After the fall of Roe v Wade in the US, TikTok videos recommending toxic herbs to treat ‘late periods’ get millions of views.
The video begins like any other TikTok makeup tutorial: a content creator with glowing skin and a hair tie on her wrist applies blush to her cheekbones while music plays in the background.
Until the text “If you’re a woman in America worried about your future, just know there’s an herb for every ‘situation'” appears on the screen, followed by a list of so-called herbal abortifacients, including Pennyroyal , mugwort and black cohosh.
The clip, created by a user named Alexis, is part of a dangerous, fast-growing trend on the social media platform with women spitting out remedies they say could cause miscarriage if ingested. This follows the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that made access to abortion a constitutional right in the country.
At first glance, the posts, which have steadily gained prominence on TikTok since a draft decision was leaked in May, appear to be warnings about substances pregnant women should avoid, but use clever phrases like “definitely don’t do this.”
“This is a warning not to drink mugwort tea during pregnancy as it may simulate your menstrual cycle and lead to loss [sic] the fetus [sic]. Please don’t do this again,” read a video that had more than 350,000 views before it was removed.
However, the caption was far more revealing of her true intentions: “Life hack #roevwade #womensrights”.
It’s not surprising that, particularly in America’s red states — where abortion was outright banned in some as a result of the court ruling — women are turning to the internet for advice.
Clinics have closed, doctors face fines of up to $100,000 for facilitating abortions, and increasingly desperate women are hoarding the morning-after pill and burning their savings to pay for last-minute trips to other states for treatment.
But the solutions offered by WitchTok will “kill people,” Mary Jane Minkin, a gynecologist and clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Yale University School of Medicine, told Rolling Stone.
“I’m horrified… It’s terrifying because 49 years ago women were dying this way,” said Dr. Minkin.
While some of the remedies suggested by TikTok users — like eating papaya or sesame seeds — just won’t work, others, like ingesting mugwort, black cohosh, angelica root, or pennyroyal, can be toxic in some cases, rather than just fatal to the fetus , but the woman herself.
Pennyroyal, for example, contains pulegone, emergency room physician and medical toxicologist Josh Trebach told Rolling Stone, which is metabolized in the body to form toxins that can cause liver necrosis.
Side effects of ingesting the plant, which is used in essential oils and insect repellents, can include vomiting and abdominal pain, seizures, coma, liver failure, and death.
Black cohosh, on the other hand, contains methylcytisine, which in large doses can cause not only vomiting and abdominal pain, but also abnormal heart rhythms, muscle weakness, excessive drooling, seizures, coma, and death.
“People might see these as possible solutions at the end of the day because they don’t have any other options. As a toxicologist, that really scares me,” he said.
Due to a lack of research, “we don’t know if this works well to cause abortions.”
“But we know it can make people really, really sick,” he said.
In states that have always had particularly strict abortion laws, women have never stopped attempting abortions themselves — a 2015 survey found that between 100,000 and 240,000 women ages 18 to 49 in Texas had attempted pregnancy to end himself.
But dr Trebach said he first noticed people posting about herbal abortifacients in May, shortly after the forthcoming Roe v Wade decision was leaked.
According to data from Google Trends in the US, searches for “pennyroyal,” “mugwort,” and “do-it-yourself abortion” have skyrocketed in the past few weeks—up 62 percent, 68 percent, and 86 percent, respectively.
dr Trebach said he has a lot of sympathy for TikTok creators who advocate for herbal abortion because he knows they’re simply trying to provide resources to those in need.
“Do I think everyone out there is maliciously trying to spread misinformation? no People are trying to find answers and solutions to navigate this space between uncertainty and Supreme Court rulings,” he said.
“I think it’s a very, very challenging time. My biggest concern is that these home remedies, these DIY herbal abortions will be seen as an alternative to medical treatment, and that’s not right.”