Menstruation & Marijuana

By Sarah Weiss

There is ample research available to support the theory that cannabis can help ease our aches and pains. It’s not a stretch to acknowledge these medicinal properties can extend to the pain and discomfort often associated with a menstrual cycle. So why isn’t this potential remedy shared far and wide between uterus-owning individuals?

Stigma.

There is currently a large amount of stigma revolving around cannabis, especially in the United States, and there has been for over half a century. In the early 1900s, Mexican immigrants introduced recreational cannabis to the United States. Shortly after came the Great Depression, during which Americans experienced widespread unemployment. This, in turn, increased the public’s resentment towards the Mexican immigrants – and the marijuana they’d brought with them. 29 states had criminalized marijuana in some way by 1931. The famous anti-cannabis propaganda film “Reefer Madness” was released 5 years later, in December of 1936.

Nearly forty years later, in June of 1971, Nixon would officially declare the “War on Drugs.” Nixon had signed the Controlled Substances Act into law the previous year. The Act outlined 5 “schedules” of drug classification, based on a substance’s addictive potential. Heroin, ecstasy, and marijuana are all classified as Schedule 1 drugs – meaning they are the most addictive. Oxycontin, cocaine, and methamphetamine are Schedule 2. Even today, as many states have legalized cannabis for medical and recreational use, marijuana remains federally classified as a Schedule 1 drug.

But an even wider-spread and longer-running stigma is placed on the reproductive cycle and a person’s period. The stigma transcends cultures and religions. In parts of Nepal, many still participate in Chhaupadi, a practice in which menstruating women are sent to live in segregated huts for the duration of their period. This practice stems from the belief that menstruation is inherently dirty or “unclean.” In some parts of the Caribbean, it was believed menstrual blood holds magical powers and can be used to control the minds of others through consumption. Therefore, menstruating people may have been prevented from preparing food.

These practices may seem extreme in America. However, one can still observe our culture’s blatant aversion to menstruation through our use of language. Using the term “feminine hygiene products” implies something about menstruating is inherently dirty or unhygienic. Additionally, the euphemisms we’ve created to refer to a person’s menstrual cycle are practically never-ending. “It’s shark week,” “Aunt Flo’s visiting,” and “I’m on the rag,” are but a few of the things we’d rather say than “I’m menstruating.”

Photo by Ann Zzz from Pexels

These social stigmas make discussing either topic taboo. It is only logical that two taboo subjects combined would not be a frequent topic of discussion. Even as such discussion could generate a mass of potential benefits. We have evidence to show cannabis has been used in the treatment of menstrual discomfort and other uterine issues throughout history. However, due to these stigmas, there is likely a much larger history that was lost to time.

Despite what was lost, the historical data we were able to recover on the use of cannabis for menstrual discomfort is believed to date as far back as 1550 B.C. One of the oldest medical documents ever discovered – the Ebers Papyri from ancient Egypt – described a practice in which ground cannabis was mixed with honey and applied vaginally to “cool the uterus.”

Before Epidurals and Pitocin, there was cannabis.

The first medical documents found written in Arabic, known as the Al-Aqrabadhin Al-Saghir, were dated back to 9th century Persia. These documents explain that the juice of cannabis seeds was mixed with a variety of other herbs and administered intranasally to calm uterus pains and prevent miscarriage.

Although modern medical science suggests it may be best for pregnant people to avoid cannabis consumption, throughout history cannabis has been used as an aid during the delivery process. For example, a burial tomb from approximately 600 B.C. was discovered in Palestine in which the skeletal remains of a 14-year-old girl were found. After investigation, it became clear the girl had died in childbirth. Ash was also found in the tomb, which was later revealed to be burnt cannabis. It is believed the cannabis was burned and administered as an inhalant to the girl during her difficult labor.

By the mid-1800s, using cannabis – often referred to as “Indian hemp” in medical publications – to help facilitate labor was a well-documented medical practice. At the time, the most popular way to induce labor was through the use of Ergot fungi. These fungi, which are poisonous to humans, can be lethal, and often led to stillbirths. Ergot is also incredibly psychotropic. Clearly, cannabis made for a less intimidating alternative, being non-lethal and less psychoactive than the fungi.

Photo by CBD Infos on Unsplash

As time and science progressed, inhalation lost out in favor of oral administration, usually in the form of a tincture. This is because oral administration allows for a more controlled dose of desired cannabinoids. In 1852 John Grigor published an article in the Monthly Journal of Medical Sciences in which he stated “I have noticed the contractions acquire great increase of strength and frequency immediately on swallowing the drug, and have seen four or five minutes ere the effect ensued; … when effectual it is capable of bringing the labour to a happy conclusion considerably within a half of the time that would other have been required.”

In fact, many doctors of the era wrote of cannabis’s ability to cause contractions and facilitate labor. In 1851 Sir Alexander Christison of Edinburgh wrote “Indian hemp appears to possess a remarkable power of increasing the force of uterine contraction during labour… Shortening of the {pain} interval was, in general, a more conspicuous phenomenon than prolongation of the pain.” It should be noted again that the consumption of cannabis while pregnant is currently not recommended by modern physicians.

Original artwork by Sarah Weiss

With modern-day legalization, we saw a rebirth of cannabis-based solutions for menstrual discomfort. Medicated tampons, suppositories, and lube are just a few of the items to hit the market in recent years. Here at Substance, we have a few favorite products we like to recommend for these uses.

Luminous Botanicals product photography

Luminous Botanicals Cannabis Tonic

This tonic is made with a base of coconut and almond oil. Luminous can be ingested as a tincture. It can spread on the skin topically. But the real treasure here is that their all-natural formula has been approved for internal application. This means it can be used sensually for lubrication. (Being an oil-based lubricant, it is not recommended for use with latex condoms). A budtender tip? Add a few drops of this tonic to a tampon to help ease cramping! It is worth noting, however, that the vagina is a very absorbent part of the body. This means that any cannabinoids are likely to be absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly. Because of this, if you choose either of the formulas containing THC, you may feel some psychoactive effects.

Synergy Skin Worx Product Photography

Synergy Skin Worx Patches

Transdermal patches are a staff favorite when it comes to pain relief. Slap one of these on your lower abdomen and feel your discomfort melt away. Be careful though, patches are the only topical that can penetrate the blood barrier. This means that a patch infused with THC may cause some physcoactive effects.

High Desert Pure Product Photography

High Desert Pure Soak & Fizz

It’s fairly common knowledge that a warm bath can help ease menstrual pain and discomfort. High Desert Pure Soak & Fizz bath salts can aid in muscle relaxation. Their bath products contain a potent 1:1 THC+CBD blend. In combination with their delightful essential oil blends, High Desert Pure has managed to create a bathing experience unlike any other.