Pot for PMS seems like a no-brainer. Even Queen Victoria used cannabis for her menstrual cramps, and that was in 1890. Of course, pot as menstrual relief has been stymied by the criminalization of cannabis and by widespread squeamishness over menstruation. For most of modern history, the public discussion of both pot and periods has been taboo.
Whoopi Goldberg and cannabis edibles maker Maya Elisabeth want to change that with Whoopi & Maya, their line of PMS-fighting cannabis products.
"I used to be under the table with my cramps, and my daughter and granddaughters are the same way," Goldberg says. "With all these different [cannabis] products, there wasn't something for women. That says a lot about us as a nation. People don't think about menstrual cramps as something that's real."
Based in the Bay Area, Whoopi & Maya sells an array of cannabis-powered options for menstrual relief: medicated magnesium bath soak, raw sipping chocolate (in THC or CBD varieties, the latter of which won’t get you high), topical rub for localized pain and a tincture for "serious discomfort."
A year ago, when she was looking to enter the cannabis industry, Goldberg set out to determine if there were already products dedicated to PMS. Her friend Rick Cusick, former associate publisher at High Times, told her it was a "niche" market. "Well, that niche encompasses half the planet!" she says. Looking to find someone to make the product, Whoopi and her team came across Elisabeth, founder of Om Edibles and seven-time High Times Cannabis Cup winner, and they teamed up to create products to ease the menstrual cycle.
"This isn't about getting [women] high, it's about getting them to be able to go to work and school and to function," Goldberg says. "It's a good alternative to Motrin or all the things that we take for our cramps and periods. Hey, maybe this can work."
Whoopi & Maya aims to appeal to those new to medicating with marijuana, Elisabeth adds. "The intention is to help people find relief, mood elevation and relaxation." Not only do the cannabinoids, or the chemical compounds in pot, help ease cramps and raise spirits, they also enhance the effects of the products' other herbal additives, which include cacao, magnesium, lavender, neroli, avocado seed oil and St. John's wort.
When a woman soaks in a Whoopi & Maya medicated bath, the THC and magnesium affect her topically and internally. Whereas a THC-infused edible may cause more of a "committed high" that’s felt throughout the body and in the mind, the bath salts and hydrotherapy target the colon and uterine cramps, Elisabeth explains. "You have your heat, pressure and element of water and magnesium salts that go into your yoni, up through the uterus, and colon," she says. "It doesn't get the mind high, but it has a big body effect."
Magnesium salts have been used widely among athletes in high-stress environments, Elisabeth points out. "They pull lactic acid out of the muscles, which is what causes soreness."
Cacao beans, on the other hand, contain their own non-cannabis cannabinoids. In the process of what's called the "entourage effect," during which different cannabinoids work together to enhance each other's individual functioning, the cacao- and cannabis-derived cannabinoids cooperatively provide relief. And with its ultra-high magnesium content, cacao is ideal for women during and after their periods, Elisabeth says, when women may actually be deficient in magnesium.
When the cannabis industry began to blossom, it was a male-dominated field. Think of the "traditional guy stoner," says Dr. Perry Solomon, chief medical officer of HelloMD, a telehealth startup based in San Francisco that sees nearly 600 patients a week. "It's more women-centric now. I think the demographics have changed. More women are growing it, and there are more dispensary products for symptoms like PMS."
Foria, a medicated vaginal suppository, is another PMS-fighting cannabis product.
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When patients ask for medical marijuana recommendations for ailments such as insomnia, pain, anxiety and migraines, Solomon suspects that some of them also are looking to treat PMS symptoms.
"A lot of female patients don't feel comfortable telling a guy they have bad menstrual cramps," says Dina Browner, better known as Dr. Dina, head business consultant for Alternative Herbal Health Services, a West Hollywood dispensary that carries Whoopi & Maya.
Whoopi & Maya also has helped men talk more openly about periods. After the company went public in March, New Jersey considered adding PMS to the limited list of conditions covered under its medical marijuana program — until the governor nixed it. "That's insulting," Goldberg says. "People have said, 'Well, there's not enough research.’” She points out that, since marijuana is still categorized as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin, large-scale scientific research can be tricky. “People have been doing their own research,” she continues. “And they say, 'Hey, this is good for me.'"
Elisabeth says education is the only way to lift the stigma from the two "white elephants in the room” — pot and periods. "What would society look like if men had a period once a month?” she asks. “Would there be paid time off, more studies, more options for medicines? I hope to see how [Whoopi & Maya] changes the perception of the average cannabis user. It's not just about getting high but about healing, prevention, finding relief and day-to-day management."