While cannabis can be used to treat health issues including chronic pain and anxiety, there is still a stigma around its use by parents. With echoes of “Just Say No” campaigns lingering, even in states like Alaska where cannabis is legal, moms often find themselves caught between using cannabis as an effective medicine and the judgment of others.
Some moms across the state are normalizing their cannabis use so it can be perceived in the same way that wine is – fine in moderation. Others are explaining how cannabis is used as medicine.
“I have ADD, severe anxiety, and PTSD. My ADD meds made me agitated, so I got prescribed an anti-anxiety medication to calm that down. I didn’t like any of the side effects,” explains Nell, a Fairbanks-based mother of five children ranging in ages from 3 to 15. “I feel like cannabis keeps me much more level-headed, and I can honestly enjoy all the parts of parenting that much easier partaking in cannabis. I feel like doing all the monotonous chores around the house and schooling is much more bearable after a bowl!”
Nell says she has been on her own since 13 and has been using cannabis since then, but it took her years to “come out of the closet as a ‘pot head.’”
“By then, I was ready to take any negativity on. I would just let people know that some people choose cigarettes, some choose alcohol,” Nell says. “I grow my own cannabis, and therefore that’s the route I chose. I feel it’s medicinal and holistic, and that’s my argument usually. Today, I don’t even let that negativity in.”
Angie, in Chugiak, started using cannabis at 14 because it was “cool to smoke pot.”
“I don’t think it affects my ability to parent in a negative way,” Angie says. “I use it for medical reasons now with a prescription, and my children grew up with it being a part of a normal thing in life.”
Moms who are looking to consume cannabis may need to navigate the challenges of speaking with their kids about when it’s OK to use cannabis and when it isn’t.
For many parents, the new mantra they are telling their kids is “Just Say No Right Now” instead of “Just Say No.” Research shows that cannabis can be beneficial in a number of ways; however, not necessarily for young, developing brains.
“We addressed the issue when our children first went into kindergarten,” Angie recalls. “We explained that people called it a ‘drug,’ but we were able to make it seem like it was more like a cigarette. At that age it was pretty easy. By about fourth and fifth grades, the full explanation came. We were also able to compare it to other drugs. It was a lot easier with it being a plant that grows just like the plants in our house.”
Nell recounts when her oldest came home from middle school one day after health class and was anxious to speak with her.
“He said he learned in class that cannabis causes cancer and has all the chemical compounds that are dangerous. That very day I decided that it was my job to educate my son on cannabis use,” Nell says. “I told him about the many helpful chemical compounds and how chemicals are in everything. These compounds were in the very spices we use to cook. I realized I couldn’t keep it from my kids. So we are open about it.”
Nell admits she has no intention of allowing her sons to partake before they are 18.
“I tell my oldest that he should wait to let his brain finish developing as we do have high incidences of mental illness and substance abuse in our families,” Nell explains. “I’m glad to be the proof for him that cannabis is not the gateway drug like media is trying to tell him. I’ll be 36 this year and still have only smoked cannabis.”
Nell adds that her boys see her take care of her cannabis plants at home.
“We grow food as well, so it’s all the same. I hope by being open and honest with them they won’t feel the need to sneak and try it. They’re taught now that this is for adults only.”
Angie agrees with being honest with kids.
“Don’t hide it from them. If they see it as a norm, then they don’t think it’s a secretive thing. When you’re in your bedroom with the door locked, which isn’t a normal thing, then they want to know what secret it is you’re hiding,” says Angie.
For many moms, normalizing cannabis in the household means being open, honest, and responsible. The key is not to vilify a medicinal plant or create fear and to keep cannabis products in a safe place.
Aliza Sherman lives in Anchorage, Alaska and has been involved in the cannabis industry since early 2016. She is the co-founder of Ellementa, an international network for women interested in cannabis for wellness. She is the author of the book, The Essential Guide to Cannabis and CBD: Optimizing Your Health With Nature’s Medicine (Ten Speed Press, 2019).