A study led by researchers at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) suggested that treating endometriosis with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) may relieve some symptoms of the disease in rodents. These findings have led to the start of a clinical trial in collaboration with the Gynecology Service of the Hospital Clinic in Barcelona. Studies show that THC limits the development and symptoms of endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a common, chronic, painful disease caused when the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) grows outside its cavity. Researchers at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) started the trial which will evaluate the possible benefits of treating endometriosis with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol,) the main psychoactive component of cannabis.
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Treating endometriosis with THC
The reproductive organs are affected by endometriosis and can cause pain, infertility, anxiety, depression and have a significant impact on the quality of life. Treatment options include surgery or hormone therapy, but they are not always effective and often have significant side effects.
“Due to the lack of effective treatments, women with endometriosis generally rely on lifestyle strategies such as diet or exercise,” explained Rafael Maldonado, a professor at UPF. “Although cannabis has a large number of possible side effects, treating endometriosis with THC may relieve pain.”
“Since the medical use of THC has been authorized in some countries, these results may be of interest to gynecologists and pain specialists who manage the treatment of women with endometrial pain. It is crucial to stress that the use of cannabis in unregulated settings should be discouraged given the serious risks associated with its use,” Maldonado added.
The team studied mice with endometrial implants in the pelvis to mimic endometriosis in humans. Those with the implants were more sensitive to pain in the pelvis, pain that can also be associated with emotional and cognitive disturbances, similar to the symptoms seen in some women with endometriosis.
The scientists treated the mice with a daily dose of 2 mg/kg THC for 28 days. This relieved pain sensitivity in the pelvis but had no effect on pain in other areas (the hind leg was used as a control,) showing that the treatment was specific for pain caused by this condition.
Pain relief also occurred regardless of when treatment was started, suggesting that it works just as well once pain symptoms are established.
The study couldn’t reveal whether treating endometriosis with THC helps with anxiety
The researchers also found that the mice with endometriosis had anxiety-like symptoms like some women with the condition.
This was measured by the amount of time the animals spent in open areas of a maze since those with higher anxiety levels tend not to explore much. However, their experiments could not reveal whether treating endometriosis with THC had any significant effect on treating anxiety.
Similarly, because endometriosis impairs cognitive function in some women, experts looked at memory performance in mice. To do this, they gave the animals two identical objects and allowed them to become familiar with them.
Afterwards, they replaced one of the objects and timed how long the rodents spent exploring the new object versus the familiar one, with the goal of giving an indication of what the animals remembered.
Limiting the development of endometriosis with THC
The team found that memory was impaired in the mice with endometriosis compared to those without the condition. However, those that used THC for treatment did not show any impairment. The authors believe that this suggests the compound may have a protective effect.
Finally, the researchers studied the effects of treating endometriosis with THC inside and outside the uterus and found that the mice that were treated with THC for 32 days had smaller endometrial growths.
“Our findings show that THC limits the development and symptoms of endometriosis in an experimental model,” said Alejandra Escudero-Lara, the first author of the paper and a Ph.D. student at UPF. “The results underline the interest in conducting further research to ensure the safety and beneficial effects of treating endometriosis with THC.”
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First published in Córdoba Buenas Noticias, a third-party contributor translated and adapted the article from the original. In case of discrepancy, the original will prevail.
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