Business 13 December 2018
There is a seismic shift happening in how society views and accepts cannabis products. Foria Pleasure paved the way for cannabis and women's sexual health to enter a positive public discourse, and empowers women to take sexual wellness and pain into their own hands.
Foria has developed numerous products over the years to satisfy various women's health issues. They are driven by customer feedback and, recently, ground-breaking research.
SWAAY had the opportunity to speak with CEO Mathew Gerson and Director of Communications Kiana Reeves about bridging the gratification gap, the emergence of using CBD and THC as a topical, and changing the conversation about women's sexual health.
What drove you to use THC and CBD as ingredients?
Mathew Gerson: “The plant made us do it. Around five years ago, there were over 20 drugs on the market that were addressing male sexual dysfunction and there was clearly a lack of research and available options for women. There was a real disparity in between the sexes within the pleasure gap.
There are a dense number of cannabinoid receptors in the pelvic region, so five years ago, we were the first company to put topical into an intimacy product specifically designed for female use, for a transvaginal absorption of cannabinoid. The thought was, based on historical research and based on the research that we were doing, we were going to see enhanced blood flow, a generalized decrease of stress, and more embodiment and opportunities for the experience of pleasure. And that's what we saw - but we also saw a lot of things we couldn't have imagined around pain conditions. Women who were dealing with acute conditions of pain like endometriosis - really challenging medical conditions that were preventing them from having a pleasurable intimate life - they were finding great relief in cannabis as a topical, and that was a profound moment of awakening for us as a company. We realized that while we were presenting something that was somewhat novel at the time for the sake of pleasure enhancement, we were unearthing potentially a much broader use of cannabis in the pelvic capacity. And that led to the creation of the vaginal suppository that was designed to address menstrual pain."
What kind of research is going into the suppository?
MG: “There is a lot of published literature about how beneficial cannabis is for female specific issues like dysmenorrhea. We're doing a 400-women observational study through a Harvard-trained neuro psych who's going to look at benefits and side effects of this kind of suppository. There has never been a study that has looked at using cannabis as a topical, and there are so few studies that look at menstruation and menstrual pain.
"The options that the medical community offers or makes available to half of our species is, frankly, embarrassing and a massive failure. There's a lot that can be moved forward, and the cannabis plant is going to prove a huge benefit to women."
You probably get a lot of questions about the products causing a high. How do the effects of THC differ when it's presented vaginally?
MG: “In presenting cannabis vaginally, there was a physiological response maintained locally. Individuals were not getting high. Our association with most THC products is that THC gets you high and CBD doesn't. It's more nuanced in how you deliver THC into the body. Five years ago, little to nothing was known about this. We ended up taking to market a 60-milligram suppository, with 10-milligrams of CBD. That is a very strong dose, but because of the way the body metabolizes it, women are able to get the topical benefit. Women are not getting high, but what they were getting was pain reduction. Pain reduction for menstrual pain, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, and other pelvic conditions."
Kiana Reeves: “After years of having this product on the market, the vast majority of people feel no psychoactive high and very small percentage of people feel a small body high, or relaxed. It doesn't register in the body as psychoactive."
What led you to explore CBD and other natural aphrodisiacs for your lubricant, Awaken?
KR: “When we launched with Pleasure, it was so well received. The driving force has never really been financial for us, it has been about who we can help the most. Once Pleasure was out, there were so many people around the world writing to us saying, 'We need this to be available to us.' It was just a natural orientation to creating a product with similar benefits, but more of a reach and access."
MG: “In the context of intimacy, it works with creating purely a CBD based lubricant. And we found that it was not that effective on its own, in the same way that our THC product was. What we chose to do was enhance it with other plants.
Historically, we tend to isolate compounds, and try to understand them in isolation. Something we've learned through looking at cannabis through a medical lense, is that the entourage effect is real. Which means our bodies respond better when cannabis is presented in a whole plant capacity, not in isolation. In the same respect, Awaken works with eight other plants that are all historically known for their benefits in the bedroom.
There are no petrol ingredients and no fragrances in Awaken. It works in similar ways to our THC product, but is THC-free. The great thing about that is that we're able to sell it everywhere. And it is our best-selling product."
What do we know about the effects CBD has on the body?
MG: “The therapeutic potential of CBD is phenomenal. It's so far reaching, because we know we have endocannabinoid receptors throughout the body. We barely understand the full extent of how it functions, but the early research is very encouraging from anxiety, to hormone imbalances, to fibromyalgia, to cancer. There are so many potentials that we are just starting to understand."
How important is customer feedback to your mission and products?
MG: “The way we grow is iterative with our community of clients who are being very open. There is a lot of intimate sharing of personal experience so that we can understand what women are experiencing when using a product like this, and how we can make it better.
KR: “What the feedback has been, again and again, particularly for people who have acute awareness of their body – say a person going through menopause or somebody with endometriosis who's having painful intercourse – they have this barometer of what they need. They need something immediate. Those are the people we get the most testimonials back from about Awaken in particular because it's been so transformative for them. It's relieving any pain or tension during penetrative intercourse, and it's also relaxing the muscles of the pelvic floor, allowing for sensation and pleasure. We also have a huge customer base who don't have pain, but they are using it for pleasure enhancement – exploring their body and their pleasure response. CBD is anti-inflammatory, it helps with stress and anxiety which is huge inhibitor to not just arousal and desire, but stress in general that can shut down any kind of sexual response. So, we believe it's working on multiple levels. Your body is working with the plant in a way that is all natural."
Kiana Reeves, Director of Communications
Do you think Foria is changing the discussion of women's sexual health and opening the door to a more serious conversation about using cannabis for women's health issues?
KR: “It's definitely changing the conversation around women's sexual health, primarily because one of the things we seem to be consistently talking about with our audience is the fact that a lot of people experience painful intercourse and they think it's normal or that something's wrong with them. We're very excited to be illuminating and continuing that conversation while offering solutions in the full spectrum of female health, not just during your fertile years. I think there's a lot of forgotten topics that are seen as aversive, or have to be suppressed - because not a lot people talk about vaginas and not a lot of people talk openly about female sexual health issues. That's one place where we're very vocal. One of the most potent conversations for us is that female sexuality, female sexual wellness, and reproductive wellness are so complex.
What we think is emerging as a conversation is how cannabis has a myriad of uses. There's historical documented use of cannabis for gynecology. Humans have had a relationship with the plant for over 10,000 years. CBD is having a direct response to this muscular system that we don't have control over. It's bringing up a whole conversation on how you can use cannabis and where you can use cannabis. What about topical? What about topical internal? There are all these different pathways, we're learning how they work differently."
"Sh*t!" my daughter exclaimed as she dropped her iPad to the floor. A little bit of context; my daughter Victoria absolutely loves her iPad. And as I watched her bemoan the possible destruction of her favorite device, I thought to myself, "If I were in her position, I'd probably say the exact same thing."
In the Rastegar family, a word is only a bad word if used improperly. This is a concept that has almost become a family motto. Because in our household, we do things a little differently. To put it frankly, our practices are a little unconventional. Completely safe, one hundred percent responsible- but sure, a little unconventional.
And that's because my husband Ari and I have always felt akin in one major life philosophy; we want to live our lives our way. We have dedicated ourselves to a lifetime of questioning the world around us. And it's that philosophy that has led us to some unbelievable discoveries, especially when it comes to parenting.
Ari was an English major. And if there's one thing that can be said about English majors, it's that they can be big-time sticklers for the rules. But Ari also thinks outside of the box. And here's where these two characteristics meet. Ari was always allowed to curse as a child, but only if the word fit an appropriate and relevant context. This idea came from Ari's father (his mother would have never taken to this concept), and I think this strange practice really molded him into the person he is today.
But it wasn't long after we met that I discovered this fun piece of Ari Rastegar history, and I got to drop a pretty awesome truth bomb on Ari. My parents let me do the same exact thing…
Not only was I allowed to curse as a child, but I was also given a fair amount of freedom to do as I wanted. And the results of this may surprise you. You see, despite the lack of heavy regulating and disciplining from my parents, I was the model child. Straight A's, always came home for curfew, really never got into any significant trouble- that was me. Not trying to toot my own horn here, but it's important for the argument. And don't get the wrong impression, it's not like I walked around cursing like a sailor.
Perhaps I was allowed to curse whenever I wanted, but that didn't mean I did.
And this is where we get to the amazing power of this parenting philosophy. In my experience, by allowing my own children to curse, I have found that their ability to self-regulate has developed in an outstanding fashion. Over the past few years, Victoria and Kingston have built an unbelievable amount of discipline. And that's because our decision to allow them to curse does not come without significant ground rules. Cursing must occur under a precise and suitable context, it must be done around appropriate company, and the privilege cannot be overused. By following these guidelines, Victoria and Kingston are cultivating an understanding of moderation, and at a very early age are building a social awareness about when and where certain types of language are appropriate. And ultimately, Victoria and Kingston are displaying the same phenomenon present during my childhood. Their actual instances of cursing are extremely low.
And beneath this parenting strategy is a deeper philosophy. Ari and I first and foremost look at parenting as educators. It is not our job to dictate who our children will be, how they shall behave, and what their future should look like.
We are not dictators; we are not imposing our will on them. They are autonomous beings. Their future is in their hands, and theirs alone.
Rather, we view it as our mission to show our children what the many possibilities of the world are and prepare them for the litany of experiences and challenges they will face as they develop into adulthood. Now, when Victoria and Kingston come across any roadblocks, they have not only the tools but the confidence to handle these tensions with pride, independence, and knowledge.
And we have found that cursing is an amazing place to begin this relationship as educators. By allowing our children to curse, and gently guiding them towards the appropriate use of this privilege, we are setting a groundwork of communication that will eventually pay dividends as our children grow curious of less benign temptations; sex, drugs, alcohol. There is no fear, no need to slink behind our backs, but rather an open door where any and all communication is rewarded with gentle attention and helpful wisdom.
The home is a sacred place, and honesty and communication must be its foundation. Children often lack an ability to communicate their exact feelings. Whether out of discomfort, fear, or the emotional messiness of adolescence, children can often be less than transparent. Building a place of refuge where our children feel safe enough to disclose their innermost feelings and troubles is, therefore, an utmost priority in shepherding their future. Ari and I have come across instances where our children may have been less than truthful with a teacher, or authority figure simply because they did not feel comfortable disclosing what was really going on. But with us, they know that honesty is not only appreciated but rewarded and incentivized. This allows us to protect them at every turn, guard them against destructive situations, and help guide and problem solve, fully equipped with the facts of their situation.
And as crazy as it all sounds- I really believe in my heart that the catalogue of positive outcomes described above truly does stem from our decision to allow Victoria and Kingston to curse freely.
I know this won't sit well with every parent out there. And like so many things in life, I don't advocate this approach for all situations. In our context, this decision has more than paid itself off. In another, it may exacerbate pre-existing challenges and prove to be only a detriment to your own family's goals.
As the leader of your household, this is something that you and you alone must decide upon with intentionality and wisdom.
Ultimately, Ari and I want to be the kind of people our children genuinely want to be around. Were we not their parents, I would hope that Victoria and Kingston would organically find us interesting, warm, kind, funny, all the things we aspire to be for them each and every day.
We've let our children fly free, and fly they have. They are amazing people. One day, when they leave the confines of our home, they will become amazing adults. And hopefully, some of the little life lessons and eccentric parenting practices we imparted upon them will serve as a support for their future happiness and success.