In the United States, cannabis is now more popular than ever, and women’s swiftly-changing attitudes about the plant are a big reason why. According to survey data from Quinnipiac University, 61 percent of American women now believe cannabis should be legalized, compared with just 44 percent in 2012 (in case you were wondering, men’s support for legalization has held steady at 59 percent). And while men might still smoke more cannabis, women have been the driving force behind the growing popularity of new products — especially topicals.
Women account for 68 percent of all topical sales, per data from the analytics firm Headset. Researchers believe this is because women have a greater focus on health and wellness, as opposed to getting high (though your mileage may vary on that one). And since “total well-being” is one of the top trends for 2019 — according to Forbes, at least — it’s unsurprising that a huge array of topicals are now hitting the market with the aim of helping women “be their best selves.”
Some of the more potent topicals, i.e. the ones that contain significant amounts of THC, are only available in states where cannabis is legal. However, non-intoxicating CBD-only varieties can be found all over the country (and the internet). From face cleansers to body roll-ons, chapsticks to bath bombs, store shelves are overflowing with new CBD topicals, and more seem to be arriving every day.
It’s debatable how useful some of these topicals may be. Soaps and shampoos, for example, seem somewhat suspect, since you’re essentially washing off the CBD right after you apply it. Many companies are simply adding a splash of CBD to their products to make them more marketable, and it’s still not clear if people’s glowing anecdotal reviews are due to the placebo effect or something more tangible. As Prof. Margaret Haney of Columbia University Medical Center told MarketWatch, “We have no idea how much CBD you would need to rub on your skin for it to have some kind of medical effect.”
While research into cannabis topicals is still limited, a number of studies do indicate that they could be useful in treating common health conditions by activating the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) — specifically, the CB1 and CB2 receptors found throughout the skin. One of the most notable pieces of evidence is a 2016 paper in the European Journal of Pain, which found that topical CBD gels could reduce pain and inflammation (caveat: the study was conducted on rats).
The use of cannabis for women’s health issues dates back to ancient Egypt, when women used the plant to help manage difficult childbirths. Since then, women have taken advantage of its therapeutic properties to deal with a wide range of symptoms connected to menstruation and menopause, as well as the rigors of daily life.
When it comes to women-specific health issues, here are some of the most common reasons cannabis topicals are used today:
According to the British Menopause Society, 80 percent of women experience pain from their cycle in the form of menstrual cramps. Cannabis topicals may be able to provide relief when applied to the area of discomfort.
According to a 2010 study in the aptly-named journal Pain, the ECS could play a critical role in managing menstrual cramps. The researchers found that the ECS is “involved in uterine function” — i.e. the health of the uterus — and that activating its receptors could help alleviate the pain caused by conditions like endometriosis. As a result, they suggested that targeting the ECS could “[provide] a novel approach for the development of badly-needed new treatments.”
Certain cannabis topicals, such as salves, might be just such a treatment. Here’s how to use them to help relieve menstrual cramps:
Vaginal suppositories, like cannabis tampons, have now hit the market, too. If your menstrual cramps are severe, these also might be worth a try.
Cannabis lubricants are often the first product that comes to mind when talking about women’s sexual health. These have become a bit of a cult favorite, with glowing reviews in women’s outlets like Refinery29 and PopSugar. The premise behind them is simple: Vaginal dryness is a common issue for many women, whether due to age, hormone fluctuations, or other causes. Needless to say, this can be extremely uncomfortable or even painful during sex — and cannabis might be able to help.
Some compounds found in the plant, especially CBD, are known for their moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties. In theory, this makes them a natural addition to intimate lubricants. And judging by the anecdotal reviews, they seem to get the job done.
Unfortunately, there’s no scientific research to back up these claims (cannabis research has come a long way in the past few years, but it hasn’t come that far). Another potential issue is that most cannabis lubricants are oil-based, so they might not be safe to use with many types of condoms.
Regardless of the topical you use, or why you’re using it, it’s important to take precautions and do your research. Ideally, try to avoid topicals made with harsh artificial chemicals, especially if you’ll be applying them to sensitive areas. If you have any questions about the quality or safety of a product you’re using, it’s best to talk with a health care professional.