Women + Weed: A Herstory of Stigma

Women + Weed: A Herstory of Stigma

By Maia Leggott


Women and cannabis have made their mark, and we are here for it.

One simply can't deny the powerful synergy of the divine feminine and the female healing plant. It's especially compelling given the two have long been mired in stigma, plastered with labels like taboo, or don’t touch this.

There’s a lot more to the connection than the physiological sparks, like the fact that cannabinoid receptors are highly concentrated in the ovaries. Those seeds were sown long before anyone even knew what the endocannabinoid system was.

With the empowering wave of women and weed at the forefront of our minds, we're delving into a little herstory to kick off the month of 4/20.

Sacred Medicine

Cannabis has a long history of sacredness in plant medicine and spiritual practices. The earliest reference to its medicinal use is thought to be around 2800 B.C. in an ancient Chinese medical compendium that dubbed it one of the "Superior Elixirs of Immortality." Healers prescribed female hemp in varied forms for the treatment of constipation, thiamine deficiency, malaria, rheumatism and (you guessed it), menstrual problems. 

To that end, ancient spiritual texts from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Israel also mention a "healing herb"; a sweet-smelling plant that was a critical part of sacred rites, believed to please the gods (amen!). Many researchers have tried to point out cannabis references – such as anointing with healing oil – found in the Old Testament for over a century, but it hasn’t quite caught on.

Sacred Feminine

Representations of the sacred feminine date back as early as 28,000 B.C., like the Venus of Willendorf statue found in Austria in the early 1900s. She is the earliest known in a long history of mother goddess symbols that resonates to this day. In Hinduism, Shakti is "The Great Divine Mother" responsible for creation; the agent of all change in life. 

Many ancient civilizations had female deities of war, healing, restoration wisdom, fertility, creation, and the moon. Women have been healers throughout history, whether as pharmacists concocting herbal remedies (hmm…), midwives, counsellors, or surgeons. They were praised across many societies for their healing wisdom and revered for their divine energy.

Stigma Strikes

So, what changed? Was it men? Capitalism? Increasing greed and ignorance? A lack of understanding and not prioritizing research on cannabis or women? A need for control?

Sometimes, it seems as though our entire medical system – hell, society – is based on the writings of men in ancient civilizations. Take Aristotle, who called the female body a "mutilated male" body that was turned inside out, with the testicles and scrotum forming the ovaries and uterus. Ovaries didn’t even have their own name until the seventeenth century! Medical texts and training have long treated female bodies as abnormal male counterparts; students learn about female vs. "normal" physiology and anatomy, setting the bar for anything other than the male standard to be considered atypical. Just ask any women who has ever been dismissed by a medical professional, or glance through the not-so-distant past for rampant diagnoses of hysteria whenever men didn’t understand something about women’s bodies.

This bias is so ingrained in the history of medicine that the standards we know of for many medical conditions – heart attack, diabetes, stroke – do not apply to women because the system inherently discriminates against them. Researchers have found fundamental sex differences in every organ system and tissue in the body, so the fact that disease treatment and medications are based on the male standard ignores the health and well-being of half the population.

In university, I took a course called “The History of Medicine,” where we learned all about Hippocrates and the Four Humours, Galen and his contributions to anatomical and surgical knowledge. Know who we didn’t learn about? Aspasia, a Greco-Roman female surgeon whose techniques were well-documented and used well into the 11th century. Or the unnamed Italian female physicians who wrote The Trotula, the most influential medical compendium in Europe on women’s medicine. It appears the stories that linger through history are those of men.

Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth. 

—Simone de Beauvoir

Cannabis prohibition as we know it followed opium prohibition when a racist riot in Vancouver saw the OG opiate banned. Soon, herbal medicine schools closed at the behest of corporations, and cannabis was criminalized nationally first in Canada in 1923, and in the United States in 1937. Somehow, a substance that had been highly regarded and widely produced for centuries for its medicinal, therapeutic and mind-expanding capabilities, was suddenly at the crux of the War on Drugs. 

Propaganda and shocking claims lumping cannabis with drugs like cocaine and opium surged in Depression-era North America. Campaigns like "Reefer Madness" turned it into a terrifying "devil’s lettuce".

It may be bold to compare the history of discrimination against women to the history of a controversial plant medicine, but that synergy of shared experience is exactly what makes women and weed so powerful.

The primitive sacred connection between the two are an unstoppable force. Not only can cannabis alleviate many women’s health concerns, but women’s stories are instrumental in changing the narrative and destigmatizing conversations around cannabis. Education is essential when looking at the intersection of women’s health and cannabis; as such, building strong communities is imperative in these spaces. You don’t have to look far these days to see examples of this thriving all over the place. Just scroll your Insta feed to see all of the incredible energy women bring with their stories of cannabis relief.

With that, we leave you with SheHaze, our portrait series in collaboration with Aye Magazine. It serves as an ode to cannabis and womanhood, offering insights into modern relationships with the plant through a female lens. 

SOURCES: "Cannabis: A History", by Martin Booth; "The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis", edited by Julie Holland, M.D; "Aspasia and Cleopatra Metrodora, Two Majestic Female Physician Surgeons in the Early Byzantine Era", by Tsoucalas Gregory and Sgantzos Markos; "The Trotula: A Medieval Compendium of Women's Medicine", edited by Monica H. Green; "Shakti, Hindu Deity," Encyclopedia Britanica. Photos: Wikipedia, Alchetron.

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