Women & Cannabis
The story of cannabis as a women’s issue goes back a lot farther than most people think. And it’s a history riddled with shame, stigma and suppression and death.
Our story starts somewhere in Asia, where a group of nomads known as the Scythians roamed. Not only did these people have and use cannabis, mummified remains from as far north as Siberia have been found with cannabis. It was here that a woman known as the Princess of Ukok was found. Covered in unique tattoos, found with cannabis, and diagnosed thousands of years later as having suffered from breast cancer.
In India, Cannabis would play a central role in the development of spirituality, and was known as the favourite food of Shiva, a god sometimes depicted as a man, and sometimes depicted as a half-man, half woman. In China, it would form the basis of medicine as it would through western societies.
The first suppression comes in Europe, in the Middle Ages. The Roman Catholic Church decided to monopolize medicine. By using the unfamiliar Latin as a new ‘language of science’, Europeans were cut off from understanding. While the word for it was typically hemp (or hanf, or hamp), Cannabis sounded like something else entirely.
This would be combined with an active campaign to root out and destroy any who still had knowledge of plant medicines. Local healers working from thousands of years of passed down knowledge were burned at the stake, while the authorities decided that only they knew what medicine was. While it’s easy to see now how barbaric their ‘medical’ practices were, at the time, only one man seemed to realize what was being lost.
Paracelsus, not so quietly, decided to save as much knowledge as he could. He claimed he learned everything he knew from sorceress that the Church was burning. He would be ridiculed for three hundred years as the character Faust, and when modern science finally caught up, they honoured the knowledge of these thousands of poor, nameless women by naming him the Father of Modern Toxicology.
From this point on in the West, it would be men who monopolized institutional health care - while at home, it was generally still a woman’s responsibility.
This same pattern would play out all over the world, with colonizers telling the colonized their medicine was no good, their healers were charlatans, and that only the men of the medical establishment knew anything. Quietly, hundreds of years later, many of those medicines are now being turned into pharmaceuticals.
Cannabis itself would be given the same treatment barring the unfortunate period of 1930 to the present day. We are still only now rediscovering all it can do, but understand the effects this has had on women’s health is profound. Cannabis has been used to ease the pain of childbirth, help induce labour, and as part of post-partum care, and was often used to make tea to ease menstral pains and cramps. And it was cheap. No one cared if you took some stems, or a few leaves if you didn’t happen to grow your own.
This was the form the second suppression took. In the 1930’s, targeting minorities and the poor. Those who had access to the crop, knowledge of its use, and barriers to institutional healthcare. After sixty years of prohibition, with the HIV crisis of the late eighties and early nineties, it would again be marginalized groups with inadequate access to healthcare that would rely on this plant for relief.
Since then, courts in Canada, and the US, and in more and more countries around the world have agreed that cutting off access to a natural substance that can relieve suffering is immoral.
We are now in the third suppression. Where there seems to be a concerted effort to allow adult-use while both denying its medical efficacy and attempting to monopolize healthcare and healthcare decisions. We are once again being separated from nature and the knowledge of it, and once again being told our grandmothers were wrong. We are still being told we don’t have the right to autonomy over our own bodies, and the it is still the most marginalized among us who pay the highest price.
About Jamie Shaw
Jamie Shaw is the only court certified expert on the cannabis retail industry in Canada, and was a witness in the Allard trial that won patients the right to grow for themselves. During her time as President of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries (CAMCD), Shaw successfully lobbied for, and consulted on dispensary regulations in Vancouver, Victoria and other Canadian municipalities.
Shaw is a former Director of the BC Compassion Club Society, a founding partner of Groundwork Consulting, a co-author of the Lift Retail Cannabis Training Course, teaches a similar course at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and sits on various boards and advisories including the BC Independent Cannabis Association. Shaw currently serves as Chief Communications and Culture Officer for Pasha Brands.