After generations of taboo and neglect, female-specific health issues—e.g. menstruation and sexual pleasure—are, it seems, poised to find an unlikely hero at long last: cannabis.
Over breakfast at Los Angeles’ westside Cafe Gratitude one morning, Jessica Assaf, AKA the Cannabis Feminist, startles me with the following declaration: “Some of the most innovative and revolutionary products for women’s health are coming out of the cannabis industry.” Such products, she tells me, include: PMS-relieving suppositories, bath salts, and tinctures; female-specific sexual-enhancement lubes; libido-boosting teas, chocolates, and vape pens; and more.
As Assaf begins to evangelize these products, I feel a tingle of excitement. It builds to a crescendo with her mic-drop statement. “[With the suppositories], your period can actually be enjoyable!” Mind. Officially. Blown.
Later, my inner skeptic (read: journalist) wants to know if there’s any actual science behind cannabis use for these purposes. What I find is that research around the efficacy of cannabis for these (and most other, TBH) therapeutic purposes is scarce—marijuana is, after all, still considered a schedule 1 drug federally. So, claims regarding the benefits of these products remain largely anecdotal (e.g. “Your period can be enjoyable!”)
Matthew Gerson, founder of Foria, a company making cannabis products meant to target sexual pleasure and PMS relief, however, says these “new” treatment options are anything but new. “I look at [this moment] as a rediscovery of an application of cannabis, or cannabinoids specifically, because [these benefits] have been known for a really long time,” he says. In other words, it is because it always has been.
Some new science may support these hazy claims, however. Cannabis tea company Kikoko’s co-founder Amanda Jones cites developments in support of libido-specific cannabis usage. “Recent clinical research points to evidence that THC is picked up by [cannabinoid] receptors on the hypothalamus, which in turn regulates gonadal pituitary function that basically initiates sex drive,” Jones says. Dosist CMO Derek McCarty references the same research as well as another science-backed reason for cannabis’ effect on sex drive. “THC and CBD, the star compounds in cannabis, work directly with the endocannibinoid system, which controls balance in the body and can effect everything from your mood to your appetite to your sex drive and your body’s response during sex,” he adds.
Scientific proof of cannabis’ effectiveness as a treatment for pain, meanwhile—which may help explain why it’s touted by some as a PMS treatment—is only slightly more robust; however, Gerson tells me that Foria is currently planning a first-of-its-kind observational study of the company’s PMS-specific suppositories involving between 500 to 800 women.
As skeptics (like me) wait impatiently for more such research to roll in, Gerson offers that in the four years since Foria’s Pleasure oil first came onto the market, the company has received feedback from tens of thousands of users—but, he adds, there’s no reason to take anyone else’s word for its effectiveness (or lack thereof). “Why not experiment on yourself…these compounds have proven to be remarkably safe for human consumption for over 10,000 years,” he says. (I do, BTW, with mixed results. The oils are an enthusiastic yes; but I did not, unfortunately, enjoy my period as a result of suppository use.)
To expand the reach of women’s-health related products beyond the states in which cannabis is legal so more women can experiment, Gerson and a number of other leaders in his field are focused on developing products that contain CBD derived from legal, high-quality hemp instead of cannabis. When trying to determine whether or not a product is available to you, look for the words “cannabis” and “THC” versus “CBD” or “hemp”: The former will denote illegal status in most states.