Women are turning to cannabis for medical abortion relief. Photo credit: twenty20photos.
Approximately one in four women (23.7%) in America will have an abortion by the age of 45, according to the American Journal of Public Health.
Despite the fact that millions of women in the U.S. seek such services, limited options exist for those undergoing the procedure — especially when it comes to managing pain and anxiety.
In fact, according to one study led by Dr. Katie Alton, “pain and anxiety during medical abortion [those performed with medications instead of surgery] continue to be significant issues and potential barriers to care,” she further writes. “Abortion-related pain has not been systematically studied in clinical trials, limiting our ability to recommend appropriate analgesia.”
This is particularly alarming considering that up to 86% of patients report “more pain than anticipated and unacceptable maximum pain scores,” during medical abortions, Alton reports. In fact, she adds, on an 11-point pain scale, nearly half of patients fell between eight and 10.
Despite high levels of pain, medical professionals primarily prescribe anti-inflammatories like Ibuprofen, and sometimes opioids to treat such pain.
Because women report such severe pain, ibuprofen may be inadequate for many, while alternatives like opioids prove addictive.
As a result, women have turned to cannabis for pain relief.
For example, one 2016 study in the journal Contraception found that 19% of women surveyed used cannabis to help control pain during medical abortions. “All of those women found it to be at least somewhat effective at relieving pain and cramps,” the researchers write.
Plants over Pills
Shonitria Anthony had an abortion in 2020. Cannabis helped her heal.
Anthony, who owns and operates Blunt Blowin’ Mama — a platform for mothers who use cannabis — is a daily cannabis consumer. When undergoing a medical abortion in 2020, she opted for weed instead of the pain medication her doctor prescribed her.
“I’ve been smoking weed since I was 18 yrs old. It’s been extremely helpful in every juncture of my life — pregnancy and breastfeeding, post-partum, periods, headaches,” she explained. “So I [tought] why wouldn’t it help me at this point of my life as well. It just seemed like a top brainer to me.”
Pain meds, including opioids, weren’t worth the risk, Anthony said, a mother of two. “I just decided to stay away from that man-made form of medicating, and opt for something a little more natural that I know how my body will react to,” she emphasized.
Aside from relief, cannabis has also helped Anthony stay in tune with her body, she added. “I feel like I know myself better now because of my cannabis consumption. I can listen to my body – ‘does this hurt or does this hurt – ok let me try this salve or balm or let me take this tincture,’ and […] really learn the remedies my body responds to best.”
Healing the Body and Mind
But women are not just turning to cannabis for physical healing, but mental and emotional relief too.
Kiera Fae, founder of the education-focused platform, Cannabis and Parenthood, is one of those women. In August 2021, she told Shonitria Anthony on her Blunt Blowin’ Mama podcast that she used cannabis during her delayed or incomplete miscarriage and subsequent abortion.
“I needed cannabis to just take me outside of myself […],” she said, as she explained the trauma, anxiety and grief she faced.
“People focus on the physical healing properties that cannabis can have on one’s body,” Anthony said; but the mind must also heal. “It’s important to note that there is a mental, emotional and spiritual half to that as well. I believe cannabis helps with that healing […] without the risk of addiction.”
Having an abortion is a big deal, she furthered, “regardless of your circumstances, whatever the reason for it, that’s your reason. But it’s not like you have an abortion on Friday, go to work on Monday and everything is fine,” she added. “There’s definitely still some ramifications. Cannabis can help you to grapple with that in the best way for your mind and body and spirit long after the procedure is done, or the wounds have healed.”