CBD and hemp brands are marketing their products for managing pain and period cramps, but as someone with endometriosis, I know they won’t help me. Hemp wellness brands are introducing products made with herbs and CBD for menstrual cramps, mood swings, UTIs, and other reproductive health concerns.
I Really Need CBD Brands to Stop Lying to Me About Period Cramps
I was scrolling through my emails recently, exorcising spam, when one subject line caught my eye: “CBD for PMS? Hallelujah! .” The hemp company’s newsletter could not have been more on point—I was smack dab in the middle of one of my most painful periods to date. I opened the email, and my heating pad slipped as I shifted to the edge of my seat.
Could this really be the magical answer to the burning ball of fiery knives inside my uterus? I thought.
The newsletter was riddled with seemingly relatable Friends GIFs, clever alliterations, and marketing buzzwords to get the reader to buy, buy, buy! “PMS Pain Be Gone!” it read. But what it didn’t have was products that have been proven to—in any way, shape, or form—actually minimize excruciating period cramps.
I was floored. Not just as someone with intense period pain due to endometriosis, but also as a C-suite-level marketing professional. I couldn’t tell what was worse, the cramps in my uterus or the knife in my back.
One of the products was a patch with only 15 mg of CBD, also called cannabidiol, a compound found in cannabis that does not produce a high. Using that to try to manage my pain would be like putting a Band-Aid on a gushing head wound. How do I know this? For starters, I typically consume between 30 mg and 50 mg of CBD in a single dose when I’m taking it to manage my pain. And as much as I feel CBD assists me in my pain management, it’s not my cure-all. I could replace my blood with CBD oil and I would still have intense cramps. If something has only 15 mg of CBD, I don’t have to try it to know it’s not going to cure my PMS. Not to mention, there’s just no science or regulation behind these claims.
I quickly grabbed my phone and did what all opinionated millennial women do: rant on social media. Messages immediately poured in. I was not alone. Other women had similar experiences with the new wave of CBD products. Screenshots of high-end packaging and their ingredient labels flooded my DMs. Once again, I was taken aback by the prices, claims, ingredients, and minimal CBD contents.
If a product hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the brand behind that product cannot legally claim it will cure any ailment. From the FDA itself: ”Unlike drug products approved by the FDA, unapproved CBD drug products have not been subject to FDA review as part of the drug approval process, and there has been no FDA evaluation regarding whether they are safe and effective to treat a particular disease, what the proper dosage is, how they could interact with other drugs or foods, or whether they have dangerous side effects or other safety concerns.”
This is an incredibly personal issue for me because my periods are definitely not normal. I received my official endometriosis diagnosis after a laparoscopy in the summer of 2015. I have been working ever since to manage the painful, frustrating symptoms, which I’ve dealt with unofficially for over a decade. Traditional painkillers barely scratch the surface of my pain, and I had trouble getting doctors to take my level of pain seriously.
By Maggie O’Neill, M.F.A.
By Carolyn L. Todd
By Maggie O’Neill, M.F.A.
Up until my surgery, I was subjected to bouts of extreme discomfort and frequent UTIs. Sex was painful, and sometimes I would bleed during or after. I developed depression and anxiety while going through these unsuccessful battles with an ever-growing list of symptoms that went undiagnosed for years. I was opposed to opioid use and searched for an alternative. Not only do I understand the allure of using cannabis for period paid—I do it myself, and I find that some products really do help.
I didn’t know about CBD until I moved to California in 2017 and was shown a world of wonders (and snake oil), much of which is targeted toward women. Beauty products, supplements, and pain management aids were all labeled with “CBD” seemingly overnight. Even in California, where cannabis is legal, it isn’t regulated or FDA-approved the same way that prescription drugs are. So labels can still be inaccurate, which makes it difficult to know if you’re actually getting the dose you think you are.
Personally, I have found benefits from using CBD, and I find the best results when using CBD with THC products. That makes sense, according to a 2017 report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, which found that there is “conclusive or substantial evidence” that cannabis—not CBD on its own—is effective at treating chronic pain. (But not specifically pain due to PMS or endometriosis.)
I particularly gravitate toward tinctures and gummies that have a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD (meaning they contain the same amount of both compounds) when I’m dealing with tougher days or trying to sleep. I rely on trustworthy products and brands because my well-being can’t afford anything less. I’ve also made other healthful changes in my life that have helped me manage my symptoms, like finding other supplements that work for me, getting an IUD, changing my eating habits, and working out more. CBD and cannabis aided my journey of health and self-growth.
But I’m tired of brands and headlines making CBD out to be a miracle supplement that will rid you of anxiety, stress, tension, pain, acne, inflammation, PMS—the list goes on. The reality is that people do report that cannabidiol helps them, and I would never want to diminish CBD for those who receive benefits from it. But we have to be careful about the claims we make about these substances—especially when those claims are about treating serious, chronic conditions.
When I see brands push these products to unsuspecting women, I can’t help but feel a mix of anger, sadness, and loss of hope for a real solution. Women already go through insurmountable pain with few options and skeptical doctors. When we find something that we think works, we need to know that we can consistently trust it. But right now, we don’t have that for CBD.
More than ever, it’s on us, the consumers, to be discerning—and to make sure we’re having honest, reasonable discussions about what we’re experiencing, whether or not our treatments are working, and when it’s appropriate to try something new with open-minded medical professionals. Those conversations are crucial to help you figure out exactly what your needs are and what you can really expect from a possible treatment—especially when it comes to CBD.
Prone to PMS or Period Cramps? Cbd Wants to Help
W hen it comes to reproductive wellness, most hemp brands in the space have traditionally focused on two things: CBD for menstrual cramps and lube for sexy time. But a new wave of hemp-based products aims to address a broader range of menstrual and vaginal health concerns, with formulas designed for everything from hormonal mood swings and insomnia to UTIs and yeast infections.
Of course, CBD hasn’t been rigorously studied in humans for most use cases. (The same goes for many of the herbs included in the aforementioned products.) Most of the evidence for CBD’s benefits for sexual health is largely anecdotal, or based on very small studies. But brands are banking on CBD’s enduring buzziness (and a slowly growing body of research supporting it) to create products tailored specifically for menstrual and reproductive health.
How it (theoretically) works
CBD is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties, and inflammation is connected to a variety of reproductive health concerns. “CBD—or, preferably, whole hemp oil—can be beneficial for a host of female issues including menstrual cramps, premenstrual syndrome, headaches, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and fatigue,” says integrative OB-GYN Felice Gersh, MD.
CBD is also believed to support the endocannabinoid system—an internal network of receptors and chemical messengers that helps the body maintain homeostasis in the face of environmental stressors. While there’s a lot that we’re still learning about the endocannabinoid system, research suggests that if a person’s hormones are imbalanced, it can negatively impact their natural levels of endocannabinoid molecules. This is where CBD can come into play. ” Cannabinoids like CBD support our endocannabinoid system by decreasing the breakdown of our own endocannabinoids,” says Soyona Rafatjah, MD, medical director of PrimeHealth. “This, in turn, leads to the positive benefits that we see from stimulating our cannabinoid receptors, from pain relief to reduced inflammation to improved mood—all of which can [potentially] improve our menstrual cycle experience.” Hence the appeal for people looking for more natural solutions to their period woes.
The new products in the space
Again, we’ve had CBD lube and other such products for a while now. But the latest round of CBD-infused reproductive wellness products combine the cannabinoid with other herbal ingredients that are supposed to promote a healthy menstrual cycle. The inaugural collection from Winged is one example: Its Happiness Soft Gels supplements ($40) contain female hormone-supportive herbs like evening primrose oil, black cohosh, and chaste tree berry (also known as vitex) alongside CBD.
Winged founder Jessica Mulligan says she launched the line after noticing that there were few CBD brands “tailored specifically to women’s needs.” And indeed, the ingredients are legit—although it should be noted that not all herbs are super well-supported by robust research. “Evening primrose may help reduce the symptoms of PMS and cyclic breast tenderness, as can chaste tree,” says Dr. Gersh.
Ned takes this concept a step further with its new Natural Cycle Collection ($178). “O ne of the most common questions we received after launching our original full spectrum hemp collection was whether or not CBD can help with period symptoms,” says Brittany Weeden, curator of the Natural Cycle Collection. “It was a no-brainer that we had to develop products that are not only safe to take over the long term, but could also help support the endocrine system and uterus.”
FYI: there are also foods you can eat to help support a healthy menstrual cycle:
The collection contains four products —Period Ease Blend Oil ($44), a CBD tincture to take orally with herbs such as black cohosh, cramp bark, and valerian root; Period Soothe Salve ($40), a CBD balm for cramps made with freshly harvested roses and lavender buds; Hormone Energize Roll-On ($36) that promotes energy; and a Hormone Balance Blend Oil ($72) that contains red raspberry leaf and stinging nettles. These two ingredients are associated with improved reproductive health, reduced PMS symptoms, and less cramping, says Annie Miller, botanist, product developer and herb cultivator at Ned.
To help prevent the other minor annoyances that people with vaginas experience on the reg—urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and the like—cannabis-based lube brand Quim has developed a daily-use oil called Happy Clam ($48), which it likens to “an eye cream for your vagina.” Along with full-spectrum hemp CBD oil, Happy Clam also contains antibacterial and antifungal MCT and tea tree oils, irritation-soothing violet extract, and damiana, an aphrodisiac herb that, anecdotally, can contribute to more powerful orgasms. Unlike the other above-mentioned products, Happy Clam is meant to be applied directly to your labia and vagina, which could be irritating. (Your friendly reminder to always skin-test any new products before putting them anywhere near your bits.)
Is it worth trying?
Some of the benefits promised by these products should be taken with a grain of salt, especially since they often rely on ingredients who haven’t been particularly well-studied. (Including, yes, CBD.) But in general, Dr. Gersh thinks that CBD is safe for most people. However, she recommends those who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant should steer clear of CBD and other medicinal herbs. It’s also a good idea to vet supplement products with your health practitioner first to ensure that their ingredients won’t interfere with any conditions you have or medications you’re taking.
However, for those who want an alternative solution to their down-there dilemmas, CBD could be another tool in the PMS-fighting toolkit—if you’re willing to shell out for the pricey products. But some people have found the results well worth it. “It’s incredibly powerful to allocate some of the time and budget we spend on our faces and workout routines to our life-giving organs,” says Quim CEO and co-founder Cyo Nystrom. “They’re a gateway to our holistic wellness.”
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