As cannabis products enter the mainstream, two markets remain largely untapped: women's health and sexuality.
While various compounds in cannabis have long been thought to alleviate symptoms associated with pain and stress from menstruation, there hasn't been a lot of research to back it up.
Foria Wellness, a startup based in Venice Beach, California, is seeking to change that.
It released a line of products – including lotions, sprays, vaporizer pens, and marijuana suppositories – designed to help women with everything from treating menstrual pain to having orgasms.
"Women have been saying it works for 10,000 years," Foria CEO Mathew Gerson told Business Insider in a recent interview, referring to cannabis. "And I don't think men have been listening."
Foria's suppositories are forming the basis of an observational study of 400 women to see how marijuana-based products affect the symptoms associated with periods.
So far, Foria has raised US$2 million in a funding round led by Gotham Green Partners, a cannabis-focused venture-capital firm.
The company's THC-containing products are available in Colorado and California, where cannabis is legal for adult use, and will be available in Canada once legalization goes into effect later this month.
Foria's CBD products, like its new Flow vaporizer pen, are available online and can be shipped worldwide. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a nonpsychoactive compound in cannabis that has been linked to a range of health benefits but cannot get you high.
Though the legality of CBD is something of a grey area, products containing it are widely available in most states, as long as they don't contain THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana responsible for a high. (Foria's Relief product has both CBD and THC.)
According to Gerson, Foria's products are effective because of what's known as the "entourage effect" of the active compounds in marijuana.
"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."
Putting it to the test
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 at the McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, is using Foria's marijuana suppository as part of the observational study.
The study will be funded by Foria and Flow Kana, a marijuana grower and distributor that will provide the Foria products to participants.
"What we're looking to do is take anecdotal information and turn it into data," Gruber told Business Insider.
The observational study will survey participating women over a few months, asking them to record what their symptoms are like while using the suppository.
Gruber said she viewed the study as a first step, with the "holy grail" being a clinical trial that determines how a product like Foria's compares with a placebo group in relieving menstrual symptoms.
Running a clinical trial, however, can be an expensive and difficult endeavour, especially because marijuana is considered a Schedule 1 drug.
First, researchers must go through a lengthy application process – which can take years – to obtain a permit to conduct a study. And all cannabis used for research must be purchased through the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Many researchers have said the institute's supply is of poor quality, with low concentrations of THC.
Gerson said he hoped the observational study would ultimately help the people who purchase Foria's products.
"What actually made this market was empathy," Gerson said. "We serve the plant, we serve our clients, and as a result, our investment community and the people that support our brand benefit from that."
He added that the therapeutic potential of cannabis is "so profound."
"If we lose sight of that," he said, "it's just a race to the lab to break this plant apart into its component parts so we can synthesise and patent it and put it in a bottle."
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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