400 women will use 'weed tampons' for Harvard cannabis study

They cost about $11 and contain 60mg of THC, the main psychoactive component of marijuana, and 10mg of CBD.

  • A new observational study will ask 400 women to track their menstrual symptoms over the course of a few months during which they'll administer marijuana suppositories.
  • Marijuana suppositories are designed to alleviate the pain and stress of periods.
  • The observational study is described as a "first step," with the ultimate goal being a clinical trial that includes placebos.

Women have long used marijuana to alleviate the pain and stress of periods, though there's only anecdotal evidence showing the remedy actually works. An upcoming study hopes to change that by examining the potential benefits of "weed tampons," more accurately called marijuana suppositories.

What are marijuana suppositories?

Unlike traditional tampons that absorb menstrual blood, marijuana suppositories are designed only to help ease stress and pain from cramps, and therefore are seen as a replacement for conventional over-the-counter medications and narcotics. These suppositories have been on the market for years, though they've only been readily available in states where recreational marijuana is legal.

One suppository seller, California-based marijuana startup Foria Wellness, which also offers cannabis-infused lubricant, sprays and vaporizer pens, sells a vaginal suppository product called Relief. Each suppository costs about $11 and contains 60mg of THC, the main psychoactive component of marijuana, and 10mg of CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid known for its pain-killing properties. The product has "minimal psychoactive effects," according to Foria.

Relief, which can be used alongside a traditional tampon, is made out of cocoa butter and dissolves shortly after insertion.

One customer wrote:

"Extremely easy to insert, I used a tampon applicator. The suppository looks like a mini missle and It smells like cookie dough and cocoa butter. After 20 minutes I begin feeling a lower sensation. It was very nice and relaxing. It relieved some pressure in my lower back, especially while laying on my stomach."

Another wrote:

"I was visiting Colorado and in severe pain when someone suggested that I visit a dispensary and look for these. WOW! Literally saved my life. It was the first time in 7 years the muscles of my pelvis actually relaxed. The cramping after an hour was hardly noticeable and although TMI I was able to eliminate in a less painful way. These need to be LEGAL everywhere as they really are a medical intervention."

The largely positive response to marijuana suppositories like Relief helped inspire one Harvard researcher to pursue a first-of-its-kind study on the unconventional remedy.

An observational study on marijuana suppositories

Staci Gruber, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the director of the Cognitive and Clinical Neuroimaging Core and the Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery program, plans to conduct an observational survey of 400 women who will administer Foria's Relief suppositories over the course of a few months. The women will record their menstrual symptoms in an attempt to see if any correlative patterns emerge among the participants.

"What we're looking to do is take anecdotal information and turn it into data," Gruber told Business Insider, adding that the observational study, which will be funded by Foria and Flow Kana, is a first step and that a clinical trial would be the "holy grail".

However, studying marijuana treatments in clinical trials can be a long and difficult process because marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government. And though it'd be easier, from a legal perspective, for companies to sell (or pursue the study of) products containing only CBD (marijuana's non-psychoactive component), Foria CEO Mathew Gerson told Business Insider that the power of his products lies in the interactions between marijuana's multiple active compounds, a phenomenon known as the "entourage effect".

"We now know that the minute you break this plant apart into its component parts, you lose some of the magic," Gerson said. "And that sounds like hippie speak—but this is proven out again and again in study after study that the entourage effect as we understand it is real."

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  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.