Cannabis, My Mother, and Me

My mother sits on the closed lid of the toilet seat holding an unlit joint, watching me as I flip on the exhaust fan, throw open the window, and turn on the shower head. She is 60 years old and she’s never so much as smoked a cigarette in her lifetime, let alone experimented with marijuana.  All her life, she’s been buttoned-up and conservative—the type of mom who washed my mouth out with soap after I’d said even the mildest of swear words.


But cancer has changed things.


Chemotherapy is a battlefield. I sit with my mother during her sessions, as a nurse hooks tubes to a port in her chest. I task myself with distracting her. I tell her jokes. I read her news headlines—only the good ones. I play her music and I sidestep any conversation that might lead to food. She can’t talk about eating.


I wheel her out to the car after every session. She is weak and pale. Her wig is crooked and her lips dry and cracked. She throws up all the way home.


You’re not supposed to see your parents like this. It’s not the way things are supposed to go. In fact, facing my mom’s mortality is my greatest fear realized. Deep in my heart, I am holding onto the most childlike of fantasies: that my mother will live forever.


At home, she is unresponsive and limp on the living room couch. I dote on her, offering her sips of water, another pillow, a back rub. She ignores everything. In a last-ditch effort to get a rise out of her, I say, “Hey mom, wanna smoke some pot?”


She raises her head.


She must be feeling terrible, worse than ever. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think my mom—my mom—would consent to smoking marijuana. I help her up from the couch. She is so uncomfortable that she doesn’t say a word. Her hat falls off, revealing a smooth pink scalp and one tuft of orange-red hair that reminds me of yarn. She leans on me and we start the slow trek to the bathroom upstairs.


I won’t sugarcoat it: smoking pot saved my mom. Or maybe it saved me, or both. That afternoon in her bathroom gave my mother back to me. She entered the room one way—looking defeated and weathered—and left animated and refreshed.


Upstairs in her bathroom, we giggle uproariously. What are we doing? We say to one another, eyes wide in sheer bewilderment. She leans back against the toilet tank, a thin ribbon of smoke curling from her lips. I hoist a box fan into the window, circulating the smoke out toward the neighbor’s.


“Don’t worry about it,” she says, waving a hand toward the house next door. “They were hippies in the ‘60s.”


I can hardly believe it, but a few puffs of a joint have made all the difference.


My mom eats lunch for the first time in days. Afterwards, she keeps it down. There’s no leaning over the waste basket. She makes phone calls, she smiles. Honestly, the comparison between pre-pot and post is like night and day. There’s very little pain, she says.


What else do I need to be a believer? I witnessed firsthand the power of cannabis to not only soothe and comfort, but to restore my mother’s spirit. Pot eased her pain, erased her near-constant nausea, sparked her appetite, and gave her hope for a cancer-free future.


Afterward, when my mom settles in for a movie and a nap, I feel relief. But I also feel outrage. Why isn’t cannabis readily available for people who desperately need it? Why did I need to resort to secret back channels to get my mom something that made such an incredible difference?


That was six years ago. My mom is okay now. We look back and we laugh about that time in the bathroom. But we also hold it in great reverence. It was the thing that got us through. It was the beacon of light and hope.


Times are changing and with them state laws that allow legal access for people who need it. But it’s not enough. Research and anecdotal evidence alike show that cannabis eases the discomforts of a multitude of illnesses, from cancer to debilitating anxiety. For countless people, cannabis is the key to living life fully and without pain. So why in the world would we keep it behind the lock and key of state law from those who could truly benefit?


In honor of my mother, I will never stop asking.

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