Featured 13 August 2019
In 2009, I underwent an invasive hip surgery that left me unable to walk for two years
I had spent the years prior in near constant pain and had to rely on pain medications to help with day-to-day activities and sleep.
The surgery unfortunately failed to resolve the underlying issues that were causing me pain, and without recourses to further surgeries the only options left open to me were to treat my daily pain with an ongoing regimen of opioids and other pain relievers. I had to come to terms with balancing my daily pain levels against the cognitive impairment that many of the drugs prescribed to me caused, a reality I hadn't experienced until then but one that I came to realize many people, and women in particular, occupy.
At the time, there were no legally available medical marijuana products available in New York State, and I was unwilling to risk the legal and quality concerns of the black market as a means to manage my symptoms. I eventually learned to cope with the chronic symptoms of my failed surgery without the use of any habit-forming painkillers, but the experience left a considerable mark on me and is one of the major factors that contributed to the work and research that I put in with my mother when founding our marijuana company, Etain Health, five years later.
In those five years since my surgery, the legal options for exploring medical marijuana as a treatment had opened up. In spite of the continued controversy surrounding marijuana, the fact is that marijuana's narrative is evolving and, surprisingly, women like my mother and I have had a significant hand in writing it. When I think back to 2009 in New York State and compare it to today, I realize just how different things are in 2018. Nearly every day I'm introduced to inspirational women who are re-defining cannabis and making discoveries that will transform female health care. Women are not only participating as entrepreneurs at a higher rate than is the norm elsewhere, we also stand to be major beneficiaries of the advancements in medical marijuana treatments available on the market. From anxiety and menstrual pain to severe physical disorders caused by autoimmune diseases, women cope with a myriad of daily and life-long conditions that can benefit from medical marijuana treatment.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, women are more than twice as likely as men to develop an anxiety disorder.
Pharmaceutical medications can offer relief, but many women find their symptoms exacerbated when under the treatment of strong drugs. Common side-effects including weight gain, lethargy and loss of concentration can become debilitating for women. CBD oil, however – a non-mind-altering derivative of cannabis – shows promise for producing positive outcomes related to stress and anxiety-based disorders. CBD oil's beneficial impact is being more widely acknowledged every day, as states continue to approve regulated medical marijuana programs. CBD oil can also be derived from the hemp plant, albeit with fewer active cannabinoids than cannabis-derived CBD, and hemp oil is widely available for purchase throughout the United States. For women suffering from anxiety-related disorders who are afraid to risk their quality of life by becoming dependent on pharmaceutical medicine with strong potential side effects, cannabis could be a game changer.
Menstrual pain is probably one of the most under-researched female health issues. For a significant number of women suffering from extreme menstrual pain, excessive amounts of acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and other OTC medications are constant companions. Some women must resort to taking daily birth control pills, which can have significant hormonal side effects, just to help manage their pain. It can be difficult to get doctors to address severe menstrual pain, or dysmenorrhea, with treatment options and a large portion of women seek relief not from their doctors, but from an online community of women who rely on articles like this (hello!) to discover new forms of treatment. Once again, marijuana holds potential as a treatment option. Unfortunately, even amongst the already scarce research on treatment pathways that involve cannabis, cannabis and menstrual pain is significantly understudied.
However, there is anecdotal evidence that topical application (through the use of suppositories and similar products) as well as edible applications of cannabis can serve to ease menstrual pain.
Autoimmune disorders have a range of severity: from discomfort and pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis, digestive and appetite issues caused by ulcerative colitis, through to neuropathic pain and life-threatening misfiring in the nervous system caused by multiple sclerosis. Women make up 75% of all people suffering from one or more forms of autoimmune disorder, comprising more than 70% of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, more than half of people with ulcerative colitis, and over 60% of those with multiple sclerosis. Many autoimmune conditions, including the three listed above, have symptoms that are difficult to treat without side effects related to NSAIDs/pain relievers and steroids. Cannabis has the potential to reduce pain and inflammation related to arthritis, increase appetite and reduce abdominal cramping related to ulcerative colitis and other bowel diseases, and reduce neuropathic pain related to multiple sclerosis. These possibilities are significant for some of the more severe diseases that disproportionately impact women and, while further scientific basis is needed to make direct claims about the health benefits of cannabis, it is clear that cannabis related products will have an increasing role in treating autoimmune disorders that impact women.
Many of the disorders from the above list cause a near-daily struggle with discomfort and, in some instances, severe pain for a large percentage of women. While there are certainly pharmaceutical solutions to some of the symptoms and diseases above, these frequently come with side effects that may be unwanted by some women. The trade-off between symptom management and side effects is a delicate balance to maintain quality of life. We founded our company, Etain Health, in 2014 to supply new and safe options to women, and patients in general, looking for safe and efficacious cannabis products. We are a company founded and run by women, we support women wherever possible by promoting them into managerial roles, and we look forward to the future of helping to lead an industry that has so much potential benefit for women everywhere.
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Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."
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