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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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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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