Health 05 August 2018
In 2009, I underwent an invasive hip surgery that left me unable to walk for two years. I had spent the years prior in near constant pain and had to rely on pain medications to help with day-to-day activities and sleep. The surgery unfortunately failed to resolve the underlying issues that were causing me pain, and without recourses to further surgeries the only options left open to me were to treat my daily pain with an ongoing regimen of opioids and other pain relievers. I had to come to terms with balancing my daily pain levels against the cognitive impairment that many of the drugs prescribed to me caused, a reality I hadn't experienced until then but one that I came to realize many people, and women in particular, occupy.
At the time, there were no legally available medical marijuana products available in New York State, and I was unwilling to risk the legal and quality concerns of the black market as a means to manage my symptoms. I eventually learned to cope with the chronic symptoms of my failed surgery without the use of any habit-forming painkillers, but the experience left a considerable mark on me and is one of the major factors that contributed to the work and research that I put in with my mother when founding our marijuana company, Etain Health, five years later.
In those five years since my surgery, the legal options for exploring medical marijuana as a treatment had opened up. In spite of the continued controversy surrounding marijuana, the fact is that marijuana's narrative is evolving and, surprisingly, women like my mother and I have had a significant hand in writing it. When I think back to 2009 in New York State and compare it to today, I realize just how different things are in 2018. Nearly every day I'm introduced to inspirational women who are re-defining cannabis and making discoveries that will transform female health care. Women are not only participating as entrepreneurs at a higher rate than is the norm elsewhere, we also stand to be major beneficiaries of the advancements in medical marijuana treatments available on the market. From anxiety and menstrual pain to severe physical disorders caused by autoimmune diseases, women cope with a myriad of daily and life-long conditions that can benefit from medical marijuana treatment.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, women are more than twice as likely as men to develop an anxiety disorder.
Pharmaceutical medications can offer relief, but many women find their symptoms exacerbated when under the treatment of strong drugs. Common side-effects including weight gain, lethargy and loss of concentration can become debilitating for women. CBD oil, however – a non-mind-altering derivative of cannabis – shows promise for producing positive outcomes related to stress and anxiety-based disorders. CBD oil's beneficial impact is being more widely acknowledged every day, as states continue to approve regulated medical marijuana programs. CBD oil can also be derived from the hemp plant, albeit with fewer active cannabinoids than cannabis-derived CBD, and hemp oil is widely available for purchase throughout the United States. For women suffering from anxiety-related disorders who are afraid to risk their quality of life by becoming dependent on pharmaceutical medicine with strong potential side effects, cannabis could be a game changer.
Menstrual pain is probably one of the most under-researched female health issues. For a significant number of women suffering from extreme menstrual pain, excessive amounts of acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and other OTC medications are constant companions. Some women must resort to taking daily birth control pills, which can have significant hormonal side effects, just to help manage their pain. It can be difficult to get doctors to address severe menstrual pain, or dysmenorrhea, with treatment options and a large portion of women seek relief not from their doctors, but from an online community of women who rely on articles like this (hello!) to discover new forms of treatment. Once again, marijuana holds potential as a treatment option. Unfortunately, even amongst the already scarce research on treatment pathways that involve cannabis, cannabis and menstrual pain is significantly understudied.
However, there is anecdotal evidence that topical application (through the use of suppositories and similar products) as well as edible applications of cannabis can serve to ease menstrual pain.
Autoimmune disorders have a range of severity: from discomfort and pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis, digestive and appetite issues caused by ulcerative colitis, through to neuropathic pain and life-threatening misfiring in the nervous system caused by multiple sclerosis. Women make up 75% of all people suffering from one or more forms of autoimmune disorder, comprising more than 70% of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, more than half of people with ulcerative colitis, and over 60% of those with multiple sclerosis. Many autoimmune conditions, including the three listed above, have symptoms that are difficult to treat without side effects related to NSAIDs/pain relievers and steroids. Cannabis has the potential to reduce pain and inflammation related to arthritis, increase appetite and reduce abdominal cramping related to ulcerative colitis and other bowel diseases, and reduce neuropathic pain related to multiple sclerosis. These possibilities are significant for some of the more severe diseases that disproportionately impact women and, while further scientific basis is needed to make direct claims about the health benefits of cannabis, it is clear that cannabis related products will have an increasing role in treating autoimmune disorders that impact women.
Many of the disorders from the above list cause a near-daily struggle with discomfort and, in some instances, severe pain for a large percentage of women. While there are certainly pharmaceutical solutions to some of the symptoms and diseases above, these frequently come with side effects that may be unwanted by some women. The trade-off between symptom management and side effects is a delicate balance to maintain quality of life. We founded our company, Etain Health, in 2014 to supply new and safe options to women, and patients in general, looking for safe and efficacious cannabis products. We are a company founded and run by women, we support women wherever possible by promoting them into managerial roles, and we look forward to the future of helping to lead an industry that has so much potential benefit for women everywhere.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.