You may have heard that Whoopi Goldberg has launched a line of cannabis-infused products for women designed to alleviate period-related pain. The brand—called Whoopi & Maya (Goldberg has partnered with marijuana industry veteran Maya Elisabeth)—is selling bath salts, a body balm, a tincture, and a chocolate spread in the state of California. But are these pot-packed items really a wise remedy for cramps?
It’s hard to say, according to Jennifer Gunter, MD, an ob-gyn based in San Francisco. Whoopi & Maya products contain THC—the compound in marijuana that causes the high, relaxes muscles, and may help with pain—as well as cannabidiol, which may also have analgesic properties. The fact is, “we still have a lot to learn about these chemicals, and what they even do exactly,” Dr. Gunter explains.
Scientists have been studying how THC and cannabidiol affect pain in general—not menstrual pain specifically. “Period cramps are acute pain that comes and goes, and [cramps] are related primarily to release of prostaglandins,” says Dr. Gunter. These hormone-like substances trigger your uterine muscles to contract; the higher the level of prostaglandins, the more severe menstrual cramps become. “But there is limited research on how the compounds in cannabis affect the release of prostaglandins,” Dr. Gunter points out.
“One study—not on humans—shows that while THC and cannabidiol can impact prostaglandins, they are not very good at it,” she adds.
Then there are the safety considerations. THC can trigger a negative reaction (think anxiety, paranoia, and dysphoria) in some people, warns Dr. Gunter. And if you’re curious whether the edible contains enough THC to get you high, the answer appears to be yes: The dose of oral THC considered safe for those who have never ingested it before is 10mg, Dr. Gunter explained in a blog post. But each serving in the “THC Raw Cacao” product seems to contain 25mg per serving(!).
As for the topical products, it isn’t clear whether these products would work at all, says Dr. Gunter. The ingredients would need to be absorbed through the skin, enter the blood stream and travel to the uterus, where the cramping is occurring. The cream and bath salts may be nothing more than expensive placebos, she says. What’s more, the bath salts could lead to skin irritation. (“I see contact dermatitis—irritation on the vulva—from bath products all the time.”)
Dr. Gunter’s take-home message: Until there is substantial scientific research on medical marijuana and menstruation, “you can’t say [these products] are safe.” For now, you’re better off sticking with ibuprofen and a heading pad.