Woman sitting on a rug in a living room

Enjoying Cannabis Doesn’t Make me a Bad Mom

it was only as I embraced my own role as a mother that my views about cannabis relaxed

by: Julie Green

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I can’t remember the first time I tried cannabis, although it was most likely a random spliff passed around during university. It doesn’t really matter. Like former president Bill Clinton, I didn’t inhale. Or rather, I didn’t inhale enough to feel the hit. Cannabis made no impression on me then. I much preferred to have a social drink and go out dancing till the wee hours.

On another occasion, I accepted a stranger’s offering at a house party. Back at the apartment I shared with my best friend, it wasn’t long before we both started to feel the effects. She took to her bed while I slouched down in the dimly lit hallway, unable to move a muscle. Minutes—or hours—may have passed, I had no idea which. Later I concluded the joint was skunk, a very potent strain of marijuana, or else it was laced with something. All I know is that first bad trip put me off drugs in general for a long time.

Part of me had internalized the thinking of the Nancy Reagan era: That marijuana was the mainstay of losers like Cheech and Chong. That it would fry your brain and scrap your future. That it was a gateway to hard drugs, like meth or heroin.

It’s laughable now, in the age of legalization. But when I was growing up, there was something inherently seedy (sorry) and counterculture about the drug choice of hippies and deadbeats. Somewhere along the way we had gone from Woodstock to full-blown fear mongering. A great pleaser and all-around good girl, I did what I was told and “just said no to drugs.”

I can’t isolate the exact moment when cannabis became part of my lifestyle, but being a mom to a child with special needs definitely had something to do with it. You see, my son was diagnosed with autism at age three and with ADHD at age seven.

He is a boy full of charm and complexity. From the time he entered our lives, there was never a dull moment. As a baby he cried a lot. For months on end. I kept reading and researching, trying to pinpoint what could be the matter. I assumed that as a first-time mom I must be doing something horribly wrong. Even as a rookie, though, I knew in my gut that something was not quite right. In preschool, it became clear. My baby avoided eye contact and did not interact with the other children. He wouldn’t fingerpaint or play in the sand pit. He screamed and hid under tables. Instead of a cuddly teddy bear, he carried around an old cell phone.

Raising a child is hard. And raising a child on the spectrum is harder. My son, now 10, is an innocent. He remains emotionally immature and socially inept. When I’m not worrying about him being targeted by bullies and trolls, I’m worrying about his future: both immediate—Will he make friends? Will the school call me today? Will he have a meltdown at the grocery store? Will he lash out and hit someone?—and distant—Will he graduate? Will he hold down a job? Fall in love? Get married? Live independently? What will happen to him when I die?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of good in our autistic world. I’m biased, obviously, but my kid is brilliant—as in, teaching himself Mandarin and Cyrillic kind of brilliant. His comprehension of math and numbers is already way over my head, not that that’s saying much. He’s cheeky and bust-a-gut funny and delightful in the most surprising ways. This morning at drop off, in plain sight of his classmates, he blew me a kiss and told me he loves me. What 10-year-old does that?

Nonetheless, worry punctuates every hour of my every day. Autism doesn’t take a vacation. Neither does my son, come to think of it. His anxiety is so crushing, he can hardly bear to leave the house to go to school most days, let alone board an airplane to visit Disneyland or to see family overseas. He has never slept over at a friend’s place. We will sometimes go to Timmies or grab a pizza, but we rarely eat in restaurants. The smell of certain foods, the sound of jeaned thighs brushing together, the feel of water or sand or grass on his skin… All of these sensations pose a unique kind of torture to him. They are painful in a way that I can’t really understand, but I’m trying.

To help him cope with a world that is too much for him, my son takes medication. Two little pills every morning. It breaks my heart, yet I know it’s necessary. Doctors do not hesitate to write prescriptions for kids like mine, kids who are volatile and anxious and prone to explosive rages. The medication he takes is incredibly powerful, with known side effects like diabetes and permanent tics. It bothers me that these same doctors are often unwilling to consider CBD oil as an alternative to antipsychotics and antidepressants. Legalization was just the first step. We still have so far to go.

For now I dole out the pills, and I worry. All that worry has to go somewhere. Sure, I talk. I open up to my friends and my therapist. I sweat on the treadmill. I take regular massages. I indulge in endless cups of chamomile tea and occasional glasses of wine. But it’s cannabis that takes the edge off best.

After my son is tucked up in bed for the night, I reach for the vape. I unlock the cabinet. Indica, sativa… it depends on my mood, but the end result is the same. I stretch out on the couch while my mind—a map with no clear roads, with no obvious destination—gradually unfurls. I pick a playlist. Close my eyes and let music take me where it wants to. I ride its colourful ribbons as they dip and glide along a distant horizon. Slowly my body sinks into the soft synthetic fibres of the sofa. I imagine my body seeping through the upholstery, down through the floorboards, and into the cool dark earth.

As I descend, the worry melts away. The heavy boulder between my shoulder blades gradually dislodges and rolls down the length of my spine. I close my eyes and focus on the music. Nothing matters in that moment. Not the anguish of the past. Not the uncertainty of the future.

My son is safe. I am safe. My husband is alert and watching over me. If there is an emergency, if my son suddenly wakes up, his dad is here. He will handle it. There is nothing to fear. This is the space. This is the destination I keep coming back to… it could be a matter of weeks, or it could be a matter of months. This is where I go when I need to leave my mind momentarily. I am a good mom. I know I am. But every so often I need to get away. So I go, and then I come back. I always come back.

Ironically, it was only as I embraced my own role as a mother that my views about cannabis relaxed. The shift in my mindset largely came with growing up. I was well into adulthood before I realized that the world rarely exists in black or white, but rather in varying shades of grey. Most of us are neither complete teetotallers nor raging potheads, but nestled comfortably somewhere in the middle. With legalization came the realization that cannabis could be enjoyed recreationally.

With legalization, you could know exactly what you were getting and have some sense of what effect it would have on your mind and body. Much like wine grapes and tea leaves, cannabis comes in so many different types and strains. The varying ratios of CBD to THC allowed me to experiment and discover my preferences. No more guesswork; no more catatonic slumping in a hallway.

I’m still a good girl, but now I’m a good girl who occasionally gets high. It’s no big deal—or at least it shouldn’t be. I know plenty of moms who toke on occasion, yet very few who are open about it. Mary Jane may have come a long way, but she is still taboo for mothers in particular. I personally see little difference between having a joint or a glass of Riesling to wind down on a Friday night. It doesn’t make me a bad mom. Nor does it make me irresponsible or reckless, though I’m sure not everyone will agree. I never partake in front of my son. I never partake when I am looking after him and, it goes without saying, I would never get behind the wheel under the influence of drink or drugs.

Still, the stigma remains. These things take time to reverse.

Woman's hand holding marijuana bud

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