…that the very thing which gives women the ability to bring new life and joy into the world, is a near constant source of torment. And in Natalie’s cases, excruciating menstrual pain.
This interview came about one day when Natalie made an off-hand remark to me about how much she needs cannabis to get through her monthly cycle. We had been talking about cannabis and this site, and I was taken aback that cannabis would make any difference at all for a woman’s cycle.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen a lot of women suffer because of painful menstruation. As a young boy at nine years old, I saw my mother curled up on the bed.
To my young mind, I could tell something was wrong, but I had no idea what. She asked me to fill a hot-water bottle and bring it to her.
Pressing it low to her stomach, she closed her eyes, and sent me away.
It was the first time I had ever seen my mother in pain and the first time I remember ever feeling completely helpless.
So, after a some follow-up questions with Natalie, it became clear to me that this would be critical information to get in front of some of our readers.
Natalie and I arranged to meet in a nice setting where we could talk quietly. We met at a pool-side cafe in Pasadena, early in the day, well before lunch, and had our choice of tables.
Interviewed by David Brickley
So Natalie, thank you again for taking the time to talk with me.
As you remember, while we were organizing this interview I acknowledged this is an extremely personal topic and I’m very pleased and grateful that you would take the time, and be open enough to discuss these very personal details.
If I ask a question that makes you in any way uncomfortable or there’s anything you don’t want to discuss, simply wave it off and that will be that.
So, getting to know a little bit about you, how old are you?
Okay, and are you from LA?
What part of LA?
Well, I guess it’s considered LA; it’s more of the Burbank area.
Burbank? Okay, all right. The greater Los Angeles area.
So, do you have brothers and sisters?
No, I’m an only child.
May I ask how old you were when you started having your cycles?
Uh, about, eighth grade.
So, about 12?
No, not that young. I’ll have to do the math. Maybe 14 or 15.
May I ask if difficult cycles are common in your family?
Um, at least with my mom, yeah.
I don’t know about any, anything past that.
I don’t know anything about my grandma. When I was in fifth grade, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so I didn’t really know her. Aunts didn’t really mention anything, and then I don’t know my dad’s side. So just from my mom, she has them pretty severe.
Alright. Are you healthy otherwise?
Can you describe the difficulties; the pains, the cramps, the experience?
“The first two to three days are vicious. It’s this extremely sharp pain in my lower abdomen. And it’s so bad that it hurts my stomach, and it makes me feel sick, or it’ll just hurt my core. And I don’t want to move. I don’t want to do anything. It just wipes out all my energy.”
The first two to three days are vicious. It’s this extremely sharp pain in my lower abdomen. And it’s so bad that it hurts my stomach, and it makes me feel sick, or it’ll just hurt my core. And I don’t want to move. I don’t want to do anything. It just wipes out all my energy.
Okay, and it changes as the days progress?
Yeah, everything past the third day is pretty good.
Yeah, for sure.
Has it been bad enough to keep you from work?
Yeah, I’m a hair stylist’s assistant, and I have to walk around all day. It makes it really hard. It makes me not want to do my job half the time.
Is it bad enough to keep you home?
Oh, I was raised to not be a wimp and to just push through it. But it does make it really hard, being a hair stylist’s assistant, to walk around all day when I’m just super tired and in so much pain. And it’s hard to put on that happy facade when you see clients you know, to smile. And it’s just… [bite lip and sighs].
And you are tortured inside?
You were raised to not be a wimp.
Well, I was raised by my grandfather, who was 85 when he passed. And he was the toughest guy you’ve ever met.
He was raised in a time when you really had to have backbone – just to survive.
Yeah, so for me, there was no whining, there was no, being picky about food, there was no… you know, just no complaining. So that’s, that’s the kind of person I was raised by.
Right, I know that mindset.
They survived the Depression, which was amazing. So were your cycles always rough, even from the beginning?
Um, I’d say the first three or four times they were pretty normal, and I thought this would just be a breeze; everyone lies when they say it hurts that bad. And then, the fifth or sixth time, it hit me and I thought, ‘Oh, okay. This is really bad.’ [laughs]
Oh, so essentially, pretty much from the beginning.
Right, okay. Are they predictable? like clockwork?
Yeah, yeah, pretty much on the dot.
Okay. Five or six days?
Uh, you know, it depends. I’ve gone from four to five to nine days. But I guess that depends just on whatever.
Okay. Wow, nine days?
Yeah, but that’s only happened once or twice.
I don’t know.
All right. Pretty consistently, every month, it just hits you like this?
Is it worse when you’re stressed?
I personally feel like they’re terrible in general.
Okay, all right.
So when I’m stressed, it just puts it back a couple of days.
Oh, it delays onset?
Yeah, so what will happen is I will have pre-cramps until I get my period. And so I have pre-cramps that are almost as bad as my regular cramps. Pre-cramps is normal for all of my cycles. Um, at least three days prior, so I know when it’s going to show up. It’s just that if it gets put back three days, that’s three days of extra pre-cramps.
Oh, I see. So that time is longer then?
It doesn’t necessarily just make it worse; it just makes it longer. I can handle it, though.
Uh, well, I know, because you’re not a wimp [laughs].
I’m not a wimp, yeah, right?
So when did you first find out that cannabis might be beneficial for all of this?
Um, I had a couple of friends who were doing it.
For the same reason?
Yeah, for the same reason, and they were already doing it, and I just gave it a try, and it worked.
And it made a difference immediately?
Yes, and it’s much better than taking pills. I mean, back in high school, I used to take 15, 18 Advils a day.
15 or 18 Advils a day!!!?
Yeah, and it did nothing.
Do you know how far over the prescribed limits you were? I can understand why the pain would drive you to do that – but…
“I would wake up at four o’clock in the morning in pain, and I can’t sleep, would take two, three pills, wait an hour, fall back asleep. Wake up for school, it still hurt, and that’s, you know, two and a half hours later. Okay, so, throw two more pills in. Then it still hurts, so I would bring the whole bottle with me to school.”
Well, that would be all throughout the day. I would wake up at four o’clock in the morning in pain, and I can’t sleep, would take two, three pills, wait an hour, fall back asleep. Wake up for school, it still hurt, and that’s, you know, two and a half hours later. Okay, so, throw two more pills in. Then it still hurts, so I would bring the whole bottle with me to school.
But you weren’t getting a good result?
No, I wasn’t getting any result.
You were trying something new by involving cannabis.
And it was the only option you had?
Yeah, because even with prescription pills, I still had pain. So with the 800mg pills, the recommended is two a day, but I was taking two at a time.
I’m sorry, I missed that. Which pills are these?
They were prescription pills for my cycle, and the recommended was two a day, max. And I would take two at a time, and nothing would happen. So I think the most I took was six.
In a day?
Did you feel any ill effects from it?
But it’s dangerous to over-medicate…
I know, but when you’re at work and everyone’s telling you to smile, and you have to put on a happy front… [laughs]
I know, the pain will drive you to it. So, when you tried cannabis the first time, were you by yourself or were you with friends?
Uh, I was with friends, just because they had it and I didn’t. So, it was, you know, convenient for me.
Just as an aside – you should get a cannabis card.
I know. I’ve been meaning to.
That way, you can go to the dispensary of your choice, and get the strain of your choice.
All it will take is a doctor’s diagnosis.
“She [Natilie’s doctor] put me on this birth control that would give me my cycle, um, four times out of the year, because she thought that would make it better. I took it and my body couldn’t even hold out the four months. And I think I lasted three months and a week. Then when I did get my cycle, it was extreme – even for me. It was so bad I missed school for about a week and a half.”
See, my doctor’s a little finicky. I’m only allowed two doctors on the insurance that I’m on. So the doctor that I’ve had forever, if I tell her about my severe pain, she’ll ignore it. She put me on this birth control that would give me my cycle, um, four times out of the year, because she thought that would make it better. I took it and my body couldn’t even hold out the four months. And I think I lasted three months and a week. Then when I did get my cycle, it was extreme – even for me. It was so bad I missed school for about a week and a half.
So, you were supposed to go without a cycle 4 months? And you lasted three?
Three months and one week.
Oh, I get it now.
So I couldn’t even make it to the four month mark. And, I mean, I felt like I was dying for 12 days. I couldn’t move. I didn’t go to school. And school’s based on hours, so that’s extremely important. I couldn’t do anything, I was crying every day. I would start taking shots of whiskey because that was the only thing that was making it better. And then I went back to see my doctor during the pain. I told her, “I’ve contemplated going to the ER it’s so painful,” and she said, “Okay.” And then later, my mom called the doctor, and she said, “Natalie was contemplating going to the ER.” And the doctor just said, “Oh, oh, well, she never told me that.” And I’m like…
And you’re already of age; why is the doctor telling your mom…?
No, because my mom couldn’t figure out why my doctor hadn’t done anything, so then my mom called, and the doctor said, “Oh, well your daughter never told me that.” But it’s over, it’s fine now [laughs].
Okay, well, you should’ve never had to go through any of that. I hate when you go to a professional for their help, and they completely ignore the reason that you’re there.
Right, that’s how she is.
Anyway, when you’re taking cannabis, do you know what kind of cannabis it is?
You know, I honestly don’t. I can’t be too picky.
And smoking it is okay for you?
Okay. Tell me about how you use cannabis. Is it right at the very beginning of your cycle? When you know it’s coming? Or do you wait until you feel it’s in full onset. What are your choices?
I don’t always have it with me, so I personally prefer an edible; it’s easier for me.
“But because I did’t want to spend too much money, I’d wait until it starts hurting a little more, and then I’d take it [an edible]. But I’d just take little… you know, one bite, two bites, whatever.But because I don’t want to spend too much money, I’d wait until it starts hurting a little more, and then I’d take it. But I’d just take little… you know, one bite, two bites, whatever.”
Oh, okay. Tell me about that. What kind of edibles do you try?
You know, again, it’s whatever I can get.
A brownie or, whatever.
Is it home-made?
No, no, they’re never home-made. They’re always just whatever they bought from the shop. So, a cookie, or a variety of things.
Okay, and that was enough to make a difference?
Okay, well, that means CBD was present in the edible or in the cannabis. So you’re lucky that whatever you got worked.
Yeah, because I’ve had a couple of them where they don’t work. And it’s hard; about 50/50 of them… no, I would say maybe 80/20 works.
80% of them work?
Okay, good. So this was an economic choice, waiting until it’s really painful? Because, you wait until it’s serious before you go get some, or you have some already?
Um, I normally have a little on me but I wait until I start feeling the pain, I’ll wait if it’s tolerable and then once it kind of transitions into real pain, I’ll, have some.
Then you medicate at that time?
Because I don’t want to take it unless I need to.
Okay. Are you keeping any of it around with you at work, so you can take some while you’re working?
No, just around the time I know, when my cycle will be.
All right, so once in the morning?
Would you take a bite out of an edible or a hit off the joint?
You know, it’s funny. It really just depends on when my cycle has hit.
Um, because, you know, if it happens at night, now I can just tough it out and make myself sleep through it. Or if it happens during the middle of the day, then I’ll have some. Because, once that part of the cycle starts, I’d say two hours into it, it starts to really hurt.
Okay, I guess the question is, say, during a 24 hour period, how many times do you have to ingest cannabis to bring relief and then keep the pain at bay?
Maybe three or four times, depending.
And so if you were to have an edible, does that last longer?
I would say it does, yeah.
You mentioned you were taking prescription medications. Did you try several different kinds?
Do you remember what they were?
“This is so terrible, because they weren’t even my prescriptions. I’d be dying at my previous work, and someone would ask, “What’s wrong?” I’d say, “Oh, well, you know, it’s my cycle,” and, they’d say, “Oh, I’ve got something in the car from when I had my leg surgery. They’re really strong.” “Okay, give it to me.” And I would take it and feel nothing.”
Um, I don’t. This is so terrible, because they weren’t even my prescriptions. I’d be dying at my previous work, and someone would ask, “What’s wrong?” I’d say, “Oh, well, you know, it’s my cycle,” and, they’d say, “Oh, I’ve got something in the car from when I had my leg surgery. They’re really strong.” “Okay, give it to me.” And I would take it and feel nothing. But a co-worker would take it and she’d be super high, you know; she couldn’t even work. Where I’d already have taken two or three of them, and it did nothing.”
Yeah. So, I mean, I’ve tried a bunch of stuff.
So a lot ad hoc, whatever was available – basically found drugs?
I don’t mean, um, illicit.
But yeah, exactly. Like, Midol worked once and it never worked again. Tylenol worked once and it never worked again.
But even with really strong prescription pills, like the super strong stuff? Yeah, they probably all worked at least once, and then they never worked again. But I don’t think the one I was prescribed ever worked for me.
Do you use cannabis for any other reason?
Do you ever take it just to relax on a Saturday night?
If I’m really stressed or if I’m angry about something. I mean, I normally don’t. I’m always pretty good. Um, but no, again, it’s, totally money-wise, I don’t want to spend more than I have to.
So, is there anything else that you want to mention while we’re here… if you had an audience of women right now that you could have a conversation with, just to say, “Ladies, you should know about this,” is there anything you’d want to tell them?
I mean, I would just tell them that I would recommend cannabis way more than taking 18 Advils a day, because I’m sure I’ve destroyed some part of me already, plus a lot of the time it was on an empty stomach, you know?
Okay, we covered just about everything. do you think?
Natalie, thank you very much. I really appreciate your time, and generosity, and willingness to talk about this amazingly personal subject.
I have, in my time, seen a lot of suffering because of PMS, and the moment that I heard you mention that you use cannabis for that reason, I just knew this would be great information to get down as an interview.
Yeah, yeah. And it was really hard to want to try it. Because, like I said, my whole family’s against it. My grandpa was always super, super against it. And being, his baby, it put me off of trying cannabis for a long, long time. But I just… I can’t keep taking this many pills.
It’s possible, if your Grandpa really understood the difference it makes, he would have let it be. And taking pills like that is not good for anyone.
Right, exactly, and they weren’t doing anything for me anyway. I just kept taking them on the hope…
And you, like every women, have to make your own choices.
That’s true, yeah.
Your own choices for your own reasons.
Natalie, thank you very much.
Thank you, David.