I have been diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome, along with a host of mental health conditions. I use marijuana to treat my symptoms and reduce the frequency and severity of autoimmune flare-ups. I’m also a mother to a ten-year-old and his primary caretaker. Today I want to discuss marijuana as compared to alternate treatment options, educating kids about their parents marijuana use, and how sexism plays a part in stigma against parents using marijuana.
If someone has a chronic condition, they will need to consider long-term treatment options. Many prescription pain relief medicines contain narcotics or other physiologically addictive drugs. For this reason, they are best used as short-term pain relief for a discrete injury or surgical recovery. Over-the-counter pain medications such as Tylenol and Motrin don’t carry the addiction risks of opiates, but long-term use can cause ulcers and lead to liver damage. Alternate autoimmune system treatments often work by suppressing the immune system, leaving patients more vulnerable to infection. As medical marijuana becomes available in more states, more adult Americans are choosing it as part of their chronic condition treatment plan.
Adults who are using marijuana in a home with children (who I will call “parents” for brevity’s sake going forward) will need to consider the age and maturity level of the children to decide how to best store and use their medicine without risking accidental exposure. Just as with prescription medication, you may discover you can keep a childproof container on the counter without incident, or you may discover that a locked medicine box is required. Generally speaking, when children are six or younger you should keep all medicines, plant-based or not, out of reach entirely. As they age you can begin educating them on what each of your medications does, how it works, and why they should never touch it.
There are some great children’s books that can help parents discuss marijuana with their children. It’s Just a Plant follows a young girl as she learns about marijuana from people in her community, including a doctor and police officer. If a Peacock Finds a Pot Leaf for younger children tells the story of a peacock who finds a pot leaf, and learns all about the plant from animal friends. Stinky Steve Explains Medical Marijuana offers sage advice, like not ratting out your parents to “the Man”and how important it is not to steal granny’s pot brownies. Each of these books offers an educational look at marijuana as medicine balanced with cautions about marijuana and children.
Smoking marijuana is still one of the most affordable and common ways of taking it. Second-hand smoke and “contact high” risks can both be reduced by smoking outside without children present, if possible. Anti-marijuana legislation makes many people afraid to smoke outdoors, because the smell is easily recognizable and travels. In places where it is illegal, parents who smoke are more likely to do so inside homes or cars that their children breathe in. This type of exposure is preventable on a social level.
The people most likely to be using marijuana in a home with children are young adult women, in part because mothers are the group children are most likely to live with and because mothers are most likely to be primary caregivers. Additionally, many chronic conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia disproportionately effect women. Marijuana is a lower-risk long-term treatment option for chronic conditions, and adult women are among the most likely to have such a chronic condition. Over the last five years, marijuana usage among adult women over thirty has been on the rise in states with medical marijuana options.
Presumably society does not want such women to abstain from marijuana so they can take drugs with higher risks. I think that implies society does want such women, women like me, to “suck it up” and simply not treat pain at all. Numerous studies have shown that lay people and medical professionals alike underestimate the pain levels of women as compared to men. Women are more likely to experience higher rates of pain in emergency rooms before receiving medication or even observation. I think at least some of the bias against moms using marijuana comes from a pervasive societal distrust of women, the some distrust that doesn’t want women making their own pregnancy choices. We are not trusted to make our own healthcare decisions responsibly while considering the needs of our children, despite that being what most mothers do.