Health 05 August 2018
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.
We're here. We're queer. Now that it's pride month, it feels like every store and corporation is flooding us with their best rainbow merchandise, capitalizing on a $917 billion dollar consumer market.
The rainbow flags are out. The mannequins are sporting pride tees. And corporate newsletters are full of interviews showcasing all their queer employees ("Look, we have a gay person here! We GET you!").
To me, this is blatant evidence that the future is queer.
These corporations follow the money, and with 20% of millennials and 31% of Gen Z openly identifying as queer, these businesses have to capitalize on the growing purchasing power of LGBTQIA+ consumers. With a recorded market size of $917 billion dollars in 2016, and a growing interest in socially conscious brands among young consumers, this is clearly a market opportunity that corporations cannot afford to ignore.
However, I'm always surprised by how little attention investors and the entrepreneurial community devotes to this undeniable trend, despite being constantly inundated with overwhelming statistics proving the importance of diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship. Only 2.2% of venture capital funding went to women in 2018, less than .1% of funding has been allocated to black women since 2009, and only about 1% of venture-backed companies have a black founder or Latinx founder. These statistics are over-quoted but underacted upon.
This gender and diversity inequality significantly hinders economic growth, since 85% of all consumer purchases are controlled by women, and startups with higher ethnic diversity tend to produce financial returns above their industry norm.
The data is clearly leading to one direction: investing in women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, veterans, immigrants, and other minority groups in entrepreneurship leads to higher revenue and better business results.
As data-driven and forward-thinking as this industry claims to be, we haven't caught up to the queer founders, particularly queer women, who are rethinking the future. These founders understand and speak to a generation of increasing numbers of LGBTQIA+ people whose market share will only continue to grow exponentially. VCs and investors are already behind the curve.
SoGal Foundation, a non-profit on a mission to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship, is helping bridge this divide between queer women founders and investors with the launch of applications for the second annual Global Pitch Competition for diverse entrepreneurs. Hosted in 25+ cities across five continents, and culminating in a final global pitch competition and 3-day immersive educational bootcamp in Silicon Valley, this is the first and only globally-focused pitch opportunity for diverse entrepreneurs.
Startups that are pre-Series A (raised less than $3M) with at least one woman or diverse founder, apply here to pitch! The top teams selected from each regional round will join SoGal's final global pitch competition and bootcamp in Silicon Valley for guaranteed face time with dozens of top Silicon Valley investors, curated educational programming, unparalleled 1:1 mentorship, press exposure, and a chance to win investment capital.
Women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ founders: what's the best way to kick off pride? Apply to pitch!
Regional pitch rounds will be held August-November 2019; final pitch competition in Silicon Valley in February 2020. Details and additional cities to be announced.
SoGal Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and the largest global platform for diverse founders and funders in 40+ chapters across 5 continents; our mission is to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship. SoGal Foundation's global startup competition represents the first and largest opportunity for women and diverse entrepreneurs and investors to connect worldwide. Join the SoGal community & follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.