We Need to Talk About the Plant Medicine


Cannabis Feminist Circle founder Jess Assaf (Photo: CannabisFeminist.com)

On a recent evening at the Cannabis Feminist Circle in Marina del Rey, a group of about 15 women, mostly in their late 20s and early 30s, get stoned. Several are impossibly beautiful without makeup, four of us have recently moved to LA from New York City, and quite a few appear to be Jewish. It’s my second circle, and this time I don’t light up, determined to remember the meeting’s details and to take notes. My memory has been failing me for a while now, though appropriately, I can’t remember if it was ever that good to begin with.

A joint wrapped in actual 24K gold-leaf paper and stuffed with menthol is passed around, and women begin to nibble on the THC-infused trail mix and slices of pears drizzled with honey.

“It’s like a spa in your mouth!” one woman with long, flowing hair giggles. I am almost unbearably attracted to their feminine energy, high by proxy off their lounge pillows, raspy voices and sleepy eyelids. They are as seductive to me as marijuana, which is saying something.

The founder of the circle, Jess Assaf, graduated from Harvard Business School, and the majority of these women have careers in the industry. They work in marketing, event planning, medicine, technology, media, make cannabis edibles and beauty tinctures. This is what networking looks like for them, and the connections form easily. Each month, the women discuss broad philosophical questions, like how to keep the feminine energy of marijuana alive and whether cannabis is really the best name for the plant medicine — as well as more specific marketing concerns, like what the word “collective” brings to mind for consumers.

Assaf is a self-declared stoner, but she seems to get more done in a day than I do in a week. She also runs her own cannabis beauty brand, and it’s important to her that everyone in her company and her entire supply chain is female. She believes cannabis is a feminist issue.

Women first discovered cannabis in hunter-gatherer societies and we have used it throughout history as a medicine for many female health issues, like as childbirth pain, PMS, anxiety and depression. It was the patriarchal political system that reclassified cannabis from a medicine to a drug,” Assaf tells me. “The legal cannabis industry can be the first billion-dollar industry run by women. But it can also be dreamed and developed by us, starting right now — and we can use the success of cannabis as a model for female leadership in the future.” What Assaf dreams is already happening — women hold more executive positions in the cannabis industry than in any other.

Everyone in the circle agrees that cannabis is probably the best word to call the plant medicine, at least for now, and that “collective” brings to mind a dispensary more than it does collaboration. There is some brainstorming around how we as women can work together to harness the feminine energy of the whole plant, to prevent it from being overcome by capitalist greed and turned into masculine “junk food” like dabs. Women are asked to share what they could use help with, how they could be supported by other members of the circle in their businesses and personal lives. I know what I have to ask.

***

Less than six months ago, I moved to Los Angeles from New York City, chasing the kind of lifestyle I now lease. Ever since I came here, it seems people won’t stop giving me newly-legal recreational marijuana. As someone who occasionally covers cannabis culture, I’m invited to things like cannabis tasting dinner parties and cannabis feminist women’s circles, and I take advantage, enthusiastically. New vaporizers get sent to my door “for consideration.” Just last week someone hand-delivered a gram of what’s being branded as “luxury cannabis.”

“This is my favorite strain,” the slight, young, cute delivery girl — I’ve learned they’re always cute — cooed, possibly high. “It’s called ‘Create,’ and it’s designed to get ideas flowing, for making art.” I stashed it in my extensive paraphernalia drawer, determined not to open the box, but also not to let my partner know I have it.

About a month ago, I asked my partner to hide all the weed. There were flowers, edibles, cannabis powder, and most dangerously, Kiva Confections’ Petra mints. At 2.5 mg each, the mints are marketed as a “microdose” — a quarter of the recommended medical dose for cannabis, though certainly strong enough to get less habituated users high. At first, one mint made me feel the slightest of pleasant buzzes as I went to my dance class, the most functional of relaxed vibes. Maybe I could write an article about microdosing during the day for a week? The pitch was accepted by HIGH TIMES, but I still haven’t written it, in part because my microdosing in the afternoon seemed to lead to my getting actual-high each night, a gateway drug to more of the same drug.

I knew it was a problem when I’d started hiding my near-daily consumption. I was becoming a truly functional stoner, someone who wanted to get high every night, and a quarter-high some afternoons. The negative side-effects seemed to be decreased ambition and productivity, and increased judgement of myself. The positive effects were the same as always: enhanced creativity, decreased anxiety, a sense of plugging into my body and life from a new and necessary angle.

***

It’s my turn. I confide to the women in the circle that I’ve been having a hard time with my relationship to cannabis, as I’m suddenly calling it. Lately, and maybe this is because I’ve just found out I’m being laid off, I feel a sense of need to use that I’m uncomfortable with. Like, I don’t just want it, but sometimes feel I need it. That feels bad. Everyone nods in recognition.

“Yeah, you go through a phase where you’re smoking a lot of weed,” a woman in a stylish jumper who eerily resembles a young Angelina Jolie, tells me. “You’re like, I’m just going to take one hit, but then you’re doing like five bong loads and that’s your baseline.” The room giggles in recognition. “And then you ask yourself, like, do I have an abuse problem?” Explosive laughter. “I’ve been there, and what I’ve learned is that Mary Jane is a woman — she’s like a girlfriend — and if you abuse her, she’s gonna abuse you right back. I have an amazing nutritionist, a crystal healer I work with, and….”

Another woman, who works as both a personal chef and a “certified level-2 reiki,” wants to “rebrand” her life on the west coast. She just moved out here from New York, after her friend died of an overdose. She credits cannabis with saving her from the same fate.

“I worked in recovery for three and a half years, with drug and alcohol addicts,” she says. “The technique that works for me is saying, do I want it or do I need it? If I say I just want it then I have to just let it go and think about what’s really causing that desire.” She says she smokes a joint every night, and sometimes hits the oil pen during the day … or before she works out. “So I guess I kind of smoke all the time,” she jokes.

A tall woman with short purple hair and an edible company shares that she’s been smoking weed since she was 11. She takes hit after hit off the circling joints, but says she has recently switched to smoking mostly CBD strains so that she can focus better, keep her tolerance lower.

“I used to smoke an eighth a day, chain smoke joints at night.” Since she switched to CBD, her clarity is much better. “Here, try it. You won’t feel any mental effect.” She passes the CBD joint around, which supposedly has no THC. Half-breaking another promise to myself, I decide to try the purely CBD strain. Indeed, I don’t feel anything in my head — only slightly relaxed from the ritual of it — the smell, the smoke, the community, the divine feminine they keep referring to. I wish I were high, but it’s a nice consolation prize, like drinking decaf.

Hannah Mason, who helps run The Dandelion Collective, where the circles are held, tells me she thinks it’s also important to take breaks to reset—sometimes for a couple of days, one day, or a week. I ask her how often she does.

“It varies. It’s usually just when I notice that I’m feeling dependent on it — it’s my own personal boundary,” she says. “But the other thing — with like the shame and guilt around it — what I’ve been practicing is, if I say yes and I choose to do it, then like, I completely celebrate that yes and try not carry any judgement towards myself. And that goes for everything. If you’re going to do something, fucking do it all the way.”

I take some more free samples home.

***

Alexandra Roxo is another plant medicine babe who lives out by the beach and looks uncannily like a Botticelli painting. I have her on my podcast a few weeks later to talk about her participation in the Ayahuasca Community, but end up asking her the same question I’d posed to the circle: if I feel my ambition dwindling from cannabis, isn’t that a problem? How do you know when it’s a choice, and when it’s an addiction?

She laughs in a way that only feels devastating because she’s gone through the looking glass. “What you just said — ‘I think I’m slowing down a little bit’ — the wound-up caffeine-driven selves that we are, we wonder, what will happen if we wind down a little bit — we’ll lose our spot in the machine, some other writer will have our podcast!” Indeed, that’s exactly what I’m afraid will happen. It’s what appears to have happened to my job.

“But when you start to feel like you’re using substances to alleviate anxiety and short circuit what might be done with meditation or something —”

“— I disagree with that. I think the idea of short-circuiting is like, ‘I must work to get my goals,’ just another capitalist approach. Like, no. There’s nothing wrong with using something with intention,” she says. “Consciously being like, At the end of the night, I smoke a little bit of weed, so that I can just elevate from my day’s experience and reflect in a new way — that’s a conscious decision.”

I feel she has a definite point. Still, I quit for a week or so, along with my anti-depressants and caffeine (I don’t recommend that combination), and notice no increase in my productivity — only a decrease in motivation to write or do much of anything. I stay off the coffee and anti-depressants, but begin to ask for some bud once or twice a week, am usually offered it by someone else once or twice a week more. I begin working out every day, lifting weights to feel strong as I officially lose my job. It helps. It would be even more fun stoned. I feel guilty. Guilty that I’m not writing much in my first weeks as a freelancer, guilty that I would prefer to just smoke some weed and stare at the clouds all day. Perhaps if there were more federally-funded research to back up just exactly what this plant medicine is or isn’t doing to my brain, I wouldn’t feel so much like my own science experiment. But I’ve seen too many people who regularly do dabs not to be a little scared.

I trade a new vaporizer for some advice from a successful writer who would have helped me for free.

“Do you feel like it affects your productivity?”

“Yeah — positively. I don’t smoke when I write, but it’s great in the afternoon for brainstorming, drawing, big-picture stuff.”

“That’s how it is for me too. But can I really be a person who smokes every night?”

“Sure, why not?”

Why not? If you’re going to do something, fucking do it.

Permission granted, I listen to a Freakonomics podcast on temptation bundling, and decide to let myself smoke in the evenings, but only as a reward for being “productive,” swatting away Roxo’s capitalist critique I mostly agree with. I remind myself that I’m in a transitional phase. I ask for some of the weed back, sometimes smoking it when my partner is out. I spill the flowers from the pipe onto my back porch and squat like an addict to pick the crumbs up, even though there is plenty more where that came from. I repack the pipe, have to go back inside to get matches when my lighter breaks. I feel guilty, illicit, a sense of need, but also desire and entitlement. Release.

I sit in the beautiful backyard I might not be able to afford anymore and Google signs of marijuana addiction. Thankfully, my own article does not come up.

1. Marijuana tolerance and withdrawal; 2. Using more marijuana than intended; 3. Unable to cut down or stop marijuana use; 4. Lots of time spent getting high; 5. Reduced activities; 6. Continuing to get high despite the problems it causes: Your conduct at work is changed by addiction; 7. Using marijuana to escape from problems; 8. Depending on marijuana to be creative or to relax or enjoy yourself; 9. Choosing relationships and activities based on whether or not you will be able to get high; 10. An inability to attend to daily responsibilities.

In 2015, I wrote and published a personal essay called “I Stopped Smoking Weed For A Month & Here’s What Happened.” I felt inspired to write about the increase in ambition and clarity I’d noticed, even as “only” a weekly to bi-weekly smoker. The article has been the first result when you Google “I stopped smoking weed” ever since. If you Google “stop smoking weed,” it is the the second result.

Every couple months or so, a guy, usually around 18, finds me on Facebook and messages me about my article. Sometimes, he wants advice on whether he should quit. Usually, he just wants to know whether I’m still not smoking.

Hi,sorry to bother u like this ,I read ur article on bustle on ur weed abstinence for a month thing,ur article motivates me every time I take a break from smoking up…I fall in the same frame as u are,so I was just curious to know that do u still smoke up every weekend or once a fortnight….

I used to reply to these messages, but at a certain point it felt irresponsible, especially now that my desire seems to have shifted from once every fortnight to every night. I feel I’ve failed these young guys, somehow.

Call me what you will: addict, cannabis connoisseur, self-medicating anxiety-sufferer, successful New Yorker in recovery, Californian at the precipice of a major change. If there’s anything I’ve learned so far from the cannabis industry, it’s all in the branding.

For all HIGH TIMES’ culture coverage, click here.

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