Can Medical Marijuana Treat Thyroid Conditions?
Approximately 12%, or just over 20 million Americans, have some kind of thyroid gland disorder. Many people may not know they have thyroid problems and remain undiagnosed. That is because many common thyroid gland dysfunction symptoms can be confused with other health conditions.
Untreated thyroid gland problems can lead to serious health risks, such as chronic fatigue, weight gain (or loss), thinning hair or hair loss, and potentially heart health risks like cardiovascular disease. Even if you have no prior occurrences or family history of thyroid gland dysfunction, it is important to get tested regularly and receive treatment.
Have you ever wondered what causes thyroid gland issues? In this article, we’ll discuss the lifestyle and hereditary factors that can increase your risk of developing hyperthyroid symptoms or hypothyroidism. We will also take a look at some studies that have evaluated whether cannabinoids and medical cannabis may help patients with thyroid conditions.
What is the Thyroid Gland?
Let’s start with the gland that few people know about or understand how critical it is to human health. The thyroid is an important hormone gland. It plays a large role in the metabolism, growth, and development of the body. It regulates multiple body functions by releasing a steady amount of thyroid hormones into the bloodstream. If the body needs more energy in certain situations, like during pregnancy, the thyroid gland will produce more hormones.
This butterfly-shaped organ is found at the front of the neck, right under the larynx. The two side lobes wrap around the trachea and are joined at the front by a thin piece of tissue. Individual lobes that make up the thyroid tissue contain large amounts of small sacs called follicles that store the hormones.
The thyroid gland produces three hormones:
- Triiodothyronine, also known as T3.
- Tetraiodothyronine, also called thyroxine or T4.
Iodine is one of the essential ingredients of both thyroid hormones. Since our bodies can not produce iodine on their own, we have to get enough of it through our diets. It is absorbed into our bloodstream through the bowel during digestion. The iodine is then carried to the thyroid gland, where it is then used to make the hormones.
What Causes Problems With Healthy Thyroid Gland Functioning?
Thyroid dysfunctions are categorized into two main disorders; if your thyroid has inadequate hormone production, you may be diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Conversely, if your body produces too many thyroid hormones, you may have hyperthyroidism.
Both conditions can increase the risks of health complications and side effects of thyroid disease. Your thyroid function is critically important to balance heart, muscle, brain, digestive, and bone health. There are many causes of thyroid disorders, with some that can be managed through lifestyle change and others that may be health or heredity-related.
Autoimmune thyroid disease can be caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (when hypothyroidism occurs) and Graves’ disease (hyperthyroidism)
Conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (which causes hypothyroidism) and Graves’ disease (which causes hyperthyroidism) are autoimmune disorders where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland.
Iodine is essential for the production of thyroid hormones. A lack of iodine in the diet can lead to hypothyroidism, as the thyroid gland cannot produce enough thyroid hormones.
Inflammation of the thyroid gland, known as thyroiditis, can be caused by viral or bacterial infections. This inflammation can temporarily affect thyroid function, leading to either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, depending on the type of thyroiditis.
Abnormal growths or lumps on the thyroid gland, called thyroid nodules, can disrupt its normal functioning. While most nodules are non-cancerous (benign), some can affect hormone production and lead to thyroid disorders.
Certain medications, such as lithium, amiodarone, and some anti-thyroid drugs, can interfere with thyroid function and lead to thyroid disorders.
Some thyroid disorders, such as congenital hypothyroidism, can be inherited due to genetic factors.
Radiation therapy to the head, neck, or chest, often used in the treatment of cancers, can damage the thyroid gland and affect its function.
Pregnancy can sometimes trigger thyroid problems, such as postpartum thyroiditis, where the thyroid becomes temporarily overactive, followed by a period of hypothyroidism.
As people age, their risk of developing thyroid disorders increases.
It’s essential to consult a healthcare professional if you suspect you have a thyroid disorder, as they can diagnose the condition and recommend appropriate treatment. Treatment may include medication, radioactive iodine therapy, or, in some cases, surgery.
Over and Underactive Thyroids
The thyroid can also grow in size if it is not functioning properly. When that happens, the whole gland becomes enlarged and sometimes grows individual lumps known as nodules. Thyroid scintigraphy can be used to determine if these nodules are producing the right amounts of hormones. When they make more hormones than the rest of the thyroid tissue, they are called “hot” nodules, and when they make less, they are called “cold” nodules.
In the majority of cases, having nodules or an enlarged thyroid is not a result of a serious condition, and only in rare circumstances can the risk of thyroid cancer increase when it is inflamed. It is still important to see a doctor if you notice any changes in your thyroid gland, as it can be an early warning for health concerns.
Common Thyroid Conditions
There are two main types of thyroid disease: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Both of these conditions can be caused by other conditions that impact the functionality of the thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism is the more common type, with approximately 4.6% of diagnoses in the United States, while hyperthyroidism only affects less than 2% of Americans.
Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid)
The most common of thyroid disorders, hypothyroidism, is also known as underactive thyroid. People who have hypothyroidism do not have enough thyroid hormones produced naturally in the body. That can cause symptoms ranging from chronic fatigue hair loss, and weight gain. Some people who have hypothyroidism also feel cold often, regardless of warm temperatures.
Conditions that can cause hypothyroidism include:
- Thyroiditis: This condition is inflammation of the thyroid gland. Thyroiditis lowers the amount of hormones produced by the thyroid.
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition where the body’s cells attack and damage the thyroid. This is an inherited condition and usually does not cause any type of pain.
- Postpartum thyroiditis: This condition occurs in 5% to 9% of women after childbirth and is typically temporary.
- Iodine deficiency: Iodine is used by the thyroid to produce hormones.
- A non-functioning thyroid gland: Sometimes, the thyroid gland doesn’t work correctly from birth. This affects around 1 in 4,000 newborns, and if left untreated, the child could have both physical and mental issues in the future. Every newborn is given a blood test in the hospital after birth to check their thyroid function.
The therapeutic treatment for underactive thyroid disorders is prescription medications. Levothyroxine taken daily can help reestablish normal thyroxine levels. Another prescription medication that may be taken in conjunction with Levothyroxine is NP Thyroid.
When first diagnosed with hypothyroidism, patients may receive a low-dose hormone replacement medication. Frequent blood tests to determine thyroid levels may be required, with the dose of hormone medications increased until the optimal balance is achieved.
Hyperthyroidism (Overactive Thyroid)
An overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, occurs if the thyroid gland makes too many hormones, while an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) occurs when it doesn’t make enough of the hormones. Both of these imbalances can lead to a great number of symptoms and other health complications.
Conditions that can cause hyperthyroidism include:
- Thyroiditis: This disorder can be either painful or not felt at all. In thyroiditis, the thyroid releases hormones that are stored there. This can last for a few weeks or months.
- Graves’ disease: In this condition, the entire thyroid gland might be overactive and produce too many hormones. This problem is also called diffuse toxic goiter (enlarged thyroid gland).
- Nodules: If the nodules on your thyroid are overactive, it can cause hyperthyroidism. A single nodule is known as a toxic autonomously functioning thyroid nodule, while a gland with several nodules is a toxic multinodular goiter.
- Excessive iodine: When you produce too much iodine, the thyroid makes more thyroid hormones than necessary. Excessive iodine can be found in some medications and cough syrups.
Some of the common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include heart palpitations, frequent bowel movements, sweating profusely or problems coping with hot temperatures, insomnia, hand tremors, and muscle weakness.
Common Symptoms of Thyroid Conditions
While marijuana has not been shown to cure thyroid issues, it can help manage symptoms caused by different thyroid conditions. There are a variety of symptoms one could experience if you have a thyroid disease, and symptoms of a thyroid condition are often similar to the signs of other medical conditions. This can make it difficult to determine if the symptoms are related to a thyroid issue or something else.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can include:
- Weight loss.
- Muscle weakness and tremors.
- Feeling sensitive to heat.
- Having vision problems or eye irritation.
- Irregular menstrual periods or having no menstrual cycle at all.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism can include:
- Weight gain.
- Having dry and coarse hair.
- Hoarse-sounding voice.
- Intolerance to cold temperatures.
- Having frequent and heavy menstrual periods.
Cannabis for Thyroid Conditions
A group of scientists performed a cross-sectional analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted between 2007 and 2012 to analyze the effects of marijuana on thyroid function and autoimmunity in users. There were a total of 5,280 adults ages 18 to 69 years who answered a questionnaire related to marijuana use and had laboratory results related to thyroid parameters.
The scientists categorized the subjects as nonusers, past users, and recent users, compared current users with nonusers and past users, and calculated the ratios for the clinically significant thyroid dysfunction in those groups.
Fifty-four percent of subjects reported lifetime cannabis use, with fifteen percent using it recently. The analysis showed that recent marijuana users had significantly lower levels of elevated thyrotropin and positive anti-thyroperoxidase antibody in comparison to the nonusers/past users.
The scientists determined that recent marijuana had no association with thyroid dysfunction but was significantly associated with lower levels of TSH. If you have concerns or you have been recently diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, discuss it with your cannabis healthcare provider at your next medical marijuana follow-up appointment.
Managing Symptoms of Thyroid Conditions with Medical Marijuana
Medical marijuana for thyroid disorders can help moderate a range of symptoms caused by thyroid conditions. While thyroid dysfunction may not be a qualifying health condition for medical cannabis, some of the chronic symptoms may make patients eligible for a medical card.
Some of the symptoms that may be helped by medical cannabis include:
Thyroid Hormone Imbalance
Research shows cannabinoids in marijuana for thyroid disorders play a significant role in hyperthyroidism and the regulation of the endocrine system. Hyperthyroidism is an imbalance in your body’s normal hormone levels, and marijuana helps maintain the body’s homeostasis.
Depression and Anxiety
Thyroid imbalances can also cause anxiety and depression; CBD and small amounts of THC have been shown to help with symptoms of stress and anxiety for some people.
Particular thyroid disorders cause inflammation of the thyroid gland. Cannabinoids have been shown to reduce inflammation in a variety of conditions, particularly strains that have a 50:50 ratio of cannabidiol and THC. Taking a daily clinical-grade CBD supplement can also ensure that you are getting high levels of cannabidiol to help manage inflammation.
Cannabis can help decrease pain levels associated with thyroid conditions. One of the thyroid disorders that impacts many Americans is Graves Disease, and it can cause moderate to severe joint pain. Medical cannabis may help temporarily alleviate pain symptoms.
Imagine waking up after a good night of sleep and still feeling like you barely slept at all. For most people, crawling back into bed isn’t an option, but many people with hypothyroidism live with a chronic level of fatigue daily.
Certain strains can help with fatigue as the terpenes can produce energizing effects. Even though the effects are temporary, lasting only a few hours, medical cannabis can be a helpful energy boost when you need it most.
Loss of Appetite
People who have hyperthyroidism may experience a suppressed appetite, which can lead to unwanted and unhealthy rapid weight loss. Some strains of cannabis may effectively stimulate appetite and help patients eat more regularly when experiencing the psychoactive effects of medical marijuana.
Medication Reactions to Cannabinoids
Patients should be aware of marijuana and common medication interactions, as cannabinoids can reduce the efficacy of some prescription medications. Thyroid function and autoimmunity are closely tied together.
With over 25 years of specialty training in Internal Medicine, as well as fellowship training in Functional and Sexual medicine, Dr. Maginso added Plant Medicine (Medical Marijuana) to her niche practice as of 2017. She is licensed in the State of Florida and attended the University of the East (UERM) in Quezon City, Philippines as well as the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark, NJ.
She joined DocMJ in 2019 to align with a known group of compassionate physicians that empower their patients to be better versions of themselves. Her favorite hashtag is #powerpassionperformance, using the combination of optimized bioidentical hormones, medical marijuana, plasma therapies, and sexual wellness.
She is an author, speaker and community advocate for Medical Marijuana, Sexual Health, and the empowerment of mature women.