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."
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."