I was scrolling through my emails recently exorcising spam when one subject line caught my eye: “CBD for PMS? ??Hallelujah! ??.” The hemp company’s newsletter could not have been more on point—I was smack dab in the middle of one of my most painful periods to date. I opened the email, and my heating pad slipped as I shifted to the edge of my seat.
Could this really be the magical answer to the burning ball of fiery knives inside my uterus?, I thought.
The newsletter was riddled with seemingly relatable Friends gifs, clever alliterations, and marketing buzzwords to get the reader to buy, buy, buy! “PMS Pain Be Gone!”, it read. But what it didn’t have was products that have been proven to—in any way, shape, or form—actually minimize my excruciating period cramps.
I was floored. Not just as someone with intense period pain due to endometriosis, but also as a C-suite-level marketing professional. I couldn’t tell what was worse, the cramps in my uterus or the knife in my back.
One of the products was a patch with only 15 mg of CBD, also called cannabidiol, a compound found in cannabis that does not produce a high. Using that to try to manage my pain would be like putting a Band-Aid on a gushing head wound. How do I know this? For starters, I typically consume between 30 mg and 50 mg of CBD in a single dose when I’m taking it to manage my pain. And as much as I feel CBD assists me in my pain management, it’s not my cure-all. I could replace my blood with CBD oil and I would still have intense cramps. If something has only 15 mg of CBD, I don’t have to try it to know it’s not going to cure my PMS. Not to mention, there’s just no science or regulation behind these claims.
I quickly grabbed my phone and did what all opinionated millennial women do: rant on social media. Messages immediately poured in. I was not alone. Other women had similar experiences with the new wave of CBD products. Screenshots of high-end packaging and their ingredient labels flooded my DMs. Once again, I was taken aback by the prices, claims, ingredients, and minimal CBD contents.
If a product hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the brand behind that product cannot legally claim it will cure any ailment. From the FDA itself:
Unlike drug products approved by the FDA, unapproved CBD drug products have not been subject to FDA review as part of the drug approval process, and there has been no FDA evaluation regarding whether they are safe and effective to treat a particular disease, what the proper dosage is, how they could interact with other drugs or foods, or whether they have dangerous side effects or other safety concerns.
This is an incredibly personal issue for me because my periods are definitely not normal. I received my official endometriosis diagnosis after a laparoscopy in the summer of 2015. I have been working ever since to manage its painful, frustrating symptoms, which I’ve dealt with unofficially for over a decade. Traditional painkillers barely scratch the surface of my pain and I had trouble getting doctors to take my level of pain seriously.
Up until my surgery, I was subjected to bouts of extreme discomfort and frequent UTIs. Sex was painful and, sometimes, I would bleed during or after. I developed depression and anxiety while going through these unsuccessful battles with an ever-growing list of symptoms that went undiagnosed for years. I was opposed to opioid use and searched for an alternative. Not only do I understand the allure of using cannabis for period paid—I do it myself, and I find that some products really do help.
I didn’t know about CBD until I moved to California in 2017 and was shown a world of wonders (and snake oil) much of which is targeted toward women. Beauty products, supplements, and pain management aids were all labeled with “CBD” seemingly overnight. Even in California, where cannabis is legal, it isn’t regulated or FDA-approved the same way that prescription drugs are. So labels can still be inaccurate, which makes it difficult to know if you’re actually getting the dose you think you are.
Personally, I have found benefits from using CBD and I find the best results when using CBD with THC products. That makes sense, according to a 2017 report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine which found that there is “conclusive or substantial evidence” that cannabis—not CBD on its own—is effective at treating chronic pain. (But not specifically pain due to PMS or endometriosis.)
I particularly gravitate toward tinctures and gummies that have a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD (meaning they contain the same amount of both compounds) when I’m dealing with tougher days or trying to sleep. I rely on trustworthy products and brands because my wellbeing can’t afford anything less. I’ve also made other healthful changes in my life that have helped me manage my symptoms, like finding other supplements that work for me, getting an IUD, changing my eating habits, and working out more. CBD and cannabis aided my journey of health and self-growth.
But I’m tired of brands and headlines making CBD out to be a miracle supplement that will rid you of anxiety, stress, tension, pain, acne, inflammation, PMS—the list goes on. The reality is that people do report that cannabidiol helps them, and I would never want to diminish CBD for those that receive benefits from it. But we have to be careful about the claims we make about these substances—especially when those claims are about treating serious, chronic conditions.
When I see brands push these products onto unsuspecting women, I can’t help but feel a mix of anger, sadness, and loss of hope for a real solution. Women already go through insurmountable pain with few options and skeptical doctors. When we find something that we think works, we need to know that we can consistently trust it. But right now, we don’t have that for CBD.
More than ever, it’s on us, the consumers, to be discerning—and to make sure we’re having honest, reasonable discussions about what we’re experiencing, whether or not our treatments are working, and when it’s appropriate to try something new with open-minded medical professionals. Those conversations are crucial to help you figure out exactly what your needs are and what you can really expect from a possible treatment—especially when it comes to CBD.