Cannabis is known to have different effects on different consumers. And part of that variability may be related to sex: in general, female animals were found to be more sensitive to the effects of cannabinoids than their male counterparts. Some studies have found that cannabis may lower diabetes in women, and many women self-report using cannabis to relieve pain associated with endometriosis. Companies have even created cannabis-infused products that cater specifically to female users.
One common concern for women who use cannabis is: does marijuana affect birth control?
This article discusses current scientific findings and the possible side effects cannabis use may have for those on birth control.
Does Marijuana Affect Birth Control?
While there are claims that certain cannabinoids can affect the effectiveness of birth control, there is currently no scientific research or studies to prove it. And neither the FDA and the CDC mention cannabis as a harmful substance while taking hormonal contraceptives like the IUD, pill, ring, or patch.
There are, however, certain parallels in how birth control and smoking – nicotine or cannabis – can affect the body.
Smoking has been linked to short-term increases in blood pressure. Similarly, research suggests that hormonal birth control can raise blood pressure and the risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke, particularly in patients with a history of cardiovascular ailments. The increase in blood pressure is due to increased levels of estrogen and progesterone from hormonal contraceptives that build up in the area of the brain that regulates blood pressure.
It is important to note that today's hormonal birth control methods have dramatically lower doses of hormones than those in the past.
Doctors have long discouraged patients on birth control from smoking cigarettes. While this is partly to protect the fetus while it develops, this is also to protect the mother: chemicals in nicotine can cause the blood to thicken and create blood clots that can clog the arteries. Smoking is generally considered dangerous while on birth control because of the potential cardiovascular side effects.
Research is limited, but some studies show that cannabis affects the cardiovascular system by producing similar effects as nicotine. THC, the cannabinoid responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis, can increase a person's heart rate and has been reported to cause cardiovascular side effects in some users.
So, what does this all mean? Can someone on birth control smoke weed?
Interactions Between Cannabis and Birth Control Products
No scientific evidence suggests that cannabis directly interacts with any birth control method. While it is not directly noted that consuming cannabis is harmful while taking birth control, the similarities in how cannabis and birth control affect the body could lead to potentially harmful side effects or changes in the efficacy of certain forms of birth control.
Hormonal Birth Controls
Contraceptives such as IUDs, implants, shots, birth control rings, and the patch all contain levels of estrogen and progesterone (or progesterone only). They work by preventing the eggs in the ovaries from being released or the sperm from fertilizing the egg. Hormonal birth control also thins the uterus lining so a fertilized egg is less likely to attach to the uterus, and thickens the cervix mucus to prevent the sperm from reaching the egg in the first place.
One 2013 study found that estrogen increases sensitivity levels to THC. Birth control provides the body with higher levels of estrogen, so it may be important for birth control users to monitor their cannabis dosages.
Although the risk is low, hormonal birth control can increase blood pressure and cause blot clots. However, the research is mixed as to whether or not birth control or cannabis directly causes blood clots and high blood pressure, and it is mainly of deep concern for patients with preexisting cardiovascular or blood conditions. There have been links between THC and cardiovascular issues, but further research is needed. Likewise, THC consumption may cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, but one recent study suggests cannabis may be useful as a means to reduce blood pressure.
Copper IUD (non-hormonal)
The copper IUD is a plastic t-shaped piece coiled with copper wire inserted into the uterus. It is the most common, effective, and longest-lasting non-hormonal birth control. The copper causes an inflammatory reaction that is toxic to sperm and eggs.
This form of birth control isn’t affected by cannabis consumption.
Birth Control Side Effects
While there is no direct interaction between birth control and cannabis, cannabis usage may, for better or worse, impact some of the contraceptive's side effects.
One potential side effect of hormonal birth control includes breakthrough bleeding, headaches, nausea, bloating, and the development of liver tumors. There are claims that cannabis – CBD specifically – can increase the potential for breakthrough bleeding, but no research has been conducted to determine the validity of the claim. Likewise, many people use cannabis to relieve headaches, but cannabis can also cause dehydration, which can worsen headaches.
Side effects from the copper IUD insert include spotting, irregular, heavy, or longer periods, and an increased likelihood of dysmenorrhea (painful period). Cannabis consumption may help reduce the effects of nausea and painful cramping, but too much THC can also increase feelings of nausea in some consumers.
Some users on birth control report impacts on their mood and mental health. Cannabis has been known to both help and also exacerbate disorders like depression and anxiety.
Other Potential Health Risks
While further study is required to understand the different ways cannabis and birth control may interact or influence one another, there are certain health risks that come with smoking cannabis that consumers should be aware of.
There is no evidence that cannabis usage in any method reduces the efficacy of birth control. However, the method by which users consume their cannabis can lead to increased or decreased health risks.
Some users blend tobacco with their cannabis flower, or use tobacco based wraps to roll their blunts. Nicotine can adversely affect blood and cardiovascular health, especially when combined with hormonal birth control methods.
Similarly vaping cannabis can have the same adverse outcomes on the cardiovascular system as smoking cigarettes.
Oral birth control methods like the pill are absorbed through the stomach. For users who consume edibles, it is important to note that there is potential for interaction with birth control in the gut.
Pregnancy and Weed
Pregnant people are warned against consuming cannabis because of potential harm to the development of the fetus. Second-hand smoke from marijuana contains chemicals that can be passed to the infant in the uterus.
Some evidence supports the potential pregnancy complications in those who consume marijuana while pregnant. These include:
- Reduced growth of the fetus
- Premature delivery
- Impaired brain development
While no amount of marijuana has been deemed safe for consumption during pregnancy recently, some women have come forward with their stories and experience using cannabis during pregnancy to help with issues like severe nausea.
There is limited research on how cannabis and birth control directly interact, and current findings are insufficient to declare how consuming cannabis may impact individuals who are taking birth control. Most of the available studies were conducted on animals or were inconclusive. And all of them stress the importance of further research.
Currently no evidence shows that cannabis affects the efficacy of contraceptives. However, it seems as though there are areas where assessing cannabis usage might be of importance, especially for anyone predisposed to blood or cardiovascular issues. If a user does choose to consume cannabis while on birth control, it is best practice to consult a physician to determine if cannabis usage is of concern while taking any birth control.
The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.