Waiting to exhale

Vintage boutique owner, Erin W., a weed smoker since age 13, says the drug improves her mood and productivity.
Vintage boutique owner, Erin W., a weed smoker since age 13, says the drug improves her mood and productivity.

When you hear the word pothead, maybe a well-coiffed middle-aged woman isn’t the first person who pops into your mind. Maybe you glimpse Wayne and Garth, Beavis and Butt-head, Wooderson from “Dazed and Confused” —or if you’re like me, your big brother sneaking a toke in the backyard with his haircut-averse guy friends. It’s not like Nancy Botwin of “Weeds” was smoking her face off.

But the truth is, right in rising line with a national trend toward the legalization of medical marijuana and recreational marijuana, more mainstream females of various ages are getting high on a regular basis, and in many cases stepping from the heavy smoke to candidly reveal their habits (and yummy THC-infused recipes) to their friends and even magazine reporters.

A Gallup poll from 2013 found that 30 percent of American women had at least sampled weed while 6 percent partake regularly. And a new book by passionate pot activist Cheri Sicard published in April, “Mary Jane: The Complete Marijuana Handbook for Women,” boldly promises to reveal “everything women have been afraid to ask.” Sicard shows her female readership how to throw pot parties, cook with the drug, “garden” it, take it to bed, and—no doubt, most controversially—how to parent as a pot smoker.

Pot Mom, 52, one of my female sources who asked to remain anonymous—because let’s face it, as long as the drug is illegal in Maryland, plenty of people, both male and female, still remain cautious in conversation—has never smoked marijuana herself. But she had no problem figuring out how to set up her college-age daughter with a bowl of weed before bed.

“I bought my daughter a tiny glass bowl,” Pot Mom says. “And I used to buy her weed because I considered it one of the meds she takes, and I pay for all of her meds for anxiety, depression and ADD. The only reason I stopped paying for it is because she started doing pot recreationally as well—although to be honest, I prefer her getting high to drinking. I had a huge problem with her getting high when she was younger because I was naïve. We discussed her smoking with her psychiatrist and she supports my daughter smoking a little weed at night to be able to sleep more easily.”

Dana C. outside her Towson home
Dana C. outside her Towson home

For California native Dana C., a 51-year-old housewife and mom based in Towson, the drug is likewise both a recreational and medicinal tool, and her habit is something she’s outspoken about. Dana, who has been diagnosed with Meniere’s disease—a disorder of the inner ear—smokes every day to relieve symptoms of severe dizziness and nausea. But she has smoked off and on for enjoyment since her teens.

“I started in high school,” Dana says. “I don’t have an addictive personality. I never waked and baked. Here in cream-cheese Towson, I haven’t met any other women who smoke or admit they smoke. But I don’t give a crap if people know I do. Meniere’s is the main reason I smoke today, but I’d probably still be doing it [to some degree].”

Dana has bought pot from the same male dealer for a long stretch but worries that the connection could evaporate, in which case she’d have great trouble finding the amount of marijuana she requires to manage her symptoms.

“I’m ready to move to any state where it’s legal,” she says. “My doctor could only give me [pot] pills because it’s not legal—these pills probably couldn’t even get my 12-year-old son high. They do nothing for me.”

Timely luck for Dana—well, if she can smoke a bowl and cool her heels for a few—the State Medical Cannabis Commission formed a couple of years ago in Maryland to develop regulations for implementing a statewide medical marijuana initiative. Once the regulations are finalized and the bureaucratic approvals cleared (expected in some months to come) the commission will begin to review applications from licensed growers and dispensers.

Maryland State Delegate Dan Morhaim, M.D., a faculty member at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, has fought for medical legalization for over a decade now.

“Gov. Hogan signed the latest version of the House bill on May 12. This will make [cannabis] as much like any controlled medicine as possible,” Morhaim says. “He’s signing House Bill 490 in 2015—building on H.B. 881 in 2014 and H.B. 1101 in 2013. All three passed with overwhelming bipartisan support from the Maryland General Assembly. An estimated sixty thousand to 80,000 people in Maryland would benefit from cannabis at any given time. When patients—with conditions like advanced cancer or multiple sclerosis, or children with intractable seizures—use cannabis under their doctor’s supervision, they can get effective relief. There are risks…but there’s no overdose.”

It’s tricky to predict if and when recreational marijuana may be made legal in our state—it’s currently recreationally legal only in Washington and Oregon while 23 states plus D.C. have legalized medical pot, and 17 of those have legalized medical pot dispensaries. Noteworthy stat: In 2013, both Gallup and Pew polls suggested that a majority of Americans now support legalization.

On May 22, adding a twist to the feel-good narrative, Hogan vetoed Senate Bill 517, which would have removed criminal charges for possession of marijuana paraphernalia. Potentially tricky outcome. So we wait and we see—and, sure, while we do it, we may also be partaking without hassle.

Fledgling medical studies indicate that pot may offer women in particular certain advantages and disadvantages. Certainly, these early findings have got plenty of people talking about the drug—brainiac doctors especially. An article published last year in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence suggests that women may be 30 percent more sensitive to THC and more likely to develop a tolerance. True, Dr. Rebecca Craft based her findings on experiments conducted on female rats, but soon enough armies of human females will provide further answers.

Ryan Vandrey, Ph.D, a behavioral biology researcher at Hopkins, recently applied for a grant to assess women on pot.

“There’s an increasing recognition that there are gender differences,” Vandrey says. “Research of the biological system shows that the endocannabinoid system responds differently in women. That’s how marijuana exerts its effect on people. THC enters your bloodstream and binds to two brain receptors that affect brain chemistry. Early research suggests that women tend to be more sensitive. If you were to give a male and a female who are equal weight and of the same race/ethnicity the same amount of pot, young science says that the female would have a stronger effect. We’ve also got some data that females have more severe withdrawal. So this could be good and bad.”

If findings are accurate, women may be more susceptible to pot addiction or dependence and find it harder to stop. They may have a tendency to relapse on the drug and may experience worse withdrawal characterized by irritability, sleep disruption and decreased appetite, according to Craft.

“Aren’t women more sensitive to everything?” asks my female Baltimore dealer source, age 20-something, and obviously anonymous, when I meet to interview her and buy a pot vaporizer for my own research purposes. Dealer Girl (I’ll call her) receives significant shipments of cannabis of various strains from a farm in San Francisco and distributes the drug to a team of eight to 12 male dealers who work under her, receiving orders and delivering “like pizza boys.” She earns upward of $5,000 monthly.

“I’m kind of a big fucking deal,” Dealer Girl says, after explaining her steady position atop the pizza-boy pyramid.

“Sometimes it helps to be a woman—I’ve gotten a lot of steady work,” she says. “I’m a good businesswoman. But I have to be careful—I’m a cute girl. If you respect me, we’re both going to make a lot of money, that’s my proposition.”

“Please be careful,” I tell her, and feel like a total mom as she smirks politely. Truthfully, she’s as careful as they come. She won’t return a single text if I ask about drugs explicitly.

Dealer Girl sells me an instrument that looks like an eyeliner pen (actually it’s a “vape” pen similar to an e-cigarette) for $100. The stick contains, she says, approximately 400 small hits of a marijuana strain called AK-47 that’s designed to create “a long-lasting, cerebral buzz that keeps you mentally alert and engaged in creative or social activities,” according to Leafly.com, a site that rates popular and emerging strains. AK-47, an intriguing hybrid, combines Colombian, Mexican, Thai and Afghani varieties. Unfortunately, it’s also named for an assault rifle.

“I don’t want to get too sleepy or hungry, or feel sad later,” I tell Dealer Girl.

My next step is a controlled experiment of sorts, reminiscent of Vandrey’s described identical female-to-male study—controlled in that I twist the skinny arm of my husband into participating. He weighs approximately 120 pounds like me. Sitting on our living room sofa, after our kids are in bed, we attempt to inhale similarly, each of us taking a pretty conservative single puff.

For Michael, the high is gentle, almost undetectable. For me, it’s a fast-acting sleep aid—not that I have much trouble sleeping. But the next day he can’t feel anything, while I have a headache
(reminiscent of that leaden pot headache I encountered in college) that lasts several hours, plus a nagging craving for something salty.

I tell Michael he can keep the vape for his own occasional use, but he says he’s not really interested. I’m bummed that pot isn’t the relaxation key for me either. Even though these new specialized strains are supposed to be much more user-friendly than the pot that boys offered me in college, I’m not convinced I’ll ever find my best bud. I’m also not willing to put in the fuzzy time to find out.

Plenty of other Baltimore women I know—or have encountered since I began this article—have forged regular habits with pot that they don’t consider downer drug addictions but life-affirming lifestyle choices.

Where women are concerned, maybe marijuana either works for you or it doesn’t.

“I love the way the show ‘Broad City’ portrays pot smoking,” says Erin W., 25, a vintage boutique owner and a daily smoker. Donning a polka-dot dress, perching on a stool in her artfully appointed shop, Erin is petite, professional and astute. (By the way, ‘Broad City’ on Comedy Central features two female protagonists who frequently smoke, but the show’s plot rarely focuses on their habit.)

“They don’t [mess] up when they smoke pot. I’ve used pot every day since middle school. You turn 13 and get your period and you don’t know what’s going on. I was depressed. Pot made me feel so much better and gave me something to look forward to. Today pot helps me slow down, organize my looping thoughts and organize my situation.

Writer Zakiah B. says pot fuels her creativity.
Writer Zakiah B. says pot fuels her creativity.

Meanwhile, Zakiah B., 26, an MFA student in fiction writing at the University of Baltimore—and my student this spring in a memoir-writing class—says she has evolved from being ashamed of smoking pot to feeling fine enough about her very occasional use to write an essay for me on the subject of marijuana and its effects on her imagination.

She has learned over the years not to overdo pot because it hits her pretty hard.

“In college, I smoked at night. It hindered any and every chance at functioning as a normal human being,” she says. “My cousin had this strain called the Christmas Tree that smelled like pine needles. I didn’t like the way it made me feel at all. On my drive home, I didn’t even notice that someone had hit my side-view mirror. I thought my head was bouncing.”

In her early 20s during finals week, Zakiah attended pot parties or “sessions” with a couple dozen other women, she says, each young woman putting down $5 for the chance to smoke out in a group setting. (Their dealer, not so incidentally, was a female coed.) This way they didn’t have to buy the product individually, something she didn’t feel totally comfortable doing. As long as Zakiah avoided the Christmas Tree weed, she says she turned into a hug machine, “a hippy.”

“I am actually very comfortable with pot in my life now,” she says. “I’m not too ashamed to tell my mom. In fact, she says she used to smoke a lot, too. I’ll go into her room high and hug her goodnight.”

Another anonymous friend, age 35—Pot Poet—who works retail and writes, tells me she can’t think of any good reason not to smoke every day, except for the occasional munchies that might mean she takes in too many calories on the odd evening.

Speaking of munchies, why do we get those anyway?

“Because the endocannabinoid system, via interactions with the hormone leptin, helps regulate whether we feel hungry or satiated. Increases in cannabinoid system signaling, which occurs when we smoke cannabis, are a chemical indicator that we need to eat,” says Vandrey.

Pot Chef, another anonymous 40- something source, dabbles in cooking high-demand brownies and cookies for friends (free, by the way)—when she’s not selling real estate. She says edibles that contain THC are less likely to make her munch out.

“It’s more like, ‘Oh my God, this is the best fucking orange,’” Pot Chef says. “I use the edibles almost exactly as I was using my Xanax. Half a cookie an hour and a half before bed. It’s more of an
all-over high feeling. I wake up and I don’t feel hung over.” (See her recipe below.)

Since women are said to be extra sensitive, has Pot Chef found sex to be better on the edible?

“I haven’t tried it—I’m not dating anyone right now!” she says.

My Pot Poet friend confesses she’s often too sleepy to get it on when she’s high. But a 35-year-old schoolteacher I know says “it definitely makes sex dreamy” for her.

Dr. Vandrey backs up the claim.

“The information out there suggests enhanced sensitivity to touch and sexual experience among females,” he says. (Score.) “Effects are less consistent among males, but results tend to indicate cannabis is more disruptive among men, particularly when cannabis reduces testosterone.”

OK, the latter is a bit of a buzz-kill for sure. Maybe it’s a good thing my husband rejected my gift of the “eyeliner pen”—it does fit easily inside my makeup bag.

What do you say, ladies? Want a hit?



Covert Cookies

Pot Chef recommends her ginger crisps recipe for bakers who want to mask the smell and taste of the marijuana.

Ginger Crisps

¾ cup edible butter (see next recipe)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
¼ cup molasses
2¼ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
granulated sugar

In a bowl, cream butter thoroughly. Gradually add sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and molasses beating well. Add the flour, salt, soda, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix well. Chill. Dough will be a little soft. Shape into balls about the size of a walnut; roll in granulated sugar. Place on baking sheets 3 inches apart. Bake at 375 F for 10 to 12 minutes or until firm around the edges. Carefully remove to wire racks and cool.


Butter Me Up

Our anonymous Pot Chef knows what the highest-ranking college kids don’t. You can’t throw straight weed in the pot and expect your brownies to come out tasting great. You have to carefully separate the plant from the THC first!

Edible butter enables this local 40-something to prepare any treat or dish that calls for the creamy, consciousness-altering ingredient—whether she’s in the mood for THC-enhanced shrimp scampi or her famous (at least in the neighborhood) chocolate chip cookies.

Here’s how she makes it (in her own words):

“Take the plant product and grind it in a Cuisinart. Boil it in butter for two to three hours—add water to keep things simmering and to prevent burning. [Use three sticks of butter per half ounce, though the recipes online often say two sticks, unless you’re looking to make cookies that send people’s lights out.] Don’t let your water evaporate over those three hours. The THC separates from the plant and binds to the fat. Strain the plant out of it using cheesecloth. After your butter hardens in the fridge, the water and fat will separate. Dump the water out. You can butter your toast with your new creation—or make endless sweet or savory dishes. But note: It is green.”

**Edibles will last four to five hours. After consumption, wait approximately 90 minutes for the high to begin.

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