you’re right in there,” they are shocked. So the only thing that’s predictable about perimenopause is that it’s unpredictable, and the big surprise for a lot of women is how soon it can hit. So perimenopause is when your estrogen levels are unpredictably up and down, and menopause is when your ovaries are out of business. And that can sometimes happen for some women surgically if their ovaries are removed. It can happen as a consequence of cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation or surgery. And then, of course, it can happen spontaneously, naturally.
Ellen Scanlon (07:13):
If you take one thing away from this series, let it be that perimenopause can start at a much younger age than you might expect, and perimenopause can last a long time.
Dr. Lauren Streicher (07:26):
Perimenopause is all over the map. Some women, it’s honestly not even something they notice. They’re menstruating regularly and then they stop getting a period and that’s it, they’re never buying another tampon again. And other women, it can go on for four, five, six, seven years. It is unpredictable. But strictly speaking, the medical definition is when you’ve no longer had a period for 12 months, then you are officially post-menopause. But that definition is highly problematic. And the reason is because almost half the women in our country no longer get regular menstrual periods, even if they’re making estrogen, maybe because they’ve had a hysterectomy or they’ve had a uterine ablation procedure or they’re using an IUD that causes their periods to stop. They’re not in menopause, they’re still making estrogen, but they’re not getting periods.
Menopause is until you die because by definition, if menopause is that your ovaries are no longer making estrogen, it’s not as if they’re going to start making estrogen. But what happens is a lot of women will say things like, “I’m through with menopause.” And what they’re really saying is that they are no longer having symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes or insomnia. But it’s important to know that the repercussions of no longer making estrogen are lifelong because we know that you have estrogen receptors in every single organ in your body, in your bone, in your brains, in your vaginal tissues.
Ellen Scanlon (08:58):
Menopause symptoms can vary widely and it is going to affect every single woman. So how can we prepare ourselves? Dr. Streicher explains why having good information early matters.
Dr. Lauren Streicher (09:13):
Women are desperate for good information and they’re listening. So start to get good information before you have the symptoms and then find a menopause expert who can really do the deep dive and figure out not only why you’re having symptoms, but what you can do about it. Anyone that says to you, “Oh, this is no big deal, just tough it out. Dress in layers. Get a fan,” don’t walk away from that person, run away from that person.
Ellen Scanlon (09:41):
What is Dr. Streicher’s advice if you’re starting to feel symptoms?
Dr. Lauren Streicher (09:47):
Your experience is always real. It is real to you. It has an impact, it makes a difference. The challenge is determining what has caused you to have that experience because you can’t begin to solve what the issues are unless you know what’s caused them. And that’s challenging because, is it midlife, is it menopause, or is it all of the above? And in most cases, quite frankly, it is more than one thing. And then the challenge is, okay, well what do you fix first?
As an example, if a woman comes to me and says, “I have no libido. I have zero interest in sex. I would really, really, really like to have one of those drugs that is FDA approved to help with libido.” But then if I find out that she has pain with sex, no amount of drug is going to help her libido. If I find out that she hasn’t gotten a decent night’s sleep in a month, that’s not going to help her libido. So my approach is to say, “Number one, we get rid of the pain. No pain is acceptable. And number two, we get you a decent night’s sleep and then we’ll see how your libido is.” And more times than not, her libido’s just fine. So we all fall into the trap of treating the symptom that might be at the top of someone’s mind, but you sometimes have to go a few layers down to find out what caused that symptom, and then that symptom takes care of itself.
Ellen Scanlon (11:12):
In creating this series, I’ve asked a lot of women questions about menopause. I’ve noticed the stories had something in common. Women said they suddenly stopped feeling like themselves, whether that’s not sleeping when you’re normally a great sleeper, losing interest in sex, extremely heavy periods or having memory issues. In retrospect, they all saw this as a sign that their hormones were starting to change. At the time, it just felt confusing.
Carrie Mapes, who you heard from at the beginning of the show, didn’t realize that it was perimenopause that was causing her brain fog and memory issues.
Carrie Mapes (11:59):
I had a lot of brain fog, and I had actually driven myself to a memory institute and didn’t tell my friends, didn’t tell my family because I was scared to death. We have some Alzheimer’s and a few other issues in our family, and I thought for sure this was an early onset of something more along those lines. I found out that it was menopause. I think I was probably about 42. And so, for me, that perimenopause time period really did last that quintessential 10 years that people say that it can last. It did for me.
I spent a lot of time worrying about my cognition because I would get to the end of the sentence and not be able to pull out that last word that made it all make sense. And then I’d be talking in circles to course correct because I couldn’t find my words. I was forgetting whatever I went to the grocery store to get. “Mom, I told you that was kind of a constant mantra at our house.” That was not like me. That wasn’t something that I struggled with before. So that was on my mind a lot. And the spinoff of that was I was distracted and worried a lot of the time.
Ellen Scanlon (13:05):
California-based, Joan Irvine, is a sexual health advocate and a cannabis educator. You’ll hear more from her throughout the series. She remembers feeling a lot of confusion when her periods became much more frequent.
Dr. Joan Irvine (13:19):
I was in my early 40s and I noticed some changes happening in my body. For me that was my periods were becoming more frequent instead of every 28 days, it was becoming every 21 days, and then even every 14 days. I had horrible periods. Used to be 28 days. I’d have my period where I’d have a little bit of bleeding for a few days and then it would subside. Now all of a sudden, it was flooding for a week and it was taking over my life. But what happened is I had never heard of perimenopause before, so I wasn’t expecting menopause until my early 50s. So you can imagine my shock and my confusion. I mean, I just didn’t know what was going on.
Ellen Scanlon (14:07):
And that confusion combined with the stigma of the word menopause, its negative association with feeling old, can often lead younger women to ignore their symptoms and try to just carry on.
Carrie Mapes and her co-founder Patty Pappas were longtime friends who were curious and decided to check out a cannabis dispensary to together one day. When they got to the store, they realized it was menopause related symptoms that they were both trying to solve with cannabis.
Carrie Mapes (14:49):
When we went in, we not having been cannabis users before, we started talking to the staff at the store and realizing there were so many things that they were saying that cannabis could help address, that we were feeling ourselves. It was the first conversation that day that we had that we were both feeling a lot of the same things because I think women don’t talk about their symptoms necessarily to other women. Everyone thinks they’re going through whatever they’re going through on their own. So that was really liberating, to know that we were both going through the same thing. And then to find out that there was some natural solution, a plant-based solution that could help us sleep through the night, get our memory back a little bit, help with our focus, our anxiety, our mood, our inflammation, it was a game changer for us. I think that’s part of what people suffer from when they’re suffering in menopause because it can be very isolating.
And also, I think people… There’s such a negative connotation with menopause that it’s end of life and it happens when you’re much younger than you think it’s going to happen. So I was in my late 30s, early 40s when I started sweating at night through the sheets and having hot flashes. My doctor kept telling me, “No, you’re not in menopause yet.” I didn’t know what was happening, but you just accept it. You move on like women do. But I think to remove that stigma around menopause so that it’s not an end of life disease or problem that women have, it’s just something that we have to work through to feel better and take charge of our lives, not let those symptoms bury you. It really set us down this path that also as women in menopause to have this new life, it also brought us this entirely new chapter in our life, which was great
Ellen Scanlon (16:25):
For Minnesota-based, Michelle Courtright, the founder of cannabis brand, Jane, it was breast cancer treatment that caused early onset menopause. She says that looking back, finding a community would have really helped her. So please take this as a sign to talk to your friends if you’re experiencing any symptoms.
Michelle Courtright (16:48):
I just wish I had girlfriends at that point that had experience with menopause. I had early onset menopause because I had breast cancer and the chemotherapy had essentially knocked my ovaries out and it was terrible. So at that age, none of my friends had experienced perimenopause or menopause. And first I wish I would have reached out to some support groups or at least found a podcast on menopause, like this one. I just went through it alone. And that is hell by itself because you have no idea what to take or even just vent about it, about all the weird symptoms you get.
Ellen Scanlon (17:23):
I asked Carrie and Patty what they wish they had known about menopause.
Carrie Mapes (17:28):
If your kids are annoying you, your spouse is annoying, you and your friends are annoying you, maybe it’s you. And maybe that needs to be on the list. And I would also say that we should be treating ourselves like we take care of our kids. I mean, if my kids had had long-term irritability or hot flashes or sleeplessness, I would’ve taken them to the doctor, but I didn’t do that. I didn’t care for myself in the same way I would’ve cared for my own family.
Patty Pappas (17:58):
I just wish that I’d known what I was going through, that it wasn’t going to last forever. That was a big thing. Is this my life now? Am I just going to be sweating as I’m standing there talking to people? I wish I’d known that there was a plant-based solution and not to turn to pharmaceuticals or alcohol to try to calm me down or make me think that I felt relaxed.
Carrie Mapes (18:19):
I wish I’d known that it was going to last 10 years because I would’ve gone to a doctor. You always think you’re going to feel better tomorrow or next week, or this is just happening right now because it’s a really busy month or whatever? I wish I know not to explain it all away. I wish I’d known to take care of myself better. I wish also that I just had the outlook on life that I have now, that I’ve just been a little bit more comfortable in my own skin and…
Patty Pappas (18:45):
A little kinder to ourselves.
Carrie Mapes (18:48):
Ellen Scanlon (18:56):
Finding a doctor with expertise in menopause is a great way to be kinder to yourself. Dr. Streicher shares how to find one.
Dr. Lauren Streicher (19:06):
The message I really want to let women know is that there is help, there are experts, there are people who do know about menopause and can give you real solutions to whatever issues you’re having. There’s an organization, The Menopause Society, menopause.org, and if you go to the find a practitioner link, you can put in your zip code, which will lead you to people in your area who are truly experts. And in order to be a certified menopause practitioner, not only do you have to pass a very hard test, but you have to do continuing medical education in menopause specifically. So help is out there. If you give someone good information, they’ll make good choices, but you have to steer someone to get good information.
Ellen Scanlon (19:52):
Dr. Streicher knows that talking to your doctor about cannabis can be intimidating. She has some advice for how to get the best care.
Dr. Lauren Streicher (20:01):
When you talk about approaching your physician to talk about cannabis and you find that he or she is just not knowledgeable and open to that discussion, I would say the same thing as I say to women who are trying to talk to their physicians about menopause and find that they’re not knowledgeable or open about to that discussion. And what I tell those women is just because your clinician can’t help you doesn’t mean that help isn’t out there, but you may have to take it a little further. You may have to find someone else. You may have to go out of state and do a televisit with somebody who’s knowledgeable, but too many women just assume that if their own doctor can’t help them, that there is no help.
Ellen Scanlon (20:43):
Talking with Dr. Streicher has really inspired me to believe that menopause does not have to be a terrible time in a woman’s life, and that information is power.
Dr. Lauren Streicher (20:56):
My mantra, if you will, is if women are given good information, they will make good choices. And I really made that my call to action because I know that women are smart, they’ve always been smart, and women are the ones that make healthcare decisions not only for themselves, but for their families. So I’ve really made that my mission, is to give women the facts, the data, the good information, because I know, after decades of working with women, that if you give them the right information, they will thoughtfully and objectively make choices that are the right choices.
Ellen Scanlon (21:34):
In that spirit, Dr. Streicher is doing research on the use of cannabis in menopause. If you are consuming cannabis to help your menopause symptoms, please consider participating in her anonymous study. It will take about 10 minutes. The data she’s gotten so far is fascinating, and we’ll talk more about it later in the series. Please visit the link in the show notes to find Dr. Streicher’s survey, and you’ll be eligible to win some of her books about menopause. She’s also a bestselling author.
I hope you feel more educated about menopause. Stay tuned for the next episode in the series. We’ll hear from Dr. Streicher about hormone therapy and estrogen, learn about a Harvard study on menopause and cannabis and find out what women have learned about menopause from their moms.
Thank you for listening to How To Do The Pot. For lots more information and past episodes, visit dothepot.com. Are you one of the thousands of people who love How To Do The Pot’s newsletter? If you’re not getting it, please sign up at dothepot.com. And if you like How To Do The Pot, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. It really helps people find the show. Thank you to writer Joanna Sokolowski and producers Maddie Fair and Nick Patri. I’m Ellen Scanlon, and stay tuned for more of How to Do the Pot.
So you must be legal, too. Age 21+ invited to continue.