Editor’s Note: This post is not intended as medical advice, and any opinions expressed in this post are the author’s own. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.
A few months ago, I mentioned to someone that my husband and I were planning our son’s upcoming birthday party at a local chocolate factory. Given that we would be entertaining 30 7-year-olds for a couple hours, a hefty amount of patience would be needed, along with a giant cake (and maybe some earplugs). A few people wished my husband and I luck; someone even asked whether we’d be bringing along some booze for ourselves.
These days, it seems that parenting and booze go hand in hand. Wine memes abound. We post selfies with our gigantic wine glasses filled to the brim, along with the hashtag #fiveoclocksomewhere. We joke about needing “mommy juice” to survive an afternoon playdate or get through the dreaded “witching hour.”
But does the same laissez-faire attitude apply when it comes to other substances? What if a mother were to post a selfie with a vape pen and hashtag it #happyhour? Would she receive the same amount of likes and fist bumps we give each other when we post a new wine meme or selfie? Would we ever share recipes for hash brownies as readily as we do our favorite slow cooker recipes?
Nevertheless, there are plenty of women out there — mothers included — who use weed for medical or recreational purposes (or some combination thereof). In fact, parents just might be the largest consumers of cannabis. According to research released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 percent of 35- to 44-year-olds used marijuana regularly in 2014, which surpassed teen use for the first time since at least 2002.
While the idea of pot-smoking parents might conjure images of stoned hippies for some people, this is far from the reality. In fact, many parents who use marijuana do so in a measured and responsible manner, much the same way someone might take Xanax to treat anxiety or enjoy a glass of Pinot at the end of a long day.
Celia Behar, a mother of two and president of the blog The ‘Lil Mamas, says she began using cannabis shortly after the birth of her second child to treat postpartum depression (PPD). She had experienced the maternal health disorder after the birth of her first child six years earlier and was prescribed Prozac, which had been only mildly effective. When she stopped nursing her younger daughter, her hormones dropped and she once again felt herself slipping into a severe bout of PPD.
“I was sleeping three hours a night if I was lucky, and I had racing thoughts 24/7,” Behar recalls. “I was given various meds like Valium, Xanax, and Ativan, along with a few SSRI’s. All of them left me feeling either out of it or numb.”
When her friend Tom Grubbs suggested she try cannabis to treat her symptoms, and introduced her to Oregon’s Moto Perpetuo Farm, she initially dismissed the idea. “I was a mom,” she says. “Moms don’t smoke pot!” But despite her reluctance, she decided it to give it a try just a few days later — a decision that she now calls “a lifesaver.” And in fact, she says the farm not only saved her life, but is also now helping her sister, who is currently battling cancer.
Similarly, “Lea” — a mother of three from Illinois — began using cannabis shortly after becoming a mother, in order to treat anxiety related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her husband also uses it to treat medical conditions related to cancer treatments. In addition to occasional recreational use to relax, Lea says cannabis treats her mental health conditions more effectively than other prescription drugs. But the drug isn’t just being used by new mothers.
Kristina Hammer of The Angrivated Mom turned to cannabis when homeopathic treatments and prescription medications failed to help ease her hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme morning sickness). By the middle of her fourth pregnancy, Hammer had lost 16 pounds, her baby was diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction, and she was unable to care for her three other young children. Because medical marijuana was legal where she lived and she had already been using cannabis to treat a degenerative disc disorder, she tried marijuana to treat her symptoms with her doctor’s “off the record” blessing. Choosing strains with the lowest level of THC, she found immediate relief.
Hammer isn’t alone. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology estimates that 2-5 percent of women say they use marijuana while pregnant, but some estimate that number to be higher because women may be hesitant to admit they use it, due to the stigma or existing laws of their state of residence. Recent research shows that when used independently, cannabis doesn’t seem to increase the risk of negative birth outcomes, such as low birth weight and premature birth, whereas these outcomes were discovered when cannabis was used in conjunction with tobacco and alcohol. Nevertheless, many doctors are reluctant to give carte blanche to use cannabis while pregnant, and instead suggest moderation and the need for additional research.
“The medical benefits of cannabis have long been recognized,” says Prudence Hall, MD of The Hall Center in Santa Monica, California. “The uses include cancer, pain, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, certain depression and anxiety states, decreasing amyloid plaque formation to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, and a whole slew of other benefits. However, the psychoactive effects of marijuana may not be desired which makes CBD a viable alternative.”
According to Hall, CBD is the most potent medicinal strain of hemp and cannabis and when pure does not cause mental changes aside from a mild sense of wellbeing and relaxation.
“Use of cannabis in pregnancy has been around for 3,000 years, dating back to Egyptian and ancient Chinese times,” says Hall. “It decreases the terrible nausea some women feel, decreases anxiety and is reported to decrease the pain of labor or difficult labor. I am extremely careful about what we put in our bodies during pregnancy. New evidence suggests, however, that it is safer than smoking cigarettes, alcohol use, or antidepressants during pregnancy. Perhaps there are also some benefits. Evidence of cannabis use causing small birth weight in babies and premature births is rapidly being debunked. In spite of this, I currently only recommend pure, medical grade hemp CBD for medical issues arising in pregnancy.”
Because the amount of cannabis needed to create physical or mental relief is often significantly lower than the amount that causes inebriation, some mothers report that it allows them to manage ailments without losing focus the way alcohol and prescription drugs can make someone feel. “You feel relief, but aren’t tipsy or high,” explains Lea.
“When I smoke a little daily, I am better able to focus and prioritize. My thoughts don’t race nearly as much, and I’m much more patient and present,” adds Hammer. “At the same time, I’m in full control of when I need to use it and how much of it to use to reach the calm, pain-free, grounded feeling it brings me, unlike the pharmaceutical benzodiazepine meds I had tried before, which left me not only emotionless and zombified, but severely addicted, too.”
The discrepancy between the dangers of alcohol and prescription drugs versus cannabis have caused many legalization advocates to cry foul, especially given our culture’s lax attitude about alcohol use (especially among parents). This permissive stance blurs the lines between moderation and alcoholism, while invoking harsh consequences for parents who use marijuana.
“If alcohol, which has almost no health benefits in most cases (in fact, quite the opposite) can be used recreationally, why on earth can’t marijuana?” asks Behar.
Among those who use cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, there is a push for national legalization to enable others to receive the medical treatment they need, remove the stigma associated with use, and prevent harsh and unwarranted legal consequences that could have negative long-term impacts on families. Currently, only three states allow full legalization of cannabis for medical or recreational purposes. While a handful of states have decriminalized it, a handful of others have legalized medical marijuana specifically. In about half of the states, however, cannabis in all forms is still illegal.
“I’ve become more of an advocate for its legalized use than ever before,” Hammer says. “I am armed with newer, more updated, and unbiased research regarding the plant and its many possible uses for human consumption, which only strengthens the stance I took long ago when I first began reaping the benefits of its use.”
The dangers of alcohol and prescription drugs are far more significant than cannabis. According to the National Institute of Alcohol-Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), an estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes each year, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Some organizations estimate that 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence.
The problem is nearly as bad for prescription drugs. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, an estimated 2 million people are addicted to prescription drugs, and in 2015, more than 20,000 people died due to overdose of prescription pain relievers.
The number of deaths caused by cannabis? Zero.
“People are being denied a natural treatment that truly helps and heals, due to the complete misclassification of this plant,” says Behar. “Sometimes rules need to be broken in order to facilitate positive change.”
Most of the mothers I spoke to didn’t hide their cannabis use from their children, but the explanations provided to their children varied.
“Now that I’m a parent to four school-aged children,” says Hammer, “I’ve had to do a lot of self-reflecting over how to approach the topic so I can empower them with truthful knowledge about what it is and why people use it while still teaching them to respect the authority of the law.”
Although some of the cannabis users we talked to had used marijuana as a teens or young adults, most had stopped using it before they began again as a mother. Many even admitted that over the years, their opinions about the substance changed significantly. As a teen and young adult, Behar says she had no idea of the health benefits of marijuana or its different strains and dosage, but she certainly does now.
“I’m a better parent thanks to marijuana,” Behar shares. “It helps my brain and my emotions connect and regulate. It stops my anxiety and cycling thoughts and enables me to be more present with my children. I’m more patient and don’t sweat the small stuff.”
And nearly everyone I spoke to agreed, cannabis has only helped to improve their parenting, rather than impede it.
“Marijuana makes me a more calm, competent person, and that makes me a more calm, competent parent,” said Lea.
Despite the (manufactured?) controversy surrounding marijuana, one thing seems certain: cannabis has long since moved beyond the Cheech and Chong stereotypes of days gone by, and that additional research and legislative reforms are necessary.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, I think we can all agree that parenting is hard — and hell, life is hard. Sometimes we need a little help to get through the hardness — whether it’s due to a physical or mental condition, or run-of-the-mill stress.
For some people, that “help” comes in the form of a prescription for Xanax; for others, it’s exercise and a glass of wine at the end of a long day. And for others still, the answer is marijuana. As with all things, moderation is key. But perhaps it’s time to confront those outdated stereotypes, unreasonable laws, and hypocritical double standards after all, and look at things from a different perspective.