How Cannabis Is Sparking Collective Healing For Black Women
Three Black women share how Black history, plant-based medicine, and building community through weed can lead us to our liberation.
Unbothered’s High Impact is rewriting the rules of wellness, wealth, and weed with real and dynamic conversations that put Black women at the centre. This series was originally published on Refinery29 US.
Whether you’re intimately familiar with cannabis, only spark up socially, or have never taken a puff, chances are you only divulge your consumption habits, or lack thereof, in hushed tones around those you really trust. Despite weed being legal in US 17 states there’s still a hesitation for many Black folks to openly embrace and experiment with the age old plant.
For me, growing up in Boston’s inner city under the oppressive guise of white supremacy, I was constantly blasted with stigmas about plant-based medicine that lingered subconsciously well into adulthood. Cannabis only drew connotations of nickel and dime bags, and as a gateway drug that would eventually lead you down a dark path. The generational trauma and residue caused by the war on drugs makes it so most Black folks don’t know that cannabis was cultivated and used across the continent of Africa, from Ethiopia to Egypt, for nearly 1,000 years. We’ve long had a deep awareness and reverence for its medicinal and healing properties. Yet, it wasn’t until recently I learned that Harriet Tubman used herbs and plants to help soothe and heal folks as she ushered them across state lines. Yet, when I learned of Tubman’s herbalist background, I developed a newfound sense of pride and ownership for cannabis as a Black woman. There’s a growing movement of Black women amplifying our history with cannabis and sharing the countless ways — from infusions to topicals — it can be used to soothe and heal.
"When I learned of [Harriet] Tubman’s herbalist background, I developed a newfound sense of pride and ownership for cannabis as a Black woman."
One of the first people to educate me on the rich history Black folks have with cannabis was my sister, Asha Dirshe. An educator turned chef, she's long preached about our intrinsic connection to the land, and how historically it’s been snatched away from us. “Black folks just have so much knowledge around stewarding the earth, and I think there’s a real gap in information,” my sister told me recently told me during a recent conversation. These days, in addition to educating me, she’s using food, and her social platforms, to help fill that information gap for other Black women as well. “The real reason we’ve been so separated and the stigma around plant-based healing exists is because there’s so much power in it, there’s capital in it,” she shares.
Like so many, my sister discovered cannabis during her teenage years, where she fumbled around without much knowledge or respect. “Now I’m refining and learning how to really tap into the medicine of the plant,” she says. For her, that means dimensionalising cannabis beyond smoking, but also bringing together her culinary skills and love of herbalism. “Learning to cook and infuse has been my most informative experience with cannabis,” Dirshe explains. Drizzling cannabis-infused oil on eggs in the morning to set a soothing and easeful tone for the day ahead has become a go-to for her in recent weeks. “The most fun thing I’ve made is an olive oil cake with my sister who has a baking company––we get really inspired off of each other,” she says buzzing.
It’s this type of cannabis collaboration that gets Dirshe really inspired, but also reminds her why education about our lineage with the land and the medicinal properties of the plant is needed to encourage more Black women to explore their own weed journey. “We’ve always been labeled as using drugs, from an addict perspective, and less on healing ourselves, so I think reclaiming that has been really important to me,” she says. Forming a more comprehensive understanding for how cannabis can be used as a tool for healing and self-care, much like therapy or face masks, is what drives the work of Charlotte James, co-creator of The Ancestor Project––a Black-led platform for psychedelic education, legal ceremony, and integration based in Baltimore.
As Black women have taken hold of their own healing in new and powerful ways in recent years, James believes sacred earth medicine traditions, like cannabis, can be a helpful aid. “We’ve been fighting for the same things for a long time now, protesting and marching and trying to change things on a policy level, but it’s time we start tapping into the tools our ancestors,” James shares. While infused oils or tea tinctures aren’t a magical pill, cannabis can, in some cases, accelerate taking agency over oneself and help guide the journey to radical self-love––James’ definition of healing. Confronting, and then loving, even the most unsavory parts of ourselves not only helps individual healing but is the foundation to collective liberation. Or as James puts it, “in order to heal the collective we have to do our own work, so we can come back into a right relationship with each other.”
The key to that liberation is plant medicine, but it’s understandable why many Black women are hesitant to explore the healing properties of cannabis. Datrianna Meeks, senior product designer, knows just how transformative the power and safety can provide for exploration. The Chicago-based cannabis content creator and writer has cultivated a powerful digital community, called Up in Smoke, of curious cannabis consumers over the last two years along with a newsletter by the same name. “When I started [in 2019] I was heavily focused on product reviews but as the values and ethics, or lack thereof, of the cultivators and dispensaries started to look questionable and I no longer wanted to lend my reputation to them, so I pivoted to educational content,” Meeks says.
“I know that there aren’t many people who look like me in the cannabis space ... so that made me want to create the representation I was looking for.”
She often shares the breadth of experiences possible with cannabis via well-curated Instragam posts and intimately chronicles how cannabis can be a part of one's self-care routine in weekly emails that feel akin to a well-informed, extremely helpful prose. “The thing that made me want to share with others is that I had to look up so much information across all these disparate places and I know a lot of people don’t wanna do the research,” she shares. Meeks is also very keenly aware the power representation can have on someone’s openness to a new experience. “I know that there aren’t many people who look like me or identify in the ways that I do in the cannabis space so that made me want to kind of create the representation and space I was looking for,” she says. That inclusion piece, or lack thereof, of Black women feeling welcomed and intentionally included in the conversation, is why Kimberly Dillon founded the brand Get Frigg, a stress-less beauty brand powered by plants.
The marketing executive didn’t become familiar with the power of cannabis, or see the opportunity to help Black folks, until adulthood. “When I became the CMO of Papa & Barkley I was the first Black CMO in cannabis and knew this game wasn’t over. The whole idea was generational health and wealth,” Dillon explains.
So instead of riding out a comfortable position in an industry that refused to talk to Black women in an authentic and inclusive way, Dillion bet on herself and founded a brand that uses functional formulas to support our emotional well-being. Currently, Get Frigg has two products, a face and hair oil packed with responsibly-sourced cannabinoids, that Dillion tells me really fill a missing gap. At the forefront of her mind during formulation were the skin and hair conditions that affect Black women most often. “CBD is a very balancing and antiinflammatory, and inflammation as it relates to Black people is something we often deal with in the form of hyperpigmentation and traction alopecia,” she says. Through nuanced storytelling and connective education, Dillion is working overtime to help Black women see the healing power of CBD.
While cannabis may not be for everyone, Dirshe, James, Meeks, Dillion want to ensure Black women are at least given the opportunity to explore the plant and simply, to be curious. We deserve the chance to learn Black folks’ history with herbalism in case it sparks a deeper reverence for the plant, as it did for me.
Cannabis is a Class B drug and illegal in the UK. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behaviour.