WILL WEED MOM BE THE NEW WINE MOM?
IS THE POT MOM ABOUT TO REPLACE THE WINE MOM? SHARON KIRKEY
‘And you’re why mommy drinks wine, yes you are, oh yes you are …..”
Oh, those edgy and ubiquitous wine mom memes, magnets and T- shirts, normalizing motherhood and booze. It’s all seen as good fun — empowering and rebellious, a way for women to challenge the expectation that mothers should be models of sobriety.
However, for seemingly growing numbers of women, pot, not Pinot, is the new way to lubricate the stresses of motherhood. Proponents argue it’s a safer, less intoxicating and more controllable relaxant than alcohol, which is a depressant, and almost as calorie-loaded as fat. Women say it can help make them more tuned into their kids. More nurturing.
Some observers are predicting growing legalization of recreational marijuana could lead to a further feminization of weed — just as emerging research suggests the female brain is more susceptible to the rewarding effects of cannabis, and possibly, a faster trajectory to dependence.
For cannabis advocate Jessie Gill, weed enhances her patience, “greatly.”
“It puts you into almost a meditative, reflective state. It kind of helps you see your kid’s point of view,” said Gill, who blogs as MarijuanaMommy. The N. J.- based registered nurse reluctantly began using medicinal cannabis for a work- related, cervical spine injury that doctor- prescribed opioids couldn’t touch.
“A lot of moms, a lot of women, are starting to see that it’s not this dangerous, scary thing,” Gill said. “The moms who are using cannabis recreationally tend to be self-medicating for stress — ‘I have so much anxiety at the end of the day, I can’t take it.’ It’s an alternative to wine.”
Women aren’t “zoning out” on the couch after school bus pickup or bedtime story time, insisted Gill, who recently launched The Pretty Pipe shop, curator and shipper of female- friendly paraphernalia, like purple and gold lace percolator bongs and the “little duck dabber.” The Pretty Pipe Shop, like MarijuanaMommy, is meant to challenge the “stoner” image surrounding cannabis, Gill said.
“When I came out, I was blown away by how many other moms, other women — grandmothers, business women, doctors — would say, ‘ I smoke, I use cannabis occasionally.”
They’re just not likely to post it on Facebook. Yet.
Some predict the cannabis industry will take a page out of big alcohol’s playbook and its “pinking” of booze that began in the late 1990s, with the rollout of low- calorie, ready- to- serve cocktails and wines with names like “Skinnygirl” and “Girls’ Night Out.” This month, the makers of Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky released a l i mited U. S. edition of “Jane Walker” in support of Women’s History Month, the label featuring an hourglass Jane striding in sexy riding boots, tailcoat and a top hat.
“In order to successfully market to women, you need to make it seem like it’s part of the well-balanced life — the good, happy life that includes yoga and running,” said Samantha Brennan, a feminist theorist and bioethicist and dean of arts at the University of Guelph. “I think lots of these activities are going to be tied to marijuana as a way to get women as customers.”
But not all pushback against gender stereotypes is great for women’s health, she has argued. For example, doctors are seeing a startling rise in binge drinking among women. In 2013 more than a million women in the U. S. alone landed in an emergency room from heavy drinking, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal health data. After Philip Morris launched Virginia Slims at the height of the women’s liberation movement (“You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!) lung cancer deaths in women eventually surpassed those for breast cancer.
“Maybe we want to be a bit more reflective about what we want our lives to look like,” Brennan says.
Wo m e n have always smoked and dosed with marijuana, though traditionally at much lower self- reported rates than men, said sociologist Wendy Chapkis, coauthor of Dying to Get High: Marijuana as Medicine. It’s still more a male than female phenomenon, but the gap is narrowing: According to the 2015 Canadian Alcohol, Tobacco and Drugs Survey, the percentage of women aged 20 to 24 who reported using pot in the previous 12 months increased six per cent between 2013 and 2015. Among 25- to 44-year-olds it increased five per cent.
However, “we didn’t see that same level of increase in the 15- to 19 age group,” said Rebecca Jesseman, director of policy for the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.
“Is there a cohort effect happening there,” she asked. “Or is it simply that women are starting to use at a frequency that’s more parallel to men,” much the way more women are drinking more like men.
There’s some haze around just how far the industry will be permitted to go in promoting recreational pot. Ottawa’s Cannabis Act prohibits anything aimed at kids and youth, or that’s associated with “glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.” The Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Branding, an industry group, has proposed no sexual language or imagery in the names for strains, though it does want to be able to advertise flavour and taste and make “factually based claims” about brand attributes.
Entrepreneurs like Jazmin Hupp, co-founder of Women Grow, a professional network for women in the legal cannabis business, are almost evangelical in their enthusiasm. Hupp, born in B.C. to American parents, says cannabis provides introspection, eu- phoria, creativity and relaxation, in addition to relief from physical aches and pains.
It also allows her to “give less f-- ks,” she said in a Tech Open Air conference on her website. Granted, cannabis can also cause anxiety, paranoia, hunger and dry mouth, she was careful to note.
Brennan, for her part, is uneasy with the range of things for which marijuana is being purported to benefit women, from menstrual cramps and insomnia, to weight loss and a better sex drive. Similar problems that were bundled together to market benzodiazepines — mother’s little helpers — to women generations ago.
All of this is a bit worrying to Mohini Ranganathan, a psychiatrist and associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine. Studies in rats have long shown sex differences in response to cannabis, but Ranganathan is one of the few looking at the acute effects of THC in human females relative to men, hoping to tease out the mechanisms that may underlie gender differences.
In a recent study, she administered intravenous doses of THC — the main constituent of cannabis — or placebo to a group of men and women, then asked each to score their high on a scale of zero to 100.
The placebo group ranked their “high” as less than five, and there were no differences between men and women.
With THC, the mean high for men was close to 40. For women, it was 52. “So, close to an 18-to 20-point difference,” Ranganathan said.
It’s not clear why. However, in earlier work using sophisticated PET brain imaging, Yale scientists showed that women have more of a specific kind of cannabinoid receptor ( CB1) that’s widely distributed in the brain, compared to men.
As legal pot becomes more accessible and socially acceptable, like alcohol, and as its potency increases, “if women truly are more likely to have a more rewarding experience with the drug perhaps we will see greater rates of addiction,” Ranganathan said.
Her finding fits with what others have seen in female rats. In experiments, rats are trained to hit a lever to selfadminister cannabis. The control is usually water. “You look at how quickly the rats learn, ‘ Hey, if I hit the lever on the left I’m going to keep getting the drug,” Ranganathan explained. Female rats learn that faster than males.
After some time, the tap is turned off. The rats keep hitting the lever, but no drug. Eventually they learn to stop. Female rats take longer to stop whacking the lever.
When you remove their ovaries, they behave more like male rats.
There may be other risks specific to women. Importantly, heavy cannabis use during pregnancy has been linked with higher odds of having a low birth weight baby. Research also suggests children exposed to heavy amounts of pots in the womb have i ncreased l evels of hyperactivity and impulsivity, and higher rates of drug use in their teens, said Dr. Amy Porath, director of research at the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.
When used frequently, and heavily, pot might also lead to depression or anxiety disorders, although other research has shown a null effect. The mental health picture, said Porath, “is really a grey area.”
Still, proponents of recreational pot argue it’s a safer form of recreation than booze, that it’s not about enabling “stiletto stoners” and that it’s possible to parent responsibly under the influence of THC.
“It’s not like I’m smoking a joint and blowing it in my kids’ ear. He’s not my cat in my dorm room,” Amy Curran Zimmerman, who makes videos of DIY crafts sometimes attempted while high, told Splimm, an online pot and parenting newsletter.
Yet Splimm co- founder, former Oregon elementary school teacher Jenn Lauder, said the stigma around women and pot is “still so persistent.
“In a society where prohibition has been the overlay that we’ve all experienced for so long, it feels illicit even when it’s legal.”
Pot, she says, is wildly appealing to some mothers. “Once you’ve titrated and figured out your ideal dose, you’re just not intoxicated the way you would be with alcohol.”
“Even if after the kids are in bed and you’re enjoying a little bit of cannabis and one of the kids wakes up with a nightmare, you’re still going to be equipped to take care of your child. If you’d had those three or four glasses of wine maybe you wouldn’t be.”
Smoking doesn’t appeal to many women, Lauder said. “It’s smelly, it’s inconvenient, you’re going to draw attention to yourself and your kid is going to notice it.” More popular are micro-dosed edibles, teas and tinctures.
Brennan, of the University of Guelph, wonders if the softening of the stigma around women and weed — and the narrative that it makes women better mothers — isn’t more about white, suburban mothers, not women who’ve lost custody of their kids in the past for their drug use.
And it also raises a larger social issue around the frustrations and demands of modern motherhood, of juggling caring for children and caring for elderly parents while working at full- time jobs.
Brennan gets the pot- forchronic pain piece.
But, “If you think, “Naturally I’m stressed out, and grouchy and angry and this is going to put me in a better mood,’ rather than thinking, ‘ Things here have to change for me to have a reasonable life,’ then I’m not so sure.
“I don’t think the answer can be have another glass of wine, or a joint, and everything will be OK.”