Ask a budtender: how do I make my family understand cannabis is medicine?

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Lorena Cupcake, voted “best budtender in Chicago,” has answered hundreds of questions from cannabis shoppers and patients during their time as a budtender. And now they’re turning that experience into a monthly advice column, Ask a budtender. Got a question for Cupcake? Submit your questions to [email protected].

Dear Budtender,

How can I normalize cannabis use within my family so that my relatives understand that this is my medicine?

Dear cannabis patient,

I’m glad we’re tackling this question, because the need to defuse and debunk stigma around cannabis is an almost universal challenge. Though I’ve been lucky enough to pass the bong with the former flower child who raised me, employers and health care providers have often made it clear that my daily regimen is seen as a vice. During my time as a budtender, I’ve helped many medical patients find discreet methods of consumption to avoid prying from nosy neighbors and judgemental relatives.

If we want to move into a future where no one faces unjust repercussions for using cannabis medically or recreationally, part of that battle begins at home. It means tough conversations with adult family members who might carry their loaded expectations to the table, as well as age-appropriate discussions with children.

Early conversations with children might focus on the need for them to understand that certain medicines are not appropriate for them and that certain storage areas are off-limits for their own safety. Over time, however, cannabis can be used as a teaching tool in the mission to show young people how to care for themselves and develop healthy coping mechanisms. At the same time, it can be used to encourage our extended family to develop more understanding and empathy.

How to start a conversation

If you’re not sure where your family members stand on cannabis, one way to test the waters is to reference recent news events. For example, you might bring up the November elections where many states voted to roll back drug laws and establish pathways for legal cannabis. Broaching the subject in a way that isn’t directly personal might give you a chance to gauge whether they’ve updated old-fashioned views before you divulge private medical information. With seven in ten Americans supporting legalization these days, you might find they’re more supportive than you’d expect.

Like other moms in the weed community, DC-based cannabis educator Jay Mills knows the importance of starting conversations with those around you. Explaining the medical benefits of cannabis to her skeptical family led to the creation of her first book, a self-published Cannabis Reference Manual. Her parents are both medical doctors, so when it came to their conversations, “Education truly was the key,” she said. “I had to have charts and research and references. That was the only way to get through to them.”

To reprogram the misinformation drilled into generations during the War on Drugs, Mills suggests teaching relatives about the many proven non-intoxicating benefits of cannabis, noting that you can even start by discussing hemp-based CBD. “I would talk about the benefits of it raw or topically, where you’re not even talking about the psychological side effects, just to introduce the idea that this thing can be medicine.”

After doing their own experimentation with cannabis-based remedies for headaches and sore joints, her parents have become advocates in their own right. “My father and my mother both call me to ask for advice, and advice for patients they would like to recommend for cannabis treatments,” she said. “Their coworkers continue to consult me for cannabis-related therapeutic recommendations.”

How to talk with your kids

Of course, parents and siblings aren’t the only family members we might need to discuss cannabis with. While Mills doesn’t smoke in front of her seven-year-old son, it’s normal for him to spot her whipping up infused skin products in the kitchen, or see his grandparents pick up creams and oils for their aches and pains. By the time he grows into a young man, she hopes to have laid the groundwork for him to feel more comfortable sharing her high-end stash than smoking mids with his friends. “I would love to smoke with my kid,” she laughed. “If I don’t, someone else will.”

To get there, the key may lie in ongoing conversations on all aspects of how to care for your body’s physical and emotional state. “I constantly talk to my son about his mental health,” she says. “If you’re not feeling the best in your mental health, if you feel stressed, if you’re feeling depressed, we can go to therapy. Sometimes you may need some things to help you feel better. And [cannabis] is one of the things, but so is sunshine, and so is exercise, and so is vitamin C and D, and so is art.”

Perhaps the most convincing argument of all is that cannabis is a valuable tool for caring for yourself. Presumably, your family would understand if you needed physical therapy to recover from an injury. They would understand if you needed to take antibiotics to clear an infection or wear a cast on a broken limb. Once they understand that there are very real mechanisms by which cannabis treats the roots of various conditions — and that you’re not simply plastering over pain with a happy stoned feeling — I truly hope that people who care about you would want you to care for yourself in ways that are safe, effective, and don’t harm anyone else.

Start connecting with your community

If you do encounter pushback during your conversations, remember that there’s immense pressure in our society to keep up appearances when it comes to our physical and mental wellbeing. Many conditions that respond extraordinarily well to cannabis — like endometriosis, fibromyalgia, and depression — are often minimized and disregarded as “all in your head” despite their significant impact on day-to-day life. If your family members can’t understand why you need cannabis to function, it’s possible that they don’t have a complete grasp of the challenges you’re facing. That alone can be isolating and hurtful.

If that happens, I encourage you to seek out resources like disability support groups, online communities for people with your specific condition, or a therapist who specializes in living with chronic illness. As someone who also uses cannabis to cope with medical issues, I can assure you that you’re not alone, and there are other people out there who will understand and support you.

Featured image by fizkes/Shutterstock


Need advice on how to incorporate cannabis into your diet or lifestyle? Write Cupcake at [email protected] for February’s column.

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