Mommy’s little helper

Photo illustration by Maria Ratinova

Alcohol is a well-known fixture of mainstream mom culture. References to “mommy-juice” and “wine-o’clock” abound, as do countless memes and videos about how alcohol takes the edge off parenting challenges.

Now, with legal cannabis increasingly available and normalized, are “cannabis moms” the new thing?

A quick search points to “yes.” Outlets ranging from The New York Times to The Guardian to Jezebel have published works by parents—mostly moms—about how they feel healthier after giving up alcohol for weed, or how cannabis helps them with pretend play and creativity. Good Morning America even featured a recent segment about an Alaskan mom who microdoses THC for the kind of pain relief that, she says, makes her a better parent. An estimated 3.5 million adults in the U.S. use medical marijuana to treat conditions such as chronic pain and insomnia—and, as any mom can attest, caring for children comes a lot easier when rested and pain-free.

So does cannabis make you a better mom?

The answer depends on a variety of factors. It’s true that cannabis releases pleasure-associated neurochemicals including anandamide and serotonin, helping the user feel more relaxed, euphoric and emotionally warm. As such, it can be a game-changer in the parent-child dynamic because raising children—no matter the age—involves a good deal of patience and repetition.

“When they are silly or raucous and I am high, I will be silly and raucous with them,” said Leah, an attorney and mother of two kids in elementary school. SN&R omitted her last name for legal purposes.

Indeed, a key ingredient to many parents’ enjoyment of cannabis is the ability to feel deeply into a moment with their children and to just be—present and unburdened by tasks and to-dos.

Amber Morelli of Sacramento, who has a teenage son, says that vaping THC at the end of the day helped her decompress from a particularly stressful job overseeing more than 200 employees as a performance manager at a call center. She went outside before dinner, hit her vape pen a couple of times and felt immediately calmer.

“I wasn’t angry anymore,” she said. “I wasn’t pissed off. I wasn’t bitching about work. I could just focus on my family.”

Does cannabis negatively affect parenting? Carl Hart is a professor of psychology at Columbia University and a substance abuse expert who has authored over 60 peer-reviewed articles on drug use, addiction and treatment. He’s conducted research on the cognitive functioning of cannabis users and co-wrote the textbook Drugs, Society & Human Behavior (McGraw-Hill, 2014).

Hart presented an affidavit in New York’s Family Court asserting that recreational cannabis use does not compromise one’s parenting ability. In his research, Hart found that subjects under the moderate influence of cannabis are able to respond appropriately to social situations and emergencies. In other words, yes—you can smoke weed and parent well.

Of course, responsible use is key here. If you’re new to cannabis, an alcohol analogy helps illustrate the point: using cannabis responsibly is like having a glass of wine with dinner—not the entire bottle. To that end, here are a few tips:

Microdose—even if you’re a seasoned enthusiast, try taking one puff of your favorite chill strain or consuming a low-dose edible. If possible, you’ll also want to consider the terpene content of your flower or vape oil because terpenes influence the mood of the high. While you may want to relax, you’ll definitely want to avoid “couch-lock” when spending time with kids. Be aware, too, that your mood will affect the endocannabinoid system’s response. If you’re reaching for cannabis to channel your patient and fun side while parenting, it’s ideal to take a few minutes for self-care practices such as yoga, mindfulness, journaling or walking to start the mental shift before consuming. And last, be sure to buy your product on the regulated market because it’s safer.

Still, sigmas remain. Many parents still refrain from openly discussing their enjoyment of cannabis—afraid of being judged or stereotyped at best, reported or arrested at worst. It’s important to note women of color usually suffer worse outcomes than white women when it comes to parental rights and the law.

Nicole, a high school teacher in San Diego, finds attitudes among her peers and colleagues changing, though not as quickly as she’d like. Because legalization is still relatively new, and because federal laws have yet to keep pace, Nicole chooses to remain quiet about her preferences.

“I would hate to have my career limited, or my children treated differently,” she told SN&R, “because I like pot more than alcohol.”

Morelli, who now works as the Sacramento area sales manager for the cannabis company Pure Vape, has found her own willingness to talk about cannabis—as well as her community’s attitudes—becoming more open. During her first two years of working in the cannabis industry, she was extremely cautious about sharing her experience.

“It was my own fear that held me back,” she said. “I was afraid that other parents wouldn’t want me to drive because they’d think I’m high all the time, or they wouldn’t want their kids at my house because they’d wonder if I’d be smoking cannabis in front of them.”

But once she opened up about her job, the myriad wellness benefits of the plant and her own responsible use, she said she’s found that other moms are both curious and open-minded.

Morelli credits her positive social experiences with cannabis to her willingness to educate and answer questions and says that many moms in her social circle have tried cannabis and discovered their own benefits after hearing her story.

“It tends to set a different tone for discussion,” she said. “People say, ‘Oh, I’ve heard it’s good for anxiety, or I heard it helps you sleep.’”

There are times when pot and parenting do—and do not—mix. Some moms wait until after their kids are in bed, while others discreetly consume as the day winds down to increase their patience for frequent last-minute requests for water and trips to the potty. Others prefer more transparency with their children to model a healthy relationship to cannabis. Cannabis and parenting can mix and even become a fruitful pairing during low-risk activities such as coloring, painting and crafting, or even any kind of pretend play.

You can also garden (you may want to do a quick coordination check first), read to your children or listen to them read, or watch an age-appropriate movie or show together.

Avoid using cannabis when caring for a baby or toddler alone, driving, spending time in or around water unless with a sober adult, parenting in a high-stress situation or trying a new-to-you cannabis product or dose. Research isn’t clear enough yet about the risks of consuming while pregnant or breastfeeding.

For many moms, cannabis can bridge the gap between medical and recreational benefits—an area that some have started to call cannabis for wellness.

“There are so many moms who have these day-to-day symptoms like anxiety, or depression, or the winter blues,” Morelli said. Instead of turning to prescriptions or alcohol, “cannabis can do so much to help them.”

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