Hailed by MSNBC as a "culmination of a movement toward changing the narrative on legal weed," the Whoopi & Maya products — a bath soak, sipping chocolate, tincture, and rub — are supposed to soothe menstrual cramps and discomfort.
Goldberg is 60, and long past menopause. But she's passionate about medical marijuana, which she uses to alleviate her severe glaucoma-related headaches. And she and business partner Maya Elisabeth saw an opportunity: "I have grown granddaughters who have severe cramps, so I said this is what I want to work on," Goldberg told Vanity Fair. The products are scheduled to be available this month starting in California only.
There's just one wrinkle: There's absolutely no science behind marijuana as an analgesic for period pain. And with the legal landscape around marijuana shifting in this country, we may see more celebrities attempting to profit off the "green rush" with pseudoscience products.
There's no evidence to back Whoopi's weed-based period pain relievers
I searched for scientific studies on cannabis for period pain or cramps. When I couldn't find any, I called Nathaniel DeNicola, a Penn Medicine physician who has been researching medical marijuana in obstetrics and gynecology.
He, too, has come up short in the medical literature: "There really is no evidence for cannabis treating menstrual period pain," he said.
The best available research backing pot and pain suggests the drug may be helpful for muscle spasms and chronic pain (caused by conditions including neuropathy and cancer). But just because there is some evidence that cannabis works for some types of chronic pain, DeNicola warned, it shouldn't be extrapolated to period-related issues.
Pain is extremely complicated, and the biological mechanisms that cause chronic pain or muscle spasms aren't the same as the ones that lead to menstrual cramps, he said. So it's unlikely that a treatment that works for one type of pain will work for another.
"At this time, there's nothing to back the idea that [marijuana] helps control menstrual cramps or really any kind of pain associated with gynecological conditions," he concluded.
Furthermore, all trials of cannabis so far are generally from inhalation of smoke, vapor, or oral medications. "Topical treatments have not been examined," said Mary Butler, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. And Whoopi & Maya's products will contain THC, the psychoactive that's generally removed when cannabis is used in medical studies. So her products may get you high, but they probably won't fix your period pain.
For this reason, there are some safety concerns around these products. In an excellent blog post about Whoopi's weed foray, OB-GYN and pain specialist Dr. Jen Gunter flagged the potential for overdosing and erratic absorption into the body with the tincture and body balm. (To be clear, overdosing on pot can't lead to death but can make you uncomfortable, anxious, and even psychotic).
Of the bath soak and sipping chocolate, Gunter thought they might work as a placebo but nothing more. "If Whoopi really wants to help women with medical marijuana," she wrote, "maybe she could fund some studies."
It's no surprise Whoopi hasn't figured out how to treat PMS — doctors haven't, either
Frustratingly for women, doctors don't understand PMS and its related symptoms that well. And right now, there's no cure available.
For pain control, first-line treatments are anti-inflammatories (like Motrin and Advil) and birth control to smooth out the period cycle, said DeNicola. But these don't work for all.
Some women find exercise can be helpful, though the research in this area isn't particularly robust. There are studies that suggest antidepressant SSRIs taken only during the luteal phase of the cycle (which spans the two weeks between ovulation and the first day of bleeding) can reduce PMS symptoms, but this frequently comes with other side effects.
Dietary supplements — including vitamin B6, vitamin E, calcium, and magnesium — have been studied, and also don't appear to do much for symptoms.
For PMS-symptom prevention, doctors suggest doing all the things you'd normally do to stay healthy: eating a balanced diet; getting a good amount of sleep; avoiding too much alcohol, caffeine, and sugar; and exercising. But again, unfortunately, these practices don't minimize symptoms in all women and aren't well-understood.
So basically, there's no PMS cure, which makes sense since doctors still don't even know exactly what causes PMS. If Whoopi and Maya find a fix that works, all the power to them. But the science to date, or lack thereof, suggests that's unlikely.