Health 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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"Bare down and push like you're taking the biggest dump of your life," were the wise words of my midwife during the last leg of labor.
My husband and I had sat in traffic on the George W. bridge for close to three hours on a Sunday night while I bellowed God-knows-what during erratic contractions. Deepak Chopra whispered sweet nothings into my ear by way of our car's speakers. Side note: if you don't listen to Deepak's meditations, you should. Between bursts of stab-like contractions, I'd say adorable things such as, “honey, the stars look beautiful tonight, don't you think?" and “wow, the new flowers in front of our townhouse are incredible."
Now it was 3 a.m. on Monday morning, and wisps of euphoria had transformed into savage rage.
I'd spent most of the pregnancy crippled by headaches and nausea. By the last trimester, my pelvis had cratered, I could barely walk, and the baby slept upright over my bladder in a permanent ninja kick. This was not an optimal position for my daughter's debut exit from my uterus. Eventually, she turned head-down, but I knew long before her delivery that it would be an arduous back labor. Despite this, I had timidly and thoughtfully committed myself to an all-natural birth. I had determined that our existing medical care system was a little too trigger-happy with its knives. The epiphany to experience boatloads of undesirable pain came with a lot of firsthand research, coupled with the belief that excruciating temporary pain was better than risking preventable permanent damage. This was, of course, out of the ordinary in my geographical location, even amongst mothers whose pregnancies were highly healthy and, for lack of a better word, easy. Many young mothers I spoke with prior to my own newborn's delivery had one horrific labor story after the next, and their opinions echoed the pervasive research indicating that the medical system was failing healthy pregnant mothers as a method to prevent less likely outliers. So, I made a choice. No IV. No epidural. I found a wonderful midwife who studied on the farm with Ina May Gaskin, and had successfully delivered thousands of babies, and I committed to an all-natural birth.
“What? Who sh*ts like this?" I blurted, and clenched my abdominal muscles as though I were about to push out a Ford pickup–a sturdy American car.
“Just touch her head!" my husband instructed, elated. “Feel it. She's almost out."
I clamped my body back against the handicap rails above the toilet. “I can't."
“Honey, come on, feel her head," he said again.
“I can't," I repeated, unprepared for the realness of a child to congeal in my mind. “I want drugs," I pleaded for the umpteenth time to no avail.
My midwife took hold of the reigns. “Honey, open your eyes and look at me now."
“The baby's head is half way through your birth canal. She has twenty minutes or she's going to suffocate."
Suddenly I was confused. “Who sh*ts like this?" I retorted. “Do you sh*t like this? I don't sh*t like this."
We all snickered a little “no," and transferred to the bed. Several more pushes and something warm and smooth slid out of my body.
“Did I do it; is she out?" I asked.
My midwife scrunched her forehead and peeped under the blanket. “No honey, you just sh*t yourself. Let's get you cleaned up."
I cringed, and continued pushing as hard and as frequently as I knew how. With each push, the baby inched out a little further, but I felt as though it would never happen. “I can't!"
My husband and midwife encouraged, “Yes you can! You already are!"
I zoned back in. It was true. I was. “Help me with my legs," I told them. My husband held my legs behind me, and in several more pushes, a creature emerged from my body. Her name is Sydney.
I cried instantly, as did my husband, who recited, “You did it!" in pure bliss.
A few moments later, my midwife pulled out the placenta, which my husband later ate (kidding, kidding).
It was baller. Confetti fell from the ceiling. My makeup artist zoomed over to prepare us for our family photo shoot, and the Paparazzi eagerly stood in line outside waiting for a coveted chance to meet my newborn. I am being sarcastic, of course, but childbirth is no small feat–I was a hero on top of the world.
Yes, there I was holding my little one, thanking the heavens she was all right, but at that same time, I was also looking down at my deflated belly sack, trembling while my midwife stitched together what remained of my lady parts. My breasts filled with milk, a sensation akin to filling an over-stuffed water balloon with a hose, and before I could blink, people were pinching my nipples and trying to explain to me how Sydney was supposed to latch. The room then filled with residents and strangers who watched me in the nude as if I were their third-grade biology experiment. When I rose to pee, so much blood exploded from my nether bits that the cleanup crew had to throw away the mattress. I imagine this isn't unusual. I imagine many women have their own versions of the same story. Why? Because this is real life.
And business, my friends, is real life too. It's messy. It doesn't SWAAY too far one way or another, regardless of how you are wired or, in my case, MISSWIRED (a little homage to the terrific book I wrote in vignettes while cradling my newborn through her early years of life).
Why? Because in business and in creation, there are several truths that overlap. Here they are below. I hope you find them empowering.
1. Like pregnancy, the development of a new product or service is a long and arduous process with bursts of euphoria in between.
There's a saying, “nine women can't make a baby in one month." It's true, so find productive ways to expand the joy, such as meditating.
2. Pain can be temporary, or it can be long-lasting.
Do your research, factor yourself into the equation, and make a choice. Each decision you make in business follows the same formula. “How much temporary pain am I willing to endure today in order to prevent systematic pain later? Is it worth it?" Sometimes you'll get it right; sometimes you won't. But you're better off educating yourself.
3. Yes, you are powerful. But you are not self-sufficient.
You may be able to develop a significant portion of a product or business on your own, but not without quality help. Determine whom you want to have by your side–ideally someone compassionate and credible–particularly when you're in heat and nearing the finish line. They need to be able to help you pick up the slack when you think you just don't have a single iota of strength left.
4. If you can't get sh*t done one way, do it another way; adjust.
And by the way, pushing out crap is good; it allows your ultimate product the space it needs to find its way into reality.
5. Miracles are born in blood and tears. So are new services and products.
6. Once you deliver, the infrastructure you have to support your creation will, at first, be stitched together and deflated.
This is absolutely normal. You might have an idea of what you need, but until the real thing is available to you, you can't have it all figured out. That's when everyone and their mother will try to tell you what to do. They mean well, but you're the CEO. Listen to them, but trust your instincts. After all, it's your baby, and these are your nipples.
May all you mothers out there prosper in business; you're already doing the hardest of life's work.