Breaking the taboo of menstruation with cannabis

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Courtesy of Whoopi and Maya/Timothy White 2016

If I were to ask you how often you felt discomfort or pain and you told me one week out of every month I would say, ‘I think you should go to the doctor, you have a problem with your immune system,’” says Maya Elisabeth of Whoopi and Maya, a California medical cannabis company offering women specific products which she co-owns with Whoopi Goldberg. “But it’s something women deal with all the time but don’t talk about because it is kind of taboo.”

Every month, women experience their menstrual cycle replete with all of the uncomfortable side effects — acne, cramps, heightened emotions — and they persevere, taking over-the-counter pain pills and tucking hot water bottles into their pants so they can relive the pain and get back to work.

When it comes to sentence structure, the period means “stop.” It is placed at the end of a thought to signify its completion and to start the beginning of another. But in and of itself a period isn’t just a bridge from one place to another, but a moment of pause.

Yet, over and over again, whether in a sentence or a menstrual cycle, women heed the call of social expectation to carry on, ignoring the break being called for. As women’s movements coincide with the rise of legal cannabis, it is beginning to look like those inevitable and exhausting social directives are changing.

The last few years have seen a lot of women-specific cannabis products as companies compete for the attention of lucrative female consumers. Menopausal women can buy cannabis infused salves for vaginal lubrication, women who struggle to orgasm can insert THC suppositories that unleash a whole new sexual experience and entire product lines are emerging to offer relief from the symptoms of menstrual cycles.

Although this is regarded as a medical market, it isn’t like the one typically conceived of in America. For one, it isn’t dominated by pharmaceutical companies or big business because it can’t be. There are actual legal barriers prohibiting the sort of research the regulated drug market requires. The state-by-state legalization of medical cannabis in 25 states effectively sidesteps the FDA’s requirements, paving the way for a new approach.

Cannabis is also unconventional in that it is a plant, defined by Merriam-Webster’s medical dictionary as an “herb,” and for Elisabeth, the mind-altering aspects of this plant are far more important than the legal conditions or nuances.

“I believe cannabis really puts you back in your body, it can help you have a perspective shift and all of those things are ultimately medicinal,” she says. “Getting out of your head, getting out of the past or the future, stopping worrying and stepping out of your pain, for just one moment, that small act of self-care is all inspired by cannabis.”

Not reliant on utilitarian relationships of health — between doctor and patient, diagnosis and prescription — cannabis presents a more symbiotic and holistic approach. Rather than simply fixing what is broken, it provides the user with a new perspective of their mind-body relationship and the potential to offer healing in the process, a paradigm shift that Elisabeth says is inherently female.

“I see a very special connection between women and cannabis and that’s not to devalue men in any way, shape or form,” she says. “Consider the calyxes that we harvest, the unfertilized virgin female reproductive part of the plant, really the heart of it all. Of course we cannot do it without the men, we need the pollen and the seeds so it is a balance, but it’s not surprising that women have a special bond with medicinal cannabis.”

She says the connection between cannabis and women also extends into the agricultural history of the plant. The task of harvesting traditionally belonged to women who would trim the flower in large groups that Elisabeth lovingly refers to as “sewing circles” in which women gather to “work, tell stories and drink hot beverages.”

Out of her admiration for cannabis, Elisabeth challenges herself to respect it by using what she calls “a plant side manner.”

“I believe that the way we speak about medicine directly affects how people perceive our culture and our medicine,” she says. “It all begins with a farmer putting a clone or a seed into this earth and from that point on it all matters — the way it is watered, harvested, processed and even talked about — because you are actually going through the whole journey with mother nature.”

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.