A US company called Foria has just released cannabis-infused tampons made from cocoa butter, THC oil and organic hemp. Although they’re currently expensive and unapproved, they offer pain relief that many users say is more effective than any other form of PMS painkiller without giving off the psychotropic (“high”) effect.
It may sound gimmicky and silly, but it brings to light a worldwide (and somewhat taboo) problem women face that has huge social and economic consequences: periods. According to a study by Cleanmarine, seventeen million days of work are taken off annually in the UK due to PMS, with a third of women taking four or more days off every year. This makes sense, considering a NHS survey found that 90% of women experience period pain and 14% of women are frequently unable to work because of it.
The economic impact of PMS is somewhat hard to gauge, although it is clear that periods set back women to a greater or lesser extent across the world. A US study showed that women who have heavy periods are 72% less likely to be working as women with normal or lighter periods. This amounts to an annual $1692 income loss per woman with a heavy flow, and this figure is likely to be even higher with inflation taken into account.
The economic losses associated with menstruation are heightened in poorer countries. Nearly one in four Indian schoolgirls drop out of education as soon as they get their period, primarily because they are quickly married off. However, even the girls who stay on at school miss on average 60 days of school per year because of menstruation due to lack of sanitary products. The economic and social repercussions of women not going to school are huge, with one study showing that GDP goes up by 0.3% with every 1% increase in girls attending secondary school.
Although British women are not suffering the way women in places like rural Uganda are - where 11% of girl’s school days are missed due to periods – menstruation’s impact on workplace productivity cannot be ignored in any country. Taiwan, Japan and Indonesia all see period pains as such a limiting factor on women’s workplace productivity that they all offer for paid menstrual leave.
However, again, paid menstrual leave costs the economy and raises gender equality questions, as men may feel resentful about covering women’s lost work and women miss out on workplace experience that may help them further their career. Women may also be accused of cheating the system, particularly as it is hard to prove how much pain a person is actually in. When the concept of menstrual leave was debated at the Festival of Ideas in Cambridge, an Indonesian boss said that many of his female workers who took time off for PMS turned out to be taking time off to go shopping together.
Of course everyone should be entitled to take time off when they are in too much pain to work, but effective pain relief – such as cannabis tampons - addresses the root of the problem of PMS in a way that legislative sick leave does not. As we can see with schoolgirls in India, when women are forced to take time off because of menstruation, it is harmful to both them and the economy. Supporting scientific innovation which allows women to get on with their life and work is therefore the answer.