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.
“Some of the most innovative and revolutionary products for women’s health are coming out of the cannabis industry.” —Jessica Assaf, Cannabis Feminist
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 researchpoints 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.
Though you (regrettably) won’t have her enthusiastic IRL endorsement to work you up as you scroll, below find some of Assaf’s favorite cannabis products created for women’s health.
Cannabis products to enhance sexual pleasure
Foria Pleasure Within and Foria Awaken
These oils are designed to be used on the outside (er, on the clitoris) and inside, for what the company calls a “pre-lube.” “You will experience heightened sensations that make sexual pleasure more intense, either by yourself or with a partner,” says Assaf, though she adds a caveat. “Because they are oil-based, these products are not compatible with latex condoms.”
Similar idea, different company. Apothecanna’s modest marketing explains that you can massage this oil onto “your neck, chest, and other erogenous zones” 15 minutes before getting intimate.
This sex-centric product is more of a tincture to be taken under the tongue than a lube; however, its expert botanist, Gillian Levy, tells me it can be used both ways. “We use the most natural, ethical ingredients that we can source,” she tells me, which include coconut MCT oil, damiana, cinnamon, kava kava, cardamon, roasted cocoa nibs, vanilla bean, vitamin E, and stevia.
Lulu’s was founded by Louise “Lulu” Sharpe, who began by making regular (read: non-cannabis-inclusive) chocolates but has long been a cannabis advocate. As such, her eventual expansion into edibles was perhaps inevitable. Each piece contains what’s considered a micro-dose of 5 mg of THC along with raw cacao, coconut sugar, CBD oil, vanilla bean, and sea salt.
These vape pens come pre-loaded with 50 or 100 doses—each time you pull a puff, it buzzes to let you know you’ve had enough. “Dosist has engineered the formulas [in these specific pens] so they increase sensitivity and pleasure while at the same time relaxing the body and mind,” says McCarty. “We’ve heard anecdotally from women that there can be some anxiety around initiation and climax during sexual experiences, and some women have reported feeling less inhibited [with the use of these pens].” Each dose is just 2.25 mg, and McCarty recommends starting slow in order to see what works best for your body.
Though Kikoko offers several formulas, one, Sensuali-Tea, is specifically designed to address libido. “People have written to us calling it the ‘marriage saver’,” Jones tells me. “We’ve found that if a woman’s anxiety could be lifted, sex was more likely and more enjoyable.” Jones emphasizes, however, that they’ve found dosage to be critical when it comes to THC and sex, because too much can have the opposite effect on libido.
Quim Rock is another company making topicals strictly designed for female pleasure. I love their slogan, which is, simply, “Self-care for humans with vaginas.” Their products also contain a small amount of tea tree oil, which is added for its antiseptic qualities.
Cannabis products to reduce PMS-related symptoms
Whoopi & Maya’s co-founder, Maya Elisabeth, has been in the cannabis space for over a decade as the founder of OM Edibles; here, she’s partnered with Whoopi Goldberg to specifically address PMS. This soothing and hydrating bath soak combines Epsom salts with cannabis, apricot kernel oil, avocado seed oil, jojoba oil, vitamin E, aloe vera, and essential oils.
As mentioned, Assaf raves about this product for PMS relief. “I’ve found that these suppositories completely eliminate cramps,” she says. “They also make you feel good all over.” Gerson further tells me that patients with conditions like vaginismus or vulvodynia have reported similar, non-menstrual-cycle-related experiences, too. “Imagine you’re someone who’s been dealing with a physical condition that makes sex uncomfortable or painful and your only recourse was an opiate,” he says. “An opiate shuts off the receptors so you don’t feel pain, but now you don’t feel anything.” These suppositories, he purports, can eliminate the pain while enabling the pleasure.
This is a mild product, a tincture to be taken under the tongue that utilizes a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD. It also includes cramp bark, which, as its name suggests, is used as a holistic treatment for cramps.
This cannabis-based cream was designed by Andrew Kerklaan, a holistically-minded Canadian chiropractor who turned to cannabis topicals after more than 20 years of experience trying to manage his patients’ pain. It’s designed specifically to treat physical symptoms of PMS such as cramping using what he tells me is a proprietary formulation.
Elisabeth tells me that the magnesium and iron found in chocolate are beneficial when dealing with PMS, which is why this cannabis-cacao mashup is a menstrual-relief match made in heaven (or, at least, the Bay Area). She suggests eating it with a spoon, sprinkling it onto fruit, or mixing it into heated milk or water.