Cannabis is critical to trans health and self-care

by Blossom C. Brown

Medical cannabis’ critical role in the health and self-care of transgender individuals isn’t talked about as much as it should be. Additionally, credible resources about medical cannabis specifically for the trans community are practically nonexistent.

The need for that information, and access to it, is paramount. The 1.5 million adults in the United States who identify as transgender have unique physical health needs. The community’s mental health needs are also unique and are of major concern: more than 40 percent of trans individuals in the U.S. have attempted suicide (compared to 4.6 percent of the entire US population). And the rates and risk factors of addiction are considerably higher for trans people than those of their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and straight peers.

It’s time we acknowledged that legal medical cannabis is important to the trans community.

I am a health educator, advocate, and an expert on being a black trans woman who has found physical and mental health-enhancing benefits through medical cannabis use. I was introduced to the plant fairly late in life, by today’s standards at least. I grew up in Mississippi and didn’t know cannabis in my youth.

I was 28 years old and visiting a friend in Washington, DC when I tried it for the first time — a college-educated adult and free from any perceived peer pressure with the ability to make informed decisions. It was my choice and it was life-changing.

Cannabis introduced me to a new way of feeling. It relaxed me without inebriating me. It gave me a sense of clarity and focus I had never experienced before. It even improved my professional life, helping me manage stress and imbalance — the result of a grueling travel schedule and daunting public speaking commitments. As transitioning brought my full and true self to the world, cannabis helped my true self achieve its full potential.

This was another new journey for me, and I wanted to do it right, so I educated myself, and, most importantly, I consulted my health care provider. I wanted to make sure I understood how my medical cannabis use could impact and enhance my transition. Since I was traveling often, I also researched how cannabis laws differ from state to state.

I realized that cannabis might help with other ailments associated with being trans, such as anxiety, sleeplessness, gender dysphoria, depression, hormone replacement-related weight gain, and postoperative pain, to name just a few. Throughout my transition, I experienced some of these ailments myself. I knew others were suffering, too.

I certainly knew about anxiety. For any woman, just walking down a street can sometimes be an anxiety-inducing experience. It’s worse for a woman of color. Now picture a black trans woman and what she’s dealing with. Sometimes, knowing the kind of day that lies ahead, it’s almost impossible to just get out of bed, let alone walk down a street without fear due to the high rates of violence she faces. For me, cannabis made it possible.

For trans people, the hurdles of everyday life are often much higher, the barriers to basic needs are much wider, and the structural nature of discrimination and exclusion is much deeper. Shouldering that weight every single day results in debilitating stress, anxiety and depression.

Working with a health care provider, accessing trans-inclusive support resources, and keeping in mind the setting, dose and strain, cannabis may provide remarkable relief from anxiety and depression, as well as the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

It may also be beneficial in alleviating the side effects of cross-sex hormone treatment and an effective component of postoperative pain management.

Access to this medicine has serious challenges, which are compounded for trans people. The undersupply of licensed retail in California and other states shoves trans people to the illicit market — not just unlicensed shops, but street dealers who peddle untested counterfeit and sometimes intentionally-tampered products. Restrictions on delivery exacerbate the anxiety of a person it has already rendered housebound. Especially for trans women, with no other option but survivor work, getting arrested with what is essential medicine in some states can mean additional jail time in others.

One of the most amazing aspects of the trans community is resilience. Despite what may seem to be insurmountable obstacles — higher rates of HIV infections; escalating rates of violence against trans people; job and housing discrimination — trans people persevere. Our visibility, activism, and engagement is fueling unprecedented progress around the globe. Cannabis has a role in that — helping us get out of bed, calm our daily anxiety, walk down the street and do what we do to change the world. Or at least our corner of it.

Organizations that support the trans community, especially those whose mission includes advancing trans health and wellness, should include medical cannabis information as part of their education and outreach efforts.

And the cannabis industry — in its effort to be as inclusive as possible — must recognize that the trans community is a vital and growing segment of their customer base. Advertising, marketing, product development, customer service and experience, corporate philanthropy and social responsibility should reflect that reality.

Blossom C. Brown works as an actress, producer and activist. Her social justice work focuses on HIV education and improving PrEP access. To learn more about transgender people visit the National Center for Transgender Equality at transequality.org.

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