I’ve spent the last two years experimenting with cannabis as an instrument of self-care. Self-care, for those unfamiliar, is the intentional act of cultivating personal sustainability. Often you’ll hear those in helping professions talk about “putting on your oxygen mask first before assisting others” (in reference to the airline safety presentation) as a metaphor for the importance of taking care of one’s own needs so they can both sustain their forward momentum and have the bandwidth to help others.
Self-care activities can include things like coloring, aromatherapy, soaking in a bath, enjoying nature, and even just laughing. Contrary to what you may think, self-care is not an exclusively solo action. While sometimes it means taking a break from social media or putting down the phone for an hour or so, it can also mean taking time to both support and be supported in your community.
While the concept of consuming cannabis to help combat stress is not a novel one by any means, my approach is deeply rooted in mindfulness. I’ve experimented with various strains, products, methods of consumption, and rituals to find ways for cannabis to enhance my experiences and bring me closer to homeostasis. I have go-to strains and products for counteracting headaches and insomnia, others for promoting concentration and productivity, and still others for relaxation.
The key here — and for me what separates this from just getting completely blazed every night — is moderation and intention. I use just enough of whatever I’m consuming to get the results I’m looking for. If I’m stressed, I look for something with a good bit of CBD that I know will be calming. If I’m sad, I look for something that induces more euphoric effects. It’s not a cure-all, but it certainly helps. It’s important to get clear on our intentions so we can seek out guidance from our budtenders and other cannabis experts. The information is there, but we have to know what to ask for.
When I travel, I try to bring at least three or four strains with me so I have options. I packed accordingly for a trip to Los Angeles early last week. My plan was to spend most of election night with my best friend, Declan, who worked as a political strategist for a slew of progressive organizations over the last decade. We expected to witness Hillary Clinton’s history-making election as the country’s first female president.
As a queer woman and a sexual assault survivor, the stakes were high for me on Tuesday night. They were even higher for many of my friends and acquaintances who gathered across the country and around the world to watch the results: people of color, Muslims, trans folks, people with disabilities.
The outcome—President Trump—devastated us all. I watched my Twitter and Facebook feeds fill with posts describing despair, hopelessness, and intense fear. I spoke with my friend Ophelia Chong later in the week and she shared, “There has never been a moment where I was taken into another person’s reality until Election Night. I was looking at a future that was changed within hours, what was up was now down, the rainbow became one color and the world became flat.”
As a self-identified intersectional feminist and political progressive with extensive training in trauma, I believe that those of us who are committed to intersectional values like anti-racism and equal rights for all bodies and genders are going to need self-care to help sustain us as we move forward into this time of political action. For us, it is time for action. It’s time to start acting to dismantle systems of oppression, not just sitting quietly and hoping someone else does the work.
I brought a variety of strains with me for on this particular trip, which ultimately gave me more control over my experience. As the night became more emotionally tense, I was able to adjust my consumption to take care of my body and mind. It didn’t make everything better. It also didn’t make everything numb. Rather, I used these strains to help care for my shifting needs. They helped bring me closer to center.
Here’s a rundown of my Election Day, strain by strain:
East Coast Polls Close (excited anticipation): Ultra Blue Romulan. I knew I wanted to be active on social media throughout the evening, so I chose a clear and focused creative strain. The aroma is powerful when you unscrew the lid of the container. It smells a little like sunscreen, but in a good way. The inhale is mildly floral but the exhale is more earthy with a little bit of woody pine. After a few puffs I noticed that my chest and shoulders were noticeably more relaxed and my head felt clear, but with just a tinge of spacey-ness that amplified as I smoked more. It’s also definitely a munchy strain, so have food on hand.
Electoral Map Turning Red: (anxiety and fear): Gorilla Glue #4. As more states were called for Trump, I felt panic begin to set in. My pulse was racing and my stomach was in knots. I needed something a lot heavier and more sedating, so I reached for GG#4. As I let the first hit wash over my body, I felt my heart rate begin to slow down. Then I took another. And another. I forced myself to breathe slowly and deeply and to use the grounding exercises I teach in my trauma workshops. I pulled out some play dough and started squeezing it in my fist. All of these things helped, but it felt like the GG#4 helped most. The heavy sedative effects were able to pull me out of a panic attack and bring me closer to baseline.
The Election is Called for Trump (grief): OG Kush. By 11:15 p.m., Pennsylvania had been called for Trump. The race was called for him about 30 minutes later. People were crying and drinking heavily. Feeling devastated, I pulled out a pre-roll of OG Kush and went outside. I took a few puffs of my joint and tried to focus on what to do next. I felt more clear and calm after another few puffs. Inside was my friend Tas DeVille, a Los Angeles performance artist who identifies as a queer Muslim woman of color. She is someone who had far more at stake than I did in this election. She shared the following thoughts:
“Being out and about in Hollywood, in a lovely and strange place, a place I’ve been wanting to go for a long time, was incredibly surreal on an evening such as this. In the smoke and lights, amongst the beautiful people clad in all black everything, with sonorous dark music pulsing through the space and patrons murmuring in hushed tones, it was almost as though a funereal pall had already descended. After we received the news, I excused myself from my friends to make my way to the dance floor. It was almost liberating, to have the music thrumming through my core, and to the ability to dance out my demons an hour or so, alone but surrounded by people, to stave off the crushing sadness for just a little while longer.”
What Tas described is also a flavor of self-care. While we chose different methods, mine being a few pulls off of a joint and hers being dancing, they were each effective in helping us cope. Being there with a friend who stands to lose a great deal more than I do in the wake of this election, I realized the importance of taking action. For me, that means reaching out to elected officials and encouraging them to follow California’s example: The day after the election, the state’s senate president and assembly speaker issued a joint letter affirming that “California is – and must always be – a refuge of justice and opportunity for people of all walks, talks, ages and aspirations – regardless of how you look, where you live, what language you speak, or who you love.”
I’ll also be volunteering, lending my time and talents to help organizations like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Trans Lifeline, which are currently experiencing an upsurge in calls.
We’re going to need many and varied forms of self-care to nourish ourselves in the coming months and years. For those wishing to use cannabis as a self-care tool, I suggest trying different products and strains to see what helps you get from where you are to where you want to be. That is the basis of mindful cannabis consumption.