Many a meme has been made about “wine moms”—mothers who joke online about their love for a relaxing glass of cabernet, or three. But a new drug is gaining popularity with the playgroup circuit. As it becomes more socially acceptable, more moms are using marijuana and its various incarnations to deal with everything from the daily aches and stresses of motherhood, to postpartum depression and anxiety, to menstrual cramps. And forget the simple bongs and pipes of the past; as the industry expands, it’s creating a whole new world of sprays, drinks, drops, and oils. The needs of this market of marijuana-friendly mothers have inspired a new crop of cannabis products.
In her recent High Times article, Jessica Delfino discusses the changing social attitudes toward motherhood and marijuana: “Mothers and women who use medical marijuana…are often put into a position in which they feel they have to explain themselves and what their condition is, and then steel themselves for the judgment that will inevitably follow,” she writes.
But also, Delfino tells me: “I think cannabis use in moms is becoming more widespread because it’s becoming more legal, and so people feel more willing and able to discuss it.”
Adam Grossman, the CEO of the cannabis company Papa and Barkley, has also noticed a burgeoning interest in marijuana from moms. “In the last month alone, we have seen the emergence of cannabis-and-parenthood workshops, new ‘parenting and cannabis’ publications like Splimm, and Facebook groups," he says. “More and more parents are starting to have the conversation about cannabis and breastfeeding, cannabis and pregnancy, and cannabis and parenting.”
But according to those in the pot industry, one new product in particular is spreading fast in mom circles: sublingual spray, a convenient, THC-infused ingestible liquid.
Once you spritz the liquid under your tongue, it activates quickly (within 60 seconds), it’s hard to overdo, and the high doesn't last very long, says Leslie Siu, the CMO and cofounder of cannabis company Mother and Clone. “After a minute you’ll start to feel this uplifting euphoric feeling, almost like a gentle rush,” Siu says of her sublingual nano-sprays. (Nano-sprays are a form of microdosing—Mother and Clone bottles deliver a metered dose of the drug.) By the five-minute mark, she says, you’ll know just how strong the effects will be for the next hour and you can decide to re-up and spray some more—in the industry this is called “stacking.”
Siu was moved to start Mother and Clone after she experienced postpartum depression. “Everything felt dark,” she recalls of that first “ominous” year after having her daughter Veda. Siu started searching for ways to ease the overwhelming, stressful feelings she was having. “Then a few things happened that got me back on track,” Siu says. “Time, therapy, running, and weed.”
Siu wanted to create a cannabis product that would be easy and safe for mothers in similar situations to use, and she landed on sublingual sprays. Because it’s easier to control the dose with sublingual spray, Siu says that it’s ideal for parents (her products also have child-resistant bottles). The sprays can also help with sleep, she says. “A lot of [postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety] sufferers develop terrible insomnia even if the baby starts to sleep through the night.”
Although they are ingestible, sublingual sprays are a gentler and more predictable experience than edibles. Edibles are more potent, and factors such as meal size and metabolism can make dosing with them unpredictable. A public-education campaign in Colorado (where Mother and Clone is based, and marijuana is legal) from the Marijuana Policy Project has a slogan for edibles: Start low and go slow.
When someone eats a brownie, candy, or other edible laced with marijuana, the cannabis is metabolized in the liver. Enzymes in the liver turn the active compound in cannabis, delta-9-THC, into the more psychedelic compound 11-hydroxy-THC. With sublingual spray, 11-hydroxy-THC is not a factor; you're only ingesting delta-9-THC because the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream under the tongue and doesn’t get processed by the liver. “This is more like a Xanax,” explains Siu. “It leaves you very clearheaded, you’re able to stay productive, and you don’t feel guilty or irresponsible around your kids.”
Siu says she doesn’t think it’s possible to go overboard with her sprays. “I took 30 times the recommended dose as an experiment once,” she says, “and it still only lasted just over an hour and I didn’t feel paranoid or weirded out.” Uma Dhanabalan, a physician and cannabis-therapeutics specialist, agrees that it’s difficult to take too much sublingual spray. Since you can feel the effects immediately, it’s easy to tell when you’ve had enough. “The worst thing that can happen is you may feel overwhelmed,” she says. “Nausea, vomiting, paranoia, anxiety. These are symptoms of overconsumption. You cannot die.”
Dhanabalan says she can see the appeal of sublingual sprays as a delivery system for new moms. “Because it’s discreet, and they can use it without anybody knowing.”
Other marijuana products gaining popularity in parent circles, sources say, are drops, drinks, and tinctures made with very low levels of THC, or none at all.
Papa and Barkley sells cannabidiol (CBD) tinctures, which, like sublingual sprays, can be a way to get controlled pain relief. CBD is a compound found in cannabis, and when isolated—as it is in Grossman’s products—it’s more predictable than smoking or edibles. Ingestible tinctures take effect in 15 to 20 minutes and can be mixed into foods like smoothies, or taken under the tongue. Grossman says a number of his clients who are mothers are drawn to cannabis because of its reputation for combating nausea and depression.
Carrie Hoffman, a mother and jewelry designer in Los Angeles, uses CBD products to help with the pain of breast cancer, and the stresses of being a single mom to a toddler. “By using it, I was able to reduce all the other drugs they gave me for nausea and pain,” she explains.
Another Los Angeles mom, Lauren Steil, even uses cannabis for breastfeeding-related ailments. “I felt mastitis coming on, so I just nursed a lot and rubbed some CBD pain relief oil onto my breast and it was all clear the next day,” she says.
Moms are finding that cannabis products can help with a range of issues that may crop up after having children. “I’ve been microdosing CBD capsules made from whole-flower cannabis (no hemp) for about two months and it’s really helped my osteoarthritis, as well as sleep and anxiety,” says Brandi Emma, a singer-songwriter and new mother.
As mom-conducive products have sprung up, so too have education and advocacy initiatives begun to see parents as part of their clientele.
Kristie Amobi is the founder of the cannabis-education company Rebalan, which advocates for the benefits of low dosing (using cannabis products with no more than 5 milligrams of THC per dose). “In my own experience of educating women—and moms—on this topic, I have been surprised by how many people are really having a hard time,” she says of the prevalence of stress and anxiety. “There’s no magic bullet, but I’m confident there is a place for cannabis in low doses to help people manage stress, especially when compared to the side effects of using alcohol and other prescription medications.”
“This industry is changing and growing at such a rapid pace,” says Royya Sardari, a Los Angeles mother who cohosted a “cannabis cabaret” last year to celebrate the substance and provide pot education. What happened at the themed event? Live music, a burlesque performance, photography, and cannabis treats, among other things. “[You] partake of course, and leave feeling good about your decision to use cannabis,” says Sardari, who opened her studio space to Katie Partlow of the cannabis-friendly events company Little Face. Partlow’s legendary parties (Rolling Stone dubbed one the “best pot party in California”) will soon get a maternal spin—she’s planning a “mommy’s marijuana picnic” for May. The event will be geared toward the needs and interests of mothers, both those who already partake, and those who are interested in learning more about cannabis. Says Sardari, “I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of moms that still aren’t super cannabis savvy.”
Part of that may be because cannabis research isn’t yet super mom savvy. Psychiatrists and physicians are generally hesitant to recommend marijuana products to breastfeeding mothers due to lack of research. The InfantRisk Center—which provides research-based information on medication, pregnancy, and breastfeeding—warns that studies have shown that cannabis exposure via breast milk or in utero may cause long-term changes in the child’s mental health and behavior. However, the center also notes on its site: “We do not know much about the transfer of the active ingredient in marijuana into human milk, nor how much gets to a breastfeeding infant.” The InfantRiskCenter, which is affiliated with Texas Tech University, is currently working on a study to find out more, according to a post on their site. Marijuana is legal in 29 states for medical purposes (and in nine states and Washington D.C. for recreational use), but whether postpartum depression is recognized as a valid medical reason to use cannabis products depends on different factors: the state laws, your doctor, etc. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also discourages the use of marijuana while pregnant or breastfeeding, due to insufficient data. However, what has traditionally been looked at is the THC in marijuana, which gets you high. New cannabis products often feature CBD, which doesn’t have the same effects. (Even still, Grossman says he doesn’t encourage nursing mothers to use his tinctures.) Not enough is known about products featuring CBD and how they relate to breastfeeding at this point.
Nehama Dresner, a professor of psychiatry and obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, does not recommend using marijuana products to treat postpartum depression. “It may be calming, but that is the equivalent of putting a Band-Aid on a problem—like having a cocktail to manage anxiety,” she says. Dresner notes that there are no double-blind placebo-controlled studies showing marijuana’s efficacy in treating depression. “But there is evidence that regular marijuana use increases the risk of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.”
Dresner also worries that using marijuana to cope may delay or prevent a pregnant woman or new mother from seeking treatment for anxiety or depression. She notes that though there is a greater sense of safety around marijuana due to recent decriminalization and legalization, she does not recommend it in pregnancy or breastfeeding. “Occasional use in the postpartum period under supervision may be considered on a case-by-case basis,” she says—for instance, with a patient who has already been using cannabis for medical reasons.
Though medical professionals don’t recommend that pregnant or nursing mothers use marijuana products, cannabis use for everyday stresses and pains is growing. It’s little wonder that business is booming for companies creating products designed for gentle highs and relaxation. Or that playgroups are trading their wineglasses for vape pens, sublingual sprays, and CBD tinctures.