This time last year, you may not have heard of CBD, but chances are you’ve gotten used to seeing it everywhere, from wellness therapies to lattes. It’s being touted as beneficial for a range of conditions — including epilepsy, anxiety and arthritis — but what about period pain?
As someone with serious cramps and other symptoms, I decided to give some CBD products a try to see if they could provide any relief. I also spoke with a few doctors about how and why this may be helpful — or even possibly harmful. Here’s what I learned about CBD and period pain and what happened when I tried it.
What the experts say
CBD is short for cannabidiol, a compound found in cannabis, and is thought to produce some of the same therapeutic benefits without getting you high. (A different compound — tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — does that.) At this point, the science is pretty murky; the only FDA-approved drug with CBD is for treating rare forms of epilepsy in children. But thanks to Congress passing the Farm Bill in late 2018, we’re likely to see significantly more research on the effects of CBD on a variety of medical conditions, including (hopefully) menstrual pain.
According to Dr. Mary Clifton, an internal medicine physician who is licensed by the New York State Department of Health to provide medical marijuana, patients are using cannabis and CBD orally and intravaginally with some success.
“Cannabinoid receptors at areas of pain and inflammation are stimulated by natural endocannabinoids to decrease painful responses,” Clifton tells SheKnows. “In areas of intense muscle cramping, CB receptors are ready and waiting for THC or CBD to reduce that painful response.”
Similarly, Dr. Kecia Gaither, who is double-board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology and maternal fetal medicine and director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln tells SheKnows that while research specifically relating to CBD’s use in menstrual pain is lacking right now, it does potentially hold promise.
“Theoretically, CBD may be a viable option for menstrual pain as an anti- inflammatory agent,” she explains. “It comes in various formularies; oils, pills, creams and lotions. At this point in time, I believe that more research, regulation of CBD products [and] medical oversight of its use for medicinal measures are needed.”
So in the absence of formal research, I decided to conduct a bit of my own and tried a variety of CBD products over the course of a few months when my menstrual pain was at its worst. Here’s what happened.
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CBD period pain products
Some of the CBD products I tried are specifically marketed for menstrual pain, while others are more all-purpose. This is similar to non-CBD period pain remedies (like taking Midol versus a general NSAID), and like everything else, it’ll probably take some trial and error before finding out what (if anything) works for you. And of course, it’s best to consult with your doctor before trying anything new.
CBD vaginal suppositories
Foria Basics Suppositories is the first menstrual-specific CBD product I had heard of. During a conversation I had with Foria creator and CEO Mathew Gerson, he mentioned that he created these vaginal suppositories for his wife, who has terrible cramps. He then followed up by telling me that unfortunately, they didn’t work for her, but that other people who menstruate have found them to be helpful.
I appreciated his honesty and was curious as to which group I’d fall into, so I tried them. The box comes with a helpful instructional leaflet to help you with insertion. My major takeaways are: 1) pop a tampon or menstrual cup in after you put in the suppository, as it’s made using cocoa butter and melts, and 2) you may want to try it for the first time in the comfort of your own home and not in a small bathroom stall in your office.
After about an hour or two, my cramps did get better, but I wasn’t sure if it was because of the suppository or they had just lessened on their own. I’ll definitely be trying these again the next time I have knife-to-abdomen cramps to see if I can replicate the results.
If you’re curious about how CBD vaginal suppositories can potentially help with period pain relief, you can sign up to participate in a study conducted by an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and director of a cannabis research program at McLean Hospital on behalf of Foria to help better understand how (or if) it actually works.
Another company, CBD Living, also has suppositories that can be used vaginally for menstrual cramps or rectally for other reasons. Since I received a sample of the product, I haven’t had cramps of the same severity, so I’m not sure how well they work for me, but I’m open to trying them.
I tried several different CBD oils of varying strengths throughout my last few periods, including ones from Green Witch, Extract Labs and Bluebird Botanicals. As this wasn’t a formally designed research study to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, I didn’t control for things like the amount of CBD in each product and instead just took the samples I was sent.
Though none of these products took my pain away, one night when I woke up with stabbing pain from cramps and couldn’t sleep as a result, I took the tincture from Extract Labs and paired it with some of their muscle cream (more about that later). Within about 20 minutes, the pain had gotten manageable to the point that I was able to fall back to sleep. I’ll definitely be trying that combo again.
There are also several options out there that use CBD to help ease menstrual pain from the outside in. As I mentioned above, I rubbed some of the Extract Labs muscle cream on my abdomen one night when my cramps woke me up. It did make me feel better and provided some relief.
I also tried a variety of other topical creams and ointments to help with period pain — including ones by Dr. Kerklaan Therapeutics, Sagely Naturals and Leef Organics — and although most did provide a nice cooling sensation when I rubbed them on, I’m not sure it would feel that different from applying other topical pain-relief products like Bengay or Icy Hot.
The bottom line
Period pain is tricky. What works for one person may be of no use to the next person, and that’s likely the case with CBD products as well. Like the doctors I spoke with, I’d definitely like to see some actual scientific research into the use of CBD for menstrual pain. I also appreciate that the emerging CBD market is actually taking into account the 90 percent of people who menstruate who experience pain as a result.
So though I’m not sure whether CBD will work for your menstrual pain (or even my own, really), I’m going to keep giving some of these products a whirl the next time a round of mind-numbing cramps strikes.