Over the last few years, cannabidiol (aka CBD) has increased in popularity. The compound found in the cannabis plant has been marketed as an add-on to your self-care routine and can now be found in makeup, skincare, and food and drinks. In fact, CBD has even popped up in period products, specifically in the form of CBD tampons.
So, you’re probably wondering how an extract found in cannabis has ended up being touted as a way to combat period cramps. What’s the science behind these claims? And are CBD-infused tampons safe and legal to use? We asked two obstetricians and gynecologists (OB-GYNs) for the facts.
It’s worth noting that if you’re ever confused about ingredients in period products (like CBD tampons) or you’ve noticed a change in your reproductive or sexual health, then you should always reach out to your health care provider. There is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. They will be able to answer any of your questions and, hopefully, put your mind at ease.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of many compounds found in the cannabis plant. It’s the second-most active ingredient in cannabis alongside tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). However, unlike THC, CBD is not addictive. It is worth noting that CBD can have addictive properties if you have a history of other addictions. In this case, you should speak to your health care provider.
Nor is CBD intoxicating, meaning it won’t get you “high.” This is because CBD isn’t psychoactive like THC.
The compound also won’t show up on a drug test. In fact, CBD is legal in countries including the US and UK as long as it’s derived from hemp, not marijuana. Confusingly, both plants are the same species, but under US law, hemp is defined as a cannabis plant that contains 0.3% THC or less. Marijuana is a cannabis plant that contains more than 0.3% THC. In the UK, CBD is legal as long as it derives from hemp containing less than 0.2% THC.
Often, the rules around CBD differ depending on where you live, so it’s always best to check local laws before buying any products.
As the name would suggest, CBD tampons are tampons that have either been coated in a blend of CBD and a carrier substance like cocoa butter (allowing the compound to melt in the body) or normal tampons that have been treated with CBD drops.
You might be wondering why CBD has been linked to period products. Studies have highlighted that CBD may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It’s often touted as a remedy for a wide range of health concerns, from insomnia and anxiety to chronic pain and inflammation. And this is where period cramping and pain comes in, but so far, there’s little conclusive medical evidence to prove any of these benefits.
If the idea behind adding CBD to period products is to relieve cramps, does it actually do anything? “Unfortunately, there is no published data regarding the use of CBD for menstrual cramps,” says Dr. Jenna Beckham. “Everyone responds differently to CBD. Some find it very beneficial and therapeutic, and others may not benefit at all.”
The theory is that when used vaginally, CBD interacts with the cannabinoid receptors in your vaginal mucosa (the mucous membranes of your vagina). These cannabinoid receptors can be found all over the body and make up the endocannabinoid system, a complex signaling system that helps regulate everything from appetite and sleep to inflammation and pain.
CBD tampons might help the drug act locally and relieve inflammation from the uterine contractions that cause period cramps. However, it’s not yet clear whether this is true or not because so few studies have focused on vaginal cannabinoid receptors.
“There is evidence that CBD could act specifically to decrease inflammation without the side effects of traditional anti-inflammatory medications,” explains Dr. Jenna Flanagan. This is because CBD doesn’t include all the properties of other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen), which can irritate the stomach lining. However, again, “there is an overall low level of scientific research available” to back up this theory, according to Dr. Flanagan.
“Everyone responds differently to CBD. Some find it very beneficial and therapeutic, and others may not benefit at all.”
So why isn’t there more research into the effects of CBD? Well, the compound was illegal in the US and Europe until very recently, so the scientific community knows little about how it acts in the body. And they know even less about how it affects period cramps because it hasn’t been studied yet.
The lack of research has far-reaching effects because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — which is responsible for protecting public health in the US — doesn’t currently consider CBD a controlled substance, so there are few regulations around how much CBD can be used.
The FDA says that “unlike drug products approved by the FDA, unapproved CBD drug products have not been subject to FDA review as part of the drug approval process, and there has been no FDA evaluation regarding whether they are safe and effective to treat a particular disease, what the proper dosage is, how they could interact with other drugs or foods, or whether they have dangerous side effects or other safety concerns.”
And, although tampons are regulated as a medical device, the FDA has yet to give CBD tampons the same stamp of approval. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t use them, but you should think about asking your health care provider for advice if you’re considering using CBD tampons. Find brands that have published clinical trials that show how effective and safe their CBD tampons are. The FDA and the General Product Safety Directive publish criteria for products to meet lab testing standards. Check if the brand you’re looking at has considered those.
This doesn’t mean that CBD is being completely ignored by the medical community. The FDA has approved one CBD-derived medication; Epidolex, a prescription drug used to treat seizures in rare and severe forms of childhood epilepsy. This might set a precedent for future medicinal uses of CBD, but right now, there’s no real evidence that CBD can help relieve period pain.
While we can’t say for sure whether or not CBD tampons work for reducing pain and cramps, the good news is that CBD is considered generally safe. But Dr. Beckham still cautions people about the potential side effects of CBD tampons.
“There is limited data about the use of CBD tampons,” says Dr. Beckham. “The dose/amount in a tampon is not regulated. Additionally, anything inserted into the vagina can cause irritation or even a vaginal infection. CBD may also potentially interact with other medicines someone is taking, so it is important to discuss its use with your health care provider.”
Dr. Beckham also advises “that patients who are breastfeeding or even pregnant should not use CBD tampons or any CBD products for that matter.”
This is in line with advice from the FDA, which strongly advises against the use of CBD for pregnant or breastfeeding people. There are currently no human studies looking at the effect of CBD on pregnancy, but some animal studies found that high doses of CBD can have a negative effect on the baby’s developing reproductive system. Other research found that low levels of CBD can be passed on via breast milk, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and steer clear of CBD products while pregnant or breastfeeding.
If you’re considering using CBD tampons, Dr. Beckham suggests checking the product label for ingredients. She says it’s also worth looking at the manufacturer’s website to see if they do third-party testing to verify the product’s safety and efficacy.
Speak to your health care provider if you have any questions or concerns about CBD products, and if you experience any reactions to CBD, then reach out to a medical professional immediately.
Menstrual pain, or dysmenorrhea, is a common period symptom that affects most women and people with periods. It can often be debilitating, so it’s understandable that lots of us are interested in new methods of pain relief.
Unfortunately, there’s not enough robust research yet to say whether CBD tampons are an effective treatment for period cramps, although they are generally safe to use as long as you’re not pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking other medications that could interact.
Dr. Beckham has this advice if you’re considering using CBD tampons: “Always talk to your health care provider before starting any new treatment. It is also important to discuss the specific details of menstrual cramps so that potential causes can be investigated. Some different causes are better managed with specific treatments. Sometimes it takes some trial and error as there is no one-size-fits-all for everyone who experiences menstrual cramps.”
“If the pain after the standard recommendations is so severe that it impacts daily life, then the patient should seek the advice of a medical professional,” adds Dr. Flanagan. “If CBD oil is desired, then it can be tried independently; however, there is no FDA-approved prescription that can be given for CBD tampons or suppositories at this time.”
Written by Olivia Cassano