Throughout documented history, there has been a recognizable pattern of men represented as commanders of our governing bodies and industrial affairs, while women were often portrayed primarily for managing the home and for caring for their families. No longer are we accepting this limited and outdated outlook. Women have achieved historic strides toward equality in our society, but of course, there are still challenges we face. In order to appreciate the progress we have accomplished, let’s take some time to discover the history of women and cannabis, as well as, acknowledge a handful of the inspiring women who persisted in the face of adversity and ultimately helped develop the cannabis industry we know today.
Anecdotally, women seem to have a long withstanding relationship with the cannabis plant. For thousands of years, numerous cultures worldwide have been integrating herbal remedies, including cannabis, into their medicinal practices as a natural source to promote healing. According to some historians, women have been using it as a botanical agent for a reprieve, with the most noted uses pertaining to reproductive health conditions. For instance, the earliest evidence of women’s use of cannabis dates back to Ancient Mesopotamia in the 7th Century BCE and theorizes women created herbal beverages consisting of saffron, mint, and hemp seeds to improve menses and difficult labor (Russo, 2002).
There has also been evidence to suggest that women from Ancient Egypt, Persia, and Ancient China ingested and applied cannabis topically as a therapeutic remedy for migraines and uterine discomfort (Russo, 2014). Moreover, historians speculate cannabis was implemented into ancient Arabic traditions as an aphrodisiac and to alleviate pain. In the 11th Century, women in European culture were first noted to use the cannabis plant for soothing their tender breasts during their cycles (Russo, 2002). Not to mention, sources chronicle that in the nineteenth Century Queen Victoria used cannabis prescribed by her physician to ease her menstrual cramps (Timeline: The Use of Cannabis, 2005).
“A Picture by Hishikawa Moronobu: Woman with a Set of Poem Cards” by Totoya Hokkei (Japanese, 1780-1850) is marked with CC0 1.0
Until a cultural perspective shift in the early 1900s, cannabis was widely used medicinally and industrially, even within the United States. Following this paradigm shift, the plant was feared, stigmatized, and forsaken. Unfortunately, the claims about the cannabis plant were unfounded; there was no evidence either way to support or refute the effects of the cannabis plant. The popularity of the plant arose in the late 1960s and regained the interest of the scientific community in the 1970s after more studies were conducted speculating possible benefits (Russo, 2014).
In 1988, Allyn Howlett, a biochemical neuropharmacologist, revolutionized medical science and our understanding of cannabis today. She made a breakthrough in cannabis research and pioneered the discovery of the CB1 receptor, one of the types of cannabinoid receptors in the Endocannabinoid System. Her research contributed to a greater understanding that our brains respond to compounds found in the cannabis plant via neural pathways (Lee, 2020).
Less than a decade after the discovery of the CB1 receptor, the medical marijuana industry reemerged in the state of California; in 1996, Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, was passed. This law allowed doctors to approve patients with serious health conditions to use medical marijuana in California. One of the well-known cannabis advocates to rally in this movement was Mary Jane Rathburn. She was a trailblazer and instrumental figure in the movement, as she relentlessly campaigned and gathered support for the initiative to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana despite substantial opposition (Saxon, 1999).
In the twenty-first century, women continue to break down barriers in the cannabis field. It’s imperative to continue this progress by providing up-to-date, scientifically-driven information, advocating for change, and empowering people of all cultures to explore cannabis if so desired. Wanda James, a former Navy lieutenant and well-respected cannabis leader is a great example of a woman who is pushing the boundaries of the industry. Not only did she serve on Barack Obama’s National Finance Committee, but she was also an integral contributor to Amendment 64, which ended the cannabis prohibition in Colorado. In 2015, Wanda opened her dispensary, Simply Pure, and became the first African-American to own a legal dispensary in the United States. Since then, Wanda has served as the founder and president of the Global Cannabis Initiative seeking to promote cannabis reform and acts as an advocate for supporting the medicinal use of cannabis for veterans with PTSD. (wandaljames.com; Anthony, 2018).
Other influential cannabis activists are using social media to advocate and share knowledge regarding health, wellness, and social justice issues. Dr. Rachel M. Knox, Mary Pryor, and Dr. Lakisha Jenkins are just a few noteworthy women to mention.
Dr. Knox is a physician shifting the standard of the healthcare industry to focus on the Endocannabinoid System, using her platform to promote a holistic approach to patient care and dismantle unsubstantiated information about cannabis. Mary Pryor is another prominent woman on our radar, who has been a leader in shedding light on the necessity of diversity within the cannabis community and the need for inclusivity for all cultures. She created CannaClusive, a lifestyle brand, to equitably represent minority community cannabis users and fight stigmas surrounding cannabis (Anthony, 2018).
Dr. Lakisha Jenkins is a physician who uses a naturopathic approach to medicine by empowering her patients with education and offering guidance in alternative healing therapies. Through her own personal experience, she was impassioned to understand and share her knowledge of whole plant medicine to support the maintenance of the human body. Her specialties include medicinal cannabis education and the endogenous endocannabinoid system, and she is a well-known proponent of using CBD to offer mental and physical health benefits.
Women have been involved in the history of cannabis since the millennia and have played a vital role in advancing our understanding of this special plant. None of us would be where we are without our ancestors pushing the boundaries of culture, commerce, and science. Groundbreaking contributions, like those of the women in cannabis history, have continued to substantiate the necessity for more women at the forefront of leadership and innovation to proceed in moving the needle forward not only in the cannabis industry but as a whole.
At Equilibria, we’re by women, for women. We are a community of women inspiring and empowering each other to be our best selves. We value and support all women in pursuing their endeavors and share the common goal to find balance in our everyday lives. Our co-founders, Coco and Marcy, are two industrious, professional women, with firsthand experience of the life-changing benefits of CBD and completely understand the challenge many women face in balancing work-life and home-life. We are providing a safe space for women to ask questions about CBD and cannabis, and want to help them personalize their routines to work with their health goals and lifestyles. We’ve donated 50K+ to black and brown women entrepreneurs, as well as, we have partnered with Black Girl Ventures to support black/brown women-owned businesses directly. As a collective, we can lift each other up and achieve our goals.
Allyn Howlett, Phd. (n.d.). Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://school.wakehealth.edu/Faculty/H/Allyn-Howlett
Anthony, S. (2018, April 20). Meet the women of color revolutionizing the weed industry. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.vice.com/en/article/ne9m8q/meet-the-women-of-color-revolutionizing-the-weed-industry
Eustacio-Costa, M. (n.d.). About. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.yogawithminelli.com/about
Lee, M. A. (2020, March 26). Women pioneers in cannabinoid science. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.projectcbd.org/industry/women-pioneers-cannabinoid-science
Russo, E. (2002). Cannabis treatments in obstetrics and gynecology: A historical review. Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics, 2(3-4), 2-6. doi:10.1300/j175v02n03_02
Russo, E. B. (2014). The pharmacological history of cannabis. Handbook of Cannabis, 23-43. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199662685.003.0002
Saxon, W. (1999, April 14). Mary Jane Rathburn, 77, baker known for MARIJUANA BROWNIES. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/1999/04/14/us/mary-jane-rathbun-77-baker-known-for-marijuana-brownies.html
Timeline: The use of cannabis. (2005, June 16). Retrieved March 08, 2021, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/panorama/4079668.stm
Wanda James. (n.d.). Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.wandaljames.com/