– Bye bye cramps: Cannabis comes to the rescue for women

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When Andrea Dobbs began experiencing perimenopausal symptoms, she had no idea that her search for a remedy at a local dispensary would put her on the path to opening up one of her own.

Now the co-owner of the Village in Kitsilano, Dobbs says her initial experience at a local pot shop in the early days of Vancouver’s dispensary explosion wasn’t ideal.

“When I became perimenopausal and I started feeling like a horrible troll, I started doing some research about what my options were,” Dobbs tells the Georgia Straight at the West 2nd Avenue dispensary.

Some of her girlfriends had suggested hormone therapy or a hysterectomy, but Dobbs says she was raised with a holistic approach to health and found the procedures too drastic.

“I did my research and I found that THC fits the same receptors in the body as progesterone,” she says.

Although she had family members and friends who used cannabis to treat arthritis and back pain, it wasn’t until she discovered the relationship between that hormone and the active ingredient in cannabis that she became curious about its applications for her own health.

“So I went into a dispensary, and had that whole ‘bro’ experience—with a well-meaning young man, of course—but then I started talking about having sore breasts and itchy skin and painful menstruation and not having a libido,” she says, nearly keeling over with laughter.

“I thought, ‘This is unfortunate. This guy is probably 21 and he doesn’t want to hear this.’ He didn’t really know what to do, but he put his finger on a chocolate, slid it across the counter, and said, ‘Some women use these for PMS.’ ”

Ready to put the experience behind her, Dobbs bought the chocolate, left the store, and popped it into her mouth—before realizing that the young man at the dispensary hadn’t asked her a single question about her previous experience with cannabis.

What followed was an ordeal Dobbs was not prepared for: her plans for the day were kiboshed as she spent the remainder of the day “lying on the couch, drooling, for about eight hours”.

“I just thought it was awful,” Dobbs says. “I thought, ‘I’m never taking this again.’ ”

But near the end of the high, as the euphoria began to wear off, Dobbs says she could feel how the cannabis had affected her body. She was relaxed and felt no pain. She wondered how different the experience might have been had she taken the right dose.

“I thought, ‘There’s really something missing here. We’re missing that open dialogue, the part where we ask questions and figure out dosages,’ ” she says.

Those feelings, combined with the insight gained after working in retail at a women-oriented adult store for 10 years, inspired a vision for a dispensary that made space for those with sensitive health issues who might be curious about cannabis but don’t know where to begin.

Dobbs says there are plenty of options for women that want to treat their symptoms without smoking or ingesting cannabis.
AMANDA SIEBERT

“At Womyn’s Ware, I really learned how women have so much stigma around all of their issues—about being sexually healthy, about menopause, words like cervix and prolapsed uterus, things like cervical cancer, childbirth, and PMS—all these things that come up that are uniquely female and that women don’t talk about because it makes you feel less than a perfect, hot, sexy babe,” she says.

Though the Village has gone through a transition since it opened as a café/dispensary, the now municipally licensed shop sticks to cannabis-based products and has made its mark in Vancouver for being what Dobbs calls “a place you can take your mom to”.

When it comes to treating symptoms related to PMS, menstruation, menopause, endometriosis, and other health issues with cannabis, Dobbs looks to a variety of remedies.

“I started with topicals,” she says. “I had very itchy skin and I was kind of intimidated after the chocolate, so I really enjoyed the massage oils at first. They are great at managing an achy body and sore breasts and really helped with my skin, too.”

Other topical options include locally made and imported creams, lotions, and salves formulated to target skin issues and pain relief.

She also holds a number of cannabis-infused salt soaks and bath bombs in high regard and says most are mild enough for first-timers.

“These are a great entry point. You’ll sleep like you haven’t slept in a while, and you won’t even realize you had pain until you get out of the bath,” she says.

After massage oils, Dobbs began to explore tinctures and found that sativa-infused formulations provided her with the wakefulness she needed to replace coffee.

“They made me feel bright and thoughtful and like my normal self but with no coffee, and that was pretty powerful—and then I started taking nighttime tinctures. I’d have these beautiful sleeps and wake up so clear. Once you can sleep well, it’s a game changer.”

Tinctures come in a number of varieties and ratios. Where some are infused with only CBD (cannabidiol, a cannabinoid that has no psychoactive effects but can be an effective pain reliever), others are in 1:1 ratios, meaning they are made with equal parts CBD and THC. Others come in at 2:1 and 4:1 ratios, with more CBD than THC.

Another option is low-dose capsules, which come in similar ratios.

A THC-infused massage oil was one of the first products Andrea Dobbs used to treat sore breasts and itchy skin.
AMANDA SIEBERT

“A lot of people feel that the ingestion element is intimidating because they’ve had bad experiences, but you can titrate [determine] your dose by slowly building up in increments,” she says.

Even after one year of operating the dispensary, Dobbs was hesitant about smoking marijuana. Although she won’t suggest specific strains for women’s issues, Dobbs says the best thing to do to identify the “right” strain is a smell test.

“It’s really so unique—you have to smell them yourself because there are terpenes [strong-smelling organic compounds produced by plants, especially resins] in all of these flowers, and they have therapeutic value,” she says.

“Terpene profiles resonate differently to each person. If you smell one and it’s one you’re drawn to, it’s probably going to be good for you. If you recoil from it, it’s probably not for you.”

As for the act of actually smoking, Dobbs stresses the importance of pace.

“Start really low: take one pull; put it down; wait 10 minutes. Journal it; get right nerdy and document it if you want to find the right dose.”

For women suffering from endometriosis, Dobbs says many members sing the praises of THC-infused vaginal inserts and suppositories.

“They are wonderful because what they do is they bypass the liver and go directly into your bloodstream. There’s no euphoria at all, just great pain relief.”

As for restoring a lost or dwindling libido brought on by menopause, Dobbs says smoking is an option but nothing works as well, in her books, as THC–infused pleasure oil.

“All it takes is a teeny bit on the clitoris—it doesn’t burn or warm up or anything—and what it does is it’s absorbed by your mucous membranes right away and it connects with your progesterone triggers. It creates that desire, and when that happens, everything else just works out the way it used to.

“It happens later; just wait and see,” she says with a laugh.

By working with members and learning their medical needs, Dobbs is able to guide them through the process of perfecting their dosages.

As she and her husband await legalization, Dobbs hopes the dispensary model is upheld so she can continue to provide cannabis to patients in need.

“I feel like we’ve found a place where you can unpack your cannabis story,” Dobbs says, acknowledging that it’s taken her a while to come around too.

“I really had this thing in my head and I had to unravel it, because if you’re going to promote cannabis and celebrate it, you have to authentically love this plant, and I really, really love it now.”