Cannabis, the Patriarchy, and Women’s Health
Many are shocked to hear that doctors and other practitioners once hailed cannabis as a “valuable remedy” for patients. Yet, dating back through millennia are stories of cannabis and women’s health: those finding comfort and relief during menstruation or pregnancy byway of the long stigmatized plant known as weed, mary jane, herb, ganja, and more.
One of the earliest recorded cases of medicinal cannabis use was a young woman in Jerusalem who received the medicine during childbirth in the year 300 AD. This was long before American prohibition or the highly racist War on Drugs, which would change the course of history- forbidding its use. Because of prohibition, we lost decades of progress in medicinal research, and we’re only now beginning to destigmatize conversations about cannabis and hemp as possible remedies for gynecological issues, thousands of years later.
Weed, like a woman’s body, became something for those in power to control, commodify, and legislate over the years.
Women’s Bodies as a Battlefield
The well-informed and history buffs among us know that the war on women’s bodies has been waged and fought since the beginning of time. Child brides, female genital mutilation, and the ever-increasing number of those lost to sex trafficking, women and girls are especially vulnerable to male dominance and control.
In developed nations like the United States, the war has been fought around women’s reproductive organs via legislative control. A 1973 Supreme Court ruling, famously known as Roe v. Wade, allowed women gynecological autonomy by ruling that access to safe and legal abortion was a constitutional right.
Those across the U.S. also see the fight in gendered power dynamics perpetuated in state, local, and religious institutions. Movements such as the #MeToo and #TimesUp are women beginning to fight back against sexual assault and being silenced by opressors. Given the Ohio legislature went as far as proposing that the state has a legal authority to reimplant an ectopic pregnancy into a woman’s uterus (a medically impossible procedure) just last year, for a second time, the fight seems both necessary and long overdue.
Brief History of Medicinal Cannabis and Women’s Health
The history of medicinal cannabis can be traced back as far as 2737 B.C., when the Father of Chinese Medicine, Emperor Shen Neng, prescribed it in the form of a “tea to treat gout, rheumatism, malaria, female disorders, and even poor memory”. From there, the popularity of cannabis sativa, also known as the plant of a thousand-and-one molecules, further spread throughout Asia to the Middle East and into Africa.
While there’s some speculation about the first import of cannabis into Europe and the US, what we do know for sure is that between 1840 and 1900, more than 100 articles were written and published in American and European medical journals citing the plant’s therapeutic qualities, many of which report relief for female-specific conditions.
After a prosperous chunk of the 17th Century was spent growing and using medicinal cannabis in many parts of the US, a dark cloud fell over the booming industry. At that time, some thought Mexicans immigrating to flee the Mexican Revolution in 1910 were a threat to Americans. “The prejudices and fears that greeted these peasant immigrants also extended to their traditional means of intoxication: smoking marijuana,” reported The Atlantic in 1994. “Police officers in Texas claimed that marijuana incited violent crimes, aroused a ‘lust for blood,’ and gave its users ‘superhuman strength.’ Rumors spread that Mexicans were distributing this ‘killer weed’ to unsuspecting American schoolchildren.” Despite no real evidence to prove these claims, campaigns were waged to criminalize the long-respected plant. Most notably: Reefer Madness, was a film depicting a trio of drug dealers who “lead innocent teenagers to become addicted to ‘reefer’ cigarettes by holding wild parties with jazz music”. It seems everything, including racism, was bigger in Texas.
Otherwise known as a menstrual cycle, a female’s “moon”, or period, is often a crippling experience that can wreak havoc in the lives of women and those that menstruate. With the mass legalization of cannabis also came a surge of interest in THC products that are said to remedy painful periods. Yet, due to it’s status under the Control Substances Act (yes, still) cannabis has a long way to go before you can expect to have it prescribed by an OBGYN for menstrual cramps, fatigue, or other discomforts associated with gynecological and reproductive health.
Hemp-derived products that may help those with period pain include revolutionary products like the 100mg CBD suppository available by Foria Wellness. “I loved the feeling of gentle quiet relief after so much tight, compressed cramping. Thank you!” one online review boasts.
Childbirth and Postpartum
An array of anecdotal evidence scatters the internet in support of the efficacy of THC and CBD for soothing symptoms of pregnancy and childbirth. “As old witch warriors, this was our go-to way to help during labor,” Kelley Usborne-Bruce explained via phone interview with High Times Magazine in 2019. Ethnobotanist, Dr. Ethan Russo, cites a 9th-century text that mentions “calm uterine pains, prevent miscarriage, and preserve fetuses in their mothers’ abdomens”. Then there’s the 1994 ethnographic study by Columbia University doctoral candidate and registered nurse, Melanie Dreher, that claimed: “cannabis-exposed babies were less irritable, more stable, and had better reflexes” compared to those that were not exposed.
With the many pro-cannabis musings also come opponents. Other recent, far-less internet-famous studies suggest otherwise, citing “tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive molecule in cannabis, as small and fat-soluble, easily crossing the placenta into the fetal bloodstream”.
Modern-day women looking to get pregnant are likely to encounter conflicting accounts, studies, and research on this highly controversial subject. It’s always best to do your due diligence when researching any topic online, especially pertaining to cannabis. Not all content is created equal, after all.
Cannabis and Women’s Health: Looking Forward
Stretching the globe and traversing cultures, violence against women is not only toxic but an epidemic of mass proportion. Some point to lawmakers, whose legislation of women’s bodies is the ultimate weapon of war. In an era that includes Trump and a seemingly perpetual threat of overturning Roe v. Wade, maybe legal cannabis is just the thing we need to begin confronting conversations around cannabis, women’s health, and the patriarchy.
A wielder of words and collector of unpopular opinions, Shannon DeGrooms set out in 2017 to destigmatize medicinal cannabis consumption through various forms of storytelling. Shannon is a freelance writer and Executive Director of This is Jane Project, an organization documenting womxn healing trauma through connection and cannabis.
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