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Cannabis + motherhood

Cannabis + motherhood
“A bouquet of marijuana flowers,” by Anucha (text superimposed); Adobe standard stock license

I am interested in understanding what people want from their intoxication as they use substances with purpose and conscientious intent. Participants in our recent North State Intoxication study shared their experiences with alcohol and intoxication, sometimes also talking about their experiences with other substances. Over the course of the interviews, cannabis emerged as an important substance in the lives of some participants, including mothers. I was curious to see how cannabis fit into the routines and livelihoods of these mothers.

For instance, Luna is a 25-year-old single mother who enjoys raising her child, and believes that her kindness and strength are important aspects of her identity as well as her parenting. Drinking used to be a lot of fun for Luna, but more recently, it has led to more negative experiences that have changed her outlook on drinking. Luna shared:

I used to go out a lot and drink and stuff, and there’s a couple of things that have happened this year that have made it to where I don’t want to have that as an outlet […]. My body and my life is really trying to tell me, stop drinking. Like it’s bad for you. I feel like the universe is trying to tell me, like, stop. This is a little taste of what could happen. I used to have a lot of fun drinking, so it’s crazy how it changes.

Since her most recent break up, Luna would drink to deal with her heartbreak and to numb herself. However, alcohol started making Luna feel worse and would cause her body to swell up.

Although drinking was an outlet for Luna to socialize and to cope with her heartbreak and anxiety, she now views it ultimately as being more negative for her health. On the other hand, Luna feels that cannabis provides a more positive experience as it relieves her anxiety and depression so that she can continue to parent and carry on with her day. Luna explained:  

[I] smoke weed a lot.  It keeps me kind of calm.  I do have depression and anxiety, and I have insomnia, too, and I don’t want to take a bunch of pills for all of this, like I have in the past, when I was younger […] Like the anxiety, it calms me down.  And then the insomnia, it helps me sleep.  […I’ll] get really depressed or where I don’t want to do anything and everything just feels really overwhelming.  And I’ll smoke and then I’ll be like, okay, get on with your day.  You had your moment.  Let’s go.  That’s where I think it helps with my anxiety because it’ll calm me down and take a breath and go on with your day […]. My doctors have tried to put me on pills.  I just rather not.  I feel like a zombie on them.  

Luna has tried managing her mental health with prescription medication and prefers to not be on pills again as she does not like how they make her feel. For her, this would have a direct impact on her well-being as well as her ability to parent. With cannabis however, not only do the intoxicating effects help alleviate Luna’s mental health symptoms, but the embodied experience of smoking – of ‘having a moment’ to ‘take a breath’ – is also something she describes as beneficial in her daily life. Taking the time to smoke cannabis represents to Luna that she is prioritizing her well-being.

For another participant, Cassie, a 32-year-old mother of two, cannabis use is also connected to health and well-being. Throughout her life, Cassie dealt with addictions to heroin, meth, and alcohol. After she could not remember a tense situation that had occurred between her and her partner due to alcohol, Cassie decided to stop drinking. The thought of losing her family due to addiction scared her and she wanted to change. In the past, when trying to quit her previous addictions, Cassie’s withdrawal symptoms were quite severe and ultimately would lead her to start using different substances again to ease her symptoms. This time, she turned to cannabis and other herbal substances, like , to manage her cravings and withdrawals. Cassie explained further:

 […] I smoke marijuana every single day.  I did have problems with drinking, personally, so I had to stop after kids because I felt like it would destroy my life if [I] continued drinking, just because I would, like, black out so fast and wouldn’t know what I was doing.  So I quit drinking two and a half years ago […] I wasn’t really very much of like a weed smoker, but then I switched to weed, which you just get calm and like munchies.  Like, I would much rather that than drinking, which caused so much destruction in my life.  And I don’t know, back when I used to quit, I would quit everything, and I think that was just like, the wrong thing to do for my brain because I would always snap back harder than ever.  So just, like, switching to something else, I think, helped ease the pain of giving something up.  

Instead of complete sobriety from all substances, which in the past led Cassie to “snap back harder than ever” into the addictions she was trying to quit, she now considers herself “Cali Sober” – meaning that she uses cannabis but not the other drugs that have historically resulted in more negative consequences in her life.  

Beyond helping with her cravings, cannabis also allows Cassie to manage her stress and meet her basic needs around eating and sleeping, which she explained are important prerequisites for being able to survive as a mother:

[…] since having kids, it’s really difficult for me to stop or have a break because I don’t eat, I don’t really sleep very well, but weed kind of keeps me present and less overwhelmed.

Similarly to Luna, smoking cannabis allows Cassie to have a moment to herself, enabling her to be more present and less overwhelmed with her kids so that she can parent. Both moms express feeling overwhelmed and that cannabis helps by bringing their focus back to themselves and their household. Cassie and Luna perceive alcohol as more harmful for them and their parenting, while cannabis helps them both take care of their health. Furthermore, their cannabis use is emblematic of how they are able to show up for themselves and their kids.

In addition to the intoxicating effects from cannabis, participants expressed how it could also be a way of prioritizing and maintaining one’s health. Mary is a 30-year-old mother of five who currently homeschools her children. Mary has celiac disease which means that certain foods- and also alcohol- cause discomfort and inflammation, making her feel ill and irritable. Conversely, cannabis has helped her immensely. Mary states:

[…] it really helps me with my stomach. Because my celiac disease f***ing governs my entire life, and I hate it […] And it’s the one thing on the planet – Like, whether it’s a salve that I rub on my stomach or something that I take orally that has THC or CBD in it, […] but smoking is instant relief for me as far as my inflammation and my pain goes in my gut. So, it’s very beneficial for me. Definitely, cannabis is my go-to for things.

Yet, despite the health benefits of cannabis she experiences, Mary also noted how drug-related stigma presents a difficult bind for someone in her situation:

There is a huge stigma around being a parent [that smokes] weed. Which blows me away because – um – I wish my dad would’ve smoked weed when I was growing up, because he would’ve been a lot more patient with us and not so angry […] And so, I don’t know. I kind of just am at a loss. I don’t know what else to do. I can’t go around feeling like sh**, because I have five kids. So, I have to be able to function, and I have to be able to… be present for them every single day.

For Mary – and arguably Cassie, Luna, and other participants – cannabis helps them feel better and be available to take care of their kids, regardless of the negative social judgments this may entail. In explaining how cannabis fits into their lives, each of these mothers’ narratives underscores not only how cannabis compares favorably to alcohol and other drugs they’ve used, but also how the benefits to health and well-being that they experience from cannabis support their ability to raise their children. Despite stigmatizing ideas that cannabis-using mothers are  irresponsible or negligent, several of the mothers we interviewed explained how their practice instead actually helps them show up and be the parent they want to be for their children. Rather than inhibiting their ability to parent, these mothers describe cannabis as an effective tool for taking care of themselves and their families.

* Participant names are pseudonyms.

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