Let’s have an honest self-talk: We rely on drugs. Our morning coffee. A glass of wine before bed (or two depending on the day). The ibuprofen in our pain relievers. Often, we’re looking for temporary relief and have accepted the side effects that come with it (caffeine withdrawal is real). Take everyday ibuprofen in your Advil, for instance. According to the FDA, these seemingly harmless over-the-counter meds can increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke with short-term use, and the risk grows with continued reliance.
But for the woman looking for natural, healthy alternatives, there’s one drug that has been proven entirely safe, comes with zero permanent side effects, and can replace or reduce many of the others in your medicine cabinet: cannabis. Legal now in 24 states and counting, more and more people are turning to the plant as a natural alternative to a growing reliance on pills.
According to Paul Armentano, deputy director of the nonprofit public-interest advocacy group NORML, cannabis has an extensive history of human use dating back before written history, as well as a growing body of scientific evidence. “The plant and its organic constituents remain some of the most well-studied therapeutic substances known to man,” he says. “There is a volume of scientific literature that is significantly greater than the volume of literature for most other therapeutic agents.”
There are placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trials showing cannabis’s efficacy for chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, gastrointestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease, and many others. Newer areas of research include treatment of PTSD and epilepsy as well as diabetes treatment and obesity prevention. Yep. The stereotypical image of the cannabis user might be a couch-bound slouch mowing down Cheetos, but they’re actually less likely to be overweight than the average person.
More women like Cheri Sicard, author of cannabis cookbooks (it’s vegan!) and activist for cannabis reform, are turning to the plant not just for pain relief but for recreational use when having sex, watching movies, and even tossing it into their salads. “Women are really coming into their own in cannabis right now,” Sicard told SheKnows. “We can use marijuana and be happy and successful and have your life thrive.”
If you’re convinced and want to give it a whirl, some basics might help. After all, the new legal environment means cannabis options are popping up like, yes, weeds. There are three types, or strains, of cannabis: sativa, indica, and ruderalis. Sativa and indica are the big names, and more-experienced cannabis users will use their general properties in guiding their purchases based upon symptomatic need.
Sativas are known as the more uplifting, creative, and “heady” strain, which might also come with paranoia at higher doses. Indicas are known to be more relaxing, sedating, and “body” centered. Growers create hybrid strains by blending sativas and indicas. The varied—and often hysterical—names growers give their particular creations, be it straight sativa, indica, or a hybrid, are a good, but not perfect, indication of what you might get from a particular smoke or edible.
There are more than 60 unique, biologically active cannabinoids, or naturally occurring chemical compounds, found in cannabis. The main psychoactive component is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the most well-known name in weed. That’s not to mention terpenes, the aromatic compounds that frequently come with the name: Lemon Haze, Blueberry Skunk, Sour Diesel. There are at least 100 different terpenes, and scientists are just now wrapping their minds around what part they play in the medical benefits of cannabis.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is another key cannabinoid name to know, as it is relatively non-psychoactive. Growers have more recently focused in on CBD, which seems to battle pain, gut issues, and more, according to Alison Ettel, founder and CEO of TreatWell, a lab-tested cannabis-products company for humans and pets. “There are new innovative products in a wider variety with many non-psychoactive options for those looking for medicine without it,” she says. “The outdated stigma of ‘harmful’ marijuana is being replaced by legitimate research, supportive laws, and an influx of patients eager to try cannabis as medication.”
So with that in mind, stock up on fruit—because munchies will still happen—and experiment with ways that one of, if not the, safest options in Mother Nature’s medicine cabinet can help. Better dispensaries and cannabis shops will list the specific content of any given strain, so use this as a guide and ask questions to your “bud-tender.”
Andrea Brooks, CEO and founder of Sava, an online cannabis-infused products marketplace, turned to a CBD tincture after an injury from which doctors told her she’d never fully recover. “I was in extreme pain, and the opioids they gave me were masking [the pain], but not healing my body. It just felt like Band-Aids,” she says. “Meanwhile, I’m in my mid-30s and lying on the floor not being able to function. Once some of the fog and surreal-ness lifted, I started exploring alternatives.” CBD gave her a boost onto the healing path. Harlequin is a well-known CBD strain that you can try in topical form.
From what I’m told and have seen in action, cramps are horrible, terrible no-good things that little truly helps. Foria’s suppositories, which resemble tampons, go where the action is and work to ease the symptoms quickly and for hours, according to Regina Clemente, director of campaigns for Brave New Films who’s used Foria suppositories to great effect. “Sure, some of the usual suspects help, but the suppositories blow everything else away for long-lasting relief,” she says.
Girl Scout Cookies
Girl Scout Cookies is a hot hybrid strain in the herb world. Its strain attributes are all about relaxing you without melting you into your couch. It produces a happy-yet-relaxed state that doesn’t tip over into sedation. You’ll be content watching a movie or hanging out with friends.
One of the classic cannabis strains, Trainwreck is a high-THC, sativa-dominant hybrid that, for the uninitiated, can hit like a train—only the name of that train is happiness, euphoria, and creativity. Just remember those possible paranoia issues and don’t overdo it if you’re new to cannabis.
Unlike the Seth Rogen–James Franco movie, a little Pineapple Express will not lead to a life-threatening battle with drug dealers. Instead, it will help boost your mood without cranking your energy level up too high, making it suitable for day or night. The science is still new, so experiment with your own reactions to cannabis for your particular mood challenges before going all in.
Someday, people will speak of Blue Dream the way they speak of Trainwreck, Northern Lights, and other legendary strains. For now, a little of it will help lift your mood while also gently knocking those migraine symptoms back. Try it as a probiotic chocolate, which will also help balance the bacteria in your digestive system.
Next up: Our news editor took CBD oil every day for a week to ease her anxiety.
This story was originally published on April, 20, 2016, and has since been updated.