The Cannabis Issue 2016
I'VE SPENT a great deal of time over the past couple of months talking with women about their uteruses and vaginas, their menstrual flow, cramping, and the use of panty liners. I've learned the intricacies of—or, at least, how to pronounce—endometriosis.
Was I studying for my gynecologist exam? No, I've been conducting an informal study to see if THC- and CBD-filled vaginal suppositories are useful to women. But I had to break the law to make it happen.
It started with a press release from a California company called Foria. In addition to their award-winning personal sex lubricant—which rolls with a hashtag we can all support: #legalizeorgasms—they made mention of a product I had never heard of: a vaginal suppository, used to treat painful menstrual cycles and endometriosis, each filled with 60 milligrams of THC and 10 milligrams of CBD. Each suppository is no larger than a popcorn kernel, and will not induce a psychotropic high. The ingredients are simple: organic cocoa butter, CO2-distilled THC oil, and CBD isolate.
But why a suppository? "The pelvic region contains more cannabinoid receptors than any other part of the body except for the brain," says Foria's wellness director, Mathew Gerson, "so delivering these actives in a suppository format is a natural choice."
I obtained a box of 15—never mind how, as they're only made and sold in Colorado and California. I honestly would not have minded had I been charged with "illegal possession of cannabis-infused vaginal suppositories," but alas, the Uterine Police did not come a-knocking.
As someone who holds that women's health care in the US, especially reproductive health, is both underserved and overregulated, this seemed a potential game-changer, allowing women to take charge of their painful periods without having to use drugs with questionable side effects. However, despite the oft-expressed opinions of many members of my high-school football team, I do not have a uterus. As such, I am not familiar with the pain and discomfort that comes with a menstrual cycle. I asked for a few choice insights from the women I spoke with, and it didn't sound super stellar.
"Imagine getting kicked in the balls by a steel-toed boot, repeatedly."
"Ever have food poisoning that came with crippling cramps? It's like that, only worse."
"The fucking pain has made me pass out. As in, passed out cold."
The women I recruited to try Foria's Relief Suppositories had interest but also concerns: (1) Would the product get them high? (2) Would it disrupt the complex balance of good bacteria, resulting in a yeast infection? (3) Could it be used once the menstrual cycle had begun? My answers were more often than not my best guesstimates: (1) It isn't supposed to, but every woman is different. (2) Same. (3) It's possible, but I was uncertain if that stage of the cycle would diminish the effects.
I sent the volunteers off with two suppositories each, and asked them to try them and record their experiences—and to be honest: If it doesn't work, say so. I've taken excerpts from their feedback, but the responses in full are available in our online version of this piece.
R., age 30
For full disclosure, my pussy is no stranger to cannabis. I use a coconut oil-based [cannabis] sex lube, and I totally love it. However, I had never considered this particular method of intake—vaginal suppository—for pain relief during my moon. Normally I medicate the cramps away with edibles or smoking. I'll use CBD-based products while I'm at work, and I find a nice, balanced ratio for when I'm at home and can comfortably and legally reach high states of body and brain numbness. Typically, I can get through the workday, but I have to take breaks, and I'm not happy about being alive at all. When I get home, I can medicate to the point that I don't care as much that I'm in a lot of pain. But the pain doesn't go away.
The cramps are bad. They've always been bad. They've gotten worse as I've aged (I'm nearing 31) and my preferred contraception style (copper IUD) leads to increased intensity. Ah, the joys of womanhood. When I heard about this product, I knew immediately that it was something I'd like to try.
So try I did! I was lucky enough to have time and space to be at home during this moon cycle, and so I was able to follow the sweet instructions outlined in the Foria booklet, which call for soft lighting, a pillow prop, an open window with gauzy curtains billowing in the breeze at dusk....
The product is non-intimidating. There was some question of whether I was doing it right... but there really is only one way, so I think I managed okay. I inserted the tiny li'l egg of cocoa butter and cannabis oil right as my worst cramps were beginning to tell me they were coming. I laid back and waited. The booklet says to wait 15 to 30 minutes for full activation. And... well... I still had cramps. I still felt some pain. The dull ache that spread throughout my whole bod was still there. But! They were SIGNIFICANTLY less intense. It took my pain level from an 8 to a 3. And a couple bowls of Animal Cookies later, I was actually laughing and carrying on a normal conversation.
Normally I am doubled over and screaming inside as little beings with tiny little torches set fire to my entire lower back and abdomen. They usually keep that fire burning for a night and a day.
With Foria, my cramps lasted a few hours, and they were unpleasant and uncomfortable, rather than unbearable. The next day was a total breeze with no cramping at all. That was an incredibly pleasant surprise. So, in short, I noticed a significant decrease in the amount of pain I experienced, and the length of time that I was cramping was significantly shorter. This would be the perfect medicine for days that I need to work. I want to time it better and see if inserting the suppository an hour before I start cramping will have different results. I didn't need to use the second suppository, so I'll get to give it another shot in 28 days.
T., age 35
This is probably more than you ever want to know, but I have really mild periods. I get bloated and for one day a month I get waves of pain that, at the worst, rank a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. I typically feel a little nauseous and don't want to get out of bed when the pain is bad.
On the day I used the suppository, I had 2 out of 10 level waves of pain. The suppository was easy to use for me, but I must say that I have a lot of patients who are not comfortable enough touching themselves to place a suppository by hand appropriately. I went about my day and just waited to see how I would feel. I continued to feel bloated all day but didn't really notice anything more than that. I didn't notice any pain. I also didn't notice any nausea or any feeling of a high.
I was concerned that there would be a nasty discharge, but I was pleasantly surprised to find only a small amount of oiliness and nothing particularly unpleasant. There was also no skin or mucosal irritation, and my clothes were not harmed in this testing.
I do not know how long it lasted. As I said, I only have one day of pain and the cramps did not come back. I think I'm a tough one to comment on how effective it is, as my pain is not severe. However, I think there are a lot of patients out there who would be interested in this and may have impressive results.
J., age 46
I have PCOS [polycystic ovary syndrome], which makes for very painful, irregular periods. Often the cramps are so bad that I have to take time off work, so finding any kind of non-narcotic relief is a blessing. I tried Foria on the first day of my cycle, when the cramps are the worst for me. It took about half an hour, but eventually I began to feel a gentle relaxing of the cramped muscles and, even better, some relief from the accompanying lower back pain. After an hour I was feeling very little pain, just a dull twinge now and then. The overall sensation was numbing and warm. It lasted about two hours total, and gradually wore off. I never got high or had any other effects from the pill—just the relief, which was welcome. I would definitely use this regularly.
M., age 25
So I finally got around to using the Foria. I love them! As someone who has struggled with PCOS for years, my premenstrual pain is pretty bad. These Foria suppositories alleviated all pain. I felt a pure bliss down there. The suppository smelled like pure chocolate—it was unreal. I would definitely use these in the future. Honestly, next time I'd turn to them before seeing a doctor. Using these have helped me become more aware of all the struggles I've had with period pain, and with one simple insert, that was it. I've found the cure!
S., age 28
I had two very positive experiences using this, and would definitely use it again. I have a very sensitive "feminine ecosystem," and was skeptical about trying a new product so intimately, but I felt comfortable with the ingredients and am somewhat desperate to relieve my cramping, so I went for it. I am glad to say that I noticed no unpleasant changes in my personal chemistry. If anything, it was beneficial to have the cocoa butter and cannabinoids hanging out down there for a while.
The first time was on the evening of the first day of my menses, and I was cramping intensely. I created a station of relaxation in bed and lay back with pillows under my hips, tilting my pelvis back, and breathing deep, diaphragmatic breaths. The position alone brought some immediate relief, as did the air of self-care and deep breathing. These cramps had turned into a downright special occasion on account of this Foria suppository! I started noticing even more profound relief within the next 20 minutes, and by the time 30 minutes went by, I felt so relaxed I decided to stay down. I slept so soundly that night, which may have also been due to the additional elements of sheer exhaustion, 5 milligrams of melatonin, and a goodnight doobie. The next day my cramps seemed surprisingly light for a second-day period. I'm going to chalk that up to good sleep and a healthy dose of cannabis the night before.
The second time was five days later, on the last day of my period. I was cramping so badly I had to excuse myself from a social situation to seek relief. I followed the same protocol, but with hopes I could rejoin my people within the hour. I started feeling relief after about 15 minutes this time, but stayed reclined another 15 minutes to really let it soak in. I was able to join my friends again for another hour, which was wonderful because it was a rare grouping.
I am excited about this product, and hope it makes its way to the market in Oregon soon.
R., age 28
I was diagnosed with pelvic congestion syndrome at the age of 12 when I began a pain management regimen of opiate derivatives just to make it through my school day. The following years led to complications as a result of narcotic pain relievers including IBS [irritable bowel syndrome], chronic constipation, and, last but not least, addiction. The non-physical repercussions that result from a pain management lifestyle include more and more hoops to jump through just to get the medication I need to live a normal life, including expensive, invasive, and often painful doctor visits and exams just to maintain my right to a prescription I've had filled for the last 15 years. I've always wanted to try using THC as a non-addictive, natural replacement for narcotic pain medication.
My fear always lay in the paranoia and anxiety that had always been associated with smoking or ingesting THC products.
Air travel had been one of the most physically taxing things for my body in recent years. Takeoff and landing are almost always uncomfortable experiences, especially during ovulation and menstruation cycles. This week I inserted a THC suppository in the airport bathroom about an hour before takeoff, and by the time we were in the sky my abdominal muscles relaxed significantly. My groin, abdomen, and even my thighs felt warm and tingly. It even mildly helped relax some lower back pain I had been experiencing during my six weeks of travel. Not at any point during my flight duration did I feel paranoid, anxious, or high. Only a constant warmth and comfort throughout, which made my flight relaxing and enjoyable for the first time in my life.
For women who may be experiencing discomfort during ovulation or menstruation, this product could be an honest to goodness, powerful, yet non-addictive pain relief alternative to harsh, habit-forming narcotics. I'm almost brought to tears by the reality that something like this exists. A product like this could change my daily life, my performance at work, and my comfort while traveling.
S., age 41
I've been plagued by debilitating menstrual cramps from the start. The chip-your-tooth-'cause-you-fainted-and-fell-down kind of cramps. There's a fine balance to keeping these under control, and I've been fighting the good fight with ibuprofen or naproxen over the years. When my friend approached me about trying out Foria, I was excited to see just how this might change the game for me.
The first day of my period is always the most trying, because I never know quite when the pain is going to hit me. With traditional meds, it takes quite a while before relief is felt, so I have to be one step ahead of the game if I don't want my whole day to spiral downward! I tend to make it a spa day or, at the very least, pamper the hell out of myself with as much rest and protein as I can indulge in.
It was great to come home from work, tired and grumpy, but with Foria to look forward to, as I had not been able to manage my first round of cramps very well. After a hot shower I was ready to relax. It's easy to insert—just make sure you chill it in the fridge first. As I lay on the couch, after a while I noticed that my cramps lessened, and then subsided completely. It was as if my whole pelvic floor just softened and I was able to fully relax.
I didn't feel high, and wasn't muddled or sleepy, just indulged in this time of relief. Because of the nature of the insert, this might not be the most practical application for a busy and active day; however, I think it makes a wonderful weekend or evening therapy. It also makes me happy to know that there is an alternative to killing my liver on a monthly basis by taking such hefty doses of NSAIDs [nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs]! Hopefully this review helps other women, whether you get severely rocked by cramps or just want an alternative treatment.
M., age 27
For those of you who don't experience painful menstrual symptoms, let me break it down for you and give you a little insight. When I'm on my period, my body turns on me. I get horrible back cramps that feel like jackhammers are being drilled into my lower back. It feels like my insides are being ripped out of my body, with knives jabbing me in the ovaries. My vagina gets sore and achy, sometimes even throbbing with pain. It feels a little like torture, except that it's all going on inside of me and I have to wake up and go to work and live my life like it's any other day. This happens for a week, once every four weeks. Not fun, right?
When I heard about a marijuana menstrual line, I was all for trying it out. Something natural that might ease my pain? I was down. I tested the Foria Relief on the first day of my period. Cramps, aches, they were all there. All I had to do was slip one of the small suppositories inside myself, lie back, and relax. I timed the medicine, and after eight minutes a soothing, relieving sensation swept over my lower region. I in no way felt numb, but felt a similar type of sensation as far as pain relief. It did not reach or help my back cramps—which are the worst part for me—but it was very effective for cramps and soreness in my vagina and lower stomach. Overall I thought it was a good product, clean and easy to use. It didn't fit all of my needs because of my lower back, but I do think for other people this could be very beneficial.