Everyone knows that drugs and alcohol aren’t exactly the healthiest indulgences. We’ve all heard the chilling DARE speeches, seen the sorrowful anti-substance use commercials flash across our TV screen, and encountered firm looks and wagging fingers when drugs and alcohol are brought up in conversation. These are all fairly reasonable experiences; again, substance use can be quite harmful.
However, I’m not interested in learning more about why drugs and alcohol are bad for me. I want to know what effects they have on a person’s menstrual cycle and how people with periods (including myself) can make safe choices about substance use during that time of the month. Let’s get into it.
What does alcohol do before or during your period?
Alcohol can “temporarily increase levels of estrogen and testosterone.” Estrogen and testosterone are two very important hormones in people with periods, and when they are increased by alcohol consumption, they can alter when you ovulate and thus change when you menstruate. This makes for irregular periods, which can be frustrating to deal with. Fortunately though, hormone levels aren’t typically disrupted by mild amounts of alcohol and even though this does vary by person, it would take quite a bit of booze to drastically alter hormones.
According to this incredibly informative piece from the New York Times, alcohol does not cause period pain, but it can prolong the pain experienced by those who suffer from dysmenorrhea, which is a menstrual disorder that causes severe cramps. The piece also states that “alcohol worsens PMS symptoms”, although it does not say how. Today Health claims that because alcohol can decrease blood sugar levels, it emphasizes the emotional symptoms of PMS.
What do drugs do before or during your period?
Because most recreational drugs are illegal, there haven’t been many studies performed on how they affect the menstrual cycle. However, I did find this article on VICE in which assistant editor Arielle Pardes spoke to three different doctors on different drugs’ effects on fertility, which led to discussions on hormones and menstruation as well. The illegal drugs examined included cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, and LSD, all of which had differing adverse or unknown effects on menstruating or pregnant bodies.
Coke, for example, can alter ovulation and increase a hormone called prolactin, which could cause hormonal shifts and irregular periods.
What about medicinal marijuana usage?
If you search “marijuana and PMS” on Google, hundreds of thousands of results appeared, mostly advertising which strain of weed is best for curing cramps, headaches, and almost every other classic PMS symptom. It makes sense — weed has been used to cure similar ailments for thousands of years. And, now, with its recent legalization in many states, more people suffering from severe PMS and PMDD are able to safely and legally test its effects. Studies show that marijuana lessens chronic pain, and that certain strains are effective in treating anxiety and nausea.
However, because marijuana usage was only recently legalized in the US (and only in a handful of states as well), most evidence on smoking weed to alleviate PMS and period cramps was purely anecdotal. While the short-term effects seem positive, more research is certainly needed to understand both the benefits and the risks of the drug, as well its long-term effects.
To be perfectly honest, researching for this article was kind of disappointing. There are so few studies performed on how substance use, particularly of recreational drugs, affects a woman’s period. We know that women drink and use drugs, and we know these activities can pose health risks, but we’ve barely scratched the surface on their effects (both good and bad) on the menstrual cycle specifically.
This is a gap that needs to be filled, and hopefully, as marijuana legalization continues to spread across the US and medical professionals realize the importance of safety measures when it comes to substance use, rather than just preventative measures, more in-depth research will be done on the subject.
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