Cannabis has been around for several centuries, playing an important role in cultures throughout history. From medicine to clothing production to skincare to herbal remedy, cannabis has proven time and again just how versatile and beneficial to society it is as a resource. And although the plant has a history of helping many different types of people regardless of age, race, or gender, history has also revealed just how especially beneficial cannabis can be for women.
Women have played an integral role in the development of cannabis over the past several decades. From utilizing the plant for health and wellness over the centuries to advocating for its legality and accounting for 37% of senior-level positions, women have their hand in every crevice of the cannabis industry.
From menstruation to childbirth to menopause and everything in between, it’s no secret that anyone with female organs is faced with a myriad of bodily struggles. While modern medicines like Midol, Motrin, or Tylenol are geared towards relieving menstrual pains and issues, they often come with a gang of side effects that practically cancel out the relief they are supposed to provide.
Before modern medicine, humans often turned to natural remedies for their pains and aches, and when it comes to struggles related to the female body, cannabis has been doing the trick for centuries. A woman’s use of cannabis dates back to B.C. years–specifically ancient Egypt, where the plant was utilized to alleviate pain from things like breast cancer, menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth. It was also used as a general mood booster, often consumed in the form of tea or tincture.
Later on during the 7th century, cannabis use was seen in Indian culture, primarily among women. Bhang, an Indian beverage consisting of fruits, milk, water, spices and cannabis, was used as an aphrodisiac. The drink is still a common delicacy in India today.
The plant has also been used in the Persian community as early as the 9th century, when women would mix the seeds with other herbs in order to treat migraines and prevent miscarriage.
Throughout history, cannabis has continued to pop up in cultures all around the world. Women have used the plant to treat breast pain, aid wounds, ease menstrual cramps, and help soothe the pain of childbirth.
Although cannabis has been regularly enjoyed by many cultures for centuries, America’s attitude towards the plant took a dramatic turn during the early 1900s. Due to civil unrest in Mexico, Mexican immigrants began to make their way to America, bringing with them “marijuana,” which they used for mostly recreational purposes at the time.
Americans were jarred, which surely had more to do with racism than anything else, but they were also unused to seeing cannabis in any context other than medicinal or industrial. The term “marijuana” was coined in a negative light, and the plant was suddenly associated with complete debauchery and havoc–a gateway drug to a dangerous lifestyle.
Despite this drastic change in collective view, women continued to lobby for the benefits of cannabis. During the 1940s, jazz musician Billie Holiday spoke openly about her cannabis use, which helped inspire her to write songs.
Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, women like anthropologist Margaret Mead and poet Maya Angelou spoke openly about their cannabis use and support of its legalization. Mary Jane Rathbun, known as “Brownie Mary,” began advocating for cannabis use in the 1960s. However, her activism was at its all-time high in the 1980s during the AIDS epidemic, when she would deliver pot brownies to patients in pain.
By the late ’90s, people were slowly but surely beginning to open their minds a bit to the plant, and states like California, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington legalized medical cannabis. Since then, the country has continued to shift towards federal legalization with some form of legal cannabis now available in 44 states.
The increase of cannabis legalization has resulted in a booming market within the industry; jobs continue to be created day by day. And just as women have played a key role in cannabis use over the years, they also play a key role in the industry, making up about 38% of executive roles.
Cannabis entrepreneur Jane West has built her entire brand around her love and respect for the plant. West founded Women Grow, an organization focused on female leadership within the cannabis industry, in 2014. Over 80% of her company is held by women and people of color.
Outside of the industry, women continue to be huge supporters of the plant. A 2019 study revealed that in the United States, 61% of women are in support of federal cannabis legalization. Within the legal market, women make up about 70-80% of all consumer purchases.
A 2017 New Frontier Data report also revealed that when it comes to cannabis use, women are more likely to use the plant for medicinal purposes like pain relief, anxiety/depression relief, nausea prevention, and sleep. Women also turn to cannabis for gynecological issues and overall sexual health.
There is still a way to go until this industry, like most others, can be deemed truly fair and equal despite gender, but there is no denying that the cannabis industry has allowed for women to succeed in a way that most other industries have gone out of their way to prevent. It makes sense–the plant has been utilized by women for centuries, and this allows for a space of constant creation and innovation where cannabis and women are concerned.