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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For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."