Sep 19 2019 . 6 min read

Sept. ’19: Inhale/Exhale with Shoshanna Silverberg

Sept. ’19: Inhale/Exhale with Shoshanna Silverberg

Reader struggles with revealing cannabis use to conservative family members

Reader struggles with revealing cannabis use to conservative family members

Dear Shoshanna,

I’ve suffered with migraines my entire life. They are completely debilitating events and I am down and out for days at a time when one hits. I recently started using cannabis gummies to combat them and it has been life changing. As soon as I feel one coming on, I take a gummy and am able to immediately nip it in the bud. Here’s my problem, how do I explain to my very ultra-conservative family members that I am now using cannabis? I ask because I don’t feel I should have to hide it. Cannabis has changed how I live now, and I would like to be able to share that with them. As well, I want to be able to consume it when I am around them. How do I have that difficult yet educational conversation with my otherwise closed-minded loved ones without alienating them?

Dear Reader,

I sympathize with you on your migraines and am pleased to hear that cannabis is making a difference for you in combatting them! When we say that cannabis can be life-changing, there are so many stories that can convey why, and yours is a great example.

To your question, let’s start with knowing your audience. For instance, your family may voice the following concerns. What kind of role model are you being for consuming cannabis in the presence of children, or being under the influence of cannabis in front of your young cousins and nieces and nephews? What kind of example are you setting? We respect your right as an adult to make choices, just like we are able to consume alcohol, but why do you have to rub it in all of our faces? Why can't you keep your consumption of cannabis to yourself and not make the rest of us feel so uncomfortable? Now we have to explain cannabis to our kids!

These are variations on the themes that you might encounter. Even harsher questions that assume when you are relaxed and not in pain that you are intoxicated and cannot be trusted to perform basic functions or engage in polite conversation. Or sometimes, others might find your use of cannabis humorous. They might laugh when they ask you why you use it or make jokes as they try to engage you in conversation about it. Has this happened (yet)? It most assuredly will, LOL.

People make jokes about cannabis when they sense it is something they want to try, but they are scared. People laugh when they are nervous, and they direct accusatory questions at you when what they really want is to a) have access to information they can trust and b) feel safe trying it out for themselves.

So how do we engage in conscious communication about cannabis so that we can move through these stigma-related barriers with loved ones? I would start by asking if they understand why you have been consuming it. Do they understand the pain that you were in before? Do they understand the impact these migraines have been having on your life? On the life of your partner and your children?

I would then tell them the story of how you became a cannabis consumer. Explain to them how you learned about it. List all the questions you had at the outset, the doubts you had as you experimented with different products and dosages and ratios of various cannabinoids. Then tell them when you figured out what works for you, what it was like when the migraines began to ratchet down in number and intensity, what it was like to finally be able to live your life without fear of migraines ruining your day, your week, your month or even your year.

Describe how much better you feel. Describe the positive changes that this medicine has had on your life, from the standpoint of your physical health and from the standpoint of those closest to you. 

I would also be very honest. Explain the ways you have had to alter your routines that could be viewed as consequences as well. For instance, maybe you don't drive after you've taken a high dosage of THC. Demonstrate for them that you are aware of any tradeoffs that you are making so that you can be a responsible consumer. Remind them that these are tradeoffs that anyone on any number of pharmaceutical solutions for pain should be making and may not be. The emphasis here (and if you read this column regularly it will come as no surprise) being that we do not ask one another to justify the use of narcotics that make us downright loopy or which are even intended to put us to sleep. We do not interrogate one another as to whether we should be driving under the influence of Xanax or any number of other drugs. We act as if those questions do not need to be asked, as if we do not need to hold one another accountable. These questions only seem to come up when we are talking about consumers (including patients) taking their health into their own hands.

Your family may appreciate being directed to resources that can explain the benefits and research of cannabis. There are reports, both government-issued and by advocacy groups, which shed a lot of light on this subject. If there are specific concerns about you becoming addicted, there is plenty of literature on that as well (if you need referrals, please reach out to me at the email address listed below).

The crucial piece of the conversation you wish to have with your family is knowing that you are doing nothing wrong and that as soon as you give your family enough information for them to see themselves in your shoes (they probably all have conditions they wish they could affect) they will be much more open and begin to learn from you, rather than judge reflexively out of ignorance.

Should you have a question or ethical conundrum you have been struggling with, please drop Shoshanna a line at info@elevatenv.com so she can offer her sage and practical counsel.

Shoshanna is a partner and Director of Strategy for a national consulting firm in the cannabis space, Pistil + Stigma. She holds a Juris Doctor from Elon University School of Law, a Master of Arts in Holistic Thinking, and a bachelor's degree from Hampshire College. She is a true believer that compassion and critical thinking, together, are what drive positive social change.