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Featured, Lifestyle

Remembering Important Women in Cannabis History

Lemetria Whitehurst

by Lemetria Whitehurst

March 13, 2024 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
Fact checked by Kymberly Drapcho
Remembering Important Women in Cannabis History

March kicks off the celebration of Women’s History Month. This is a time dedicated to reflecting on the remarkable journeys of trailblazing women whose courage and resilience have laid the foundations for the freedoms we cherish today. Throughout history, cannabis has been sought after for its medicinal, spiritual, and practical uses. Yet, the narrative of cannabis history is not just a story of the plant itself. It is also about the remarkable women in cannabis who have championed its use, fought for its acceptance, and explored its potential.

Who Were the Pioneering Women In Cannabis History?

Throughout the ages, many women have been key contributors to the evolving cannabis movement. However, the following women have been so influential that they are forever etched into cannabis history. Among them are: 

Queen Hatshepsut

Queen Hatshepsut

Queen Hatshepsut, who reigned as one of Egypt’s most successful female pharaohs around 1478-1458 BCE, was not just a political trailblazer but also a pioneer in the use of medicinal cannabis. Her reign was defined by prosperity, peace, and monumental building projects. 

Evidence from this era, including writings and artifacts, suggests that Hatshepsut may have used cannabis in various forms. Historians speculate that she might have used cannabis-infused products to treat menstrual and childbirth pain. 

This early use of cannabis for health purposes under her reign could have played a role in integrating the plant into ancient Egyptian pharmacopeia. Also popular during her era, the Egyptian herbal remedy text, Ebers Papyrus, demonstrates an advanced understanding of herbal medicine, which undoubtedly included cannabis medicine.

Hildegard von Bingen

Hildegard von Bingen

Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179), a German Benedictine nun, was a scholar who made significant contributions to understanding medicinal plants, including cannabis. In her seminal work, Physica, Hildegard mentions the use of cannabis for its health benefits. 

Interestingly, she was among the first medieval-era scholars to document the effects of cannabis, cementing her in cannabis history forever. She was one of the first to note its practical use in treating wounds and illnesses with its healing properties. Her holistic approach to health was unprecedented in her day, laying the foundation for modern herbal medicine.

Queen Victoria

queen victoria

Queen Victoria’s reported use of cannabis, as prescribed by her physician, Sir J. Russell Reynolds, for menstrual cramps and childbirth during the 19th century, is widely cited in the history of medicinal cannabis. 

The queen’s use of cannabis shows its importance in the health practices of the time. Moreover, it reflects past societal views that cannabis could be used for relief in the wealthiest circles–attitudes that spread to other sections of society as well.

Margaret Mead

margaret mead

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Margaret Mead (1901–1978), a renowned American cultural anthropologist, was influential in advancing cannabis legalization in the United States. Her testimony before Congress in 1969 emphasized the importance of understanding medicinal cannabis use and argued against its criminalization. Mead’s advocacy for a more rational approach to cannabis policy was grounded in her in-depth research on human behaviors. As a result, this challenged the widespread stigmas, thus encouraging a more open, scientific analysis of cannabis and its effects.

Maya Angelou

maya angelou

Maya Angelou (1928–2014), a legendary American poet and writer, openly discussed her use of cannabis in her 1974 second autobiography, Gather Together In My Name, portraying it as a source of comfort and creativity. 

Speaking of cannabis in her memoir, she wrote, “From a natural stiffness, I melted into a smiling tolerance. Walking the streets became a great adventure, eating my mother’s big dinners, magnificent entertainment; and playing with my son absolute hilarity. For the first time, life amused me.”  

Her reflections on cannabis provided a candid look at the personal and societal interactions with the plant. This contributed to the broader discourse on cannabis and its place not only in cannabis history but in the larger American culture. As a prolific writer, Angelou’s narrative not only humanized cannabis use but also celebrated its role in the creative process.

Mary Jane Rathbun (Brownie Mary)

mary jane rathburn

Mary Jane Rathbun, affectionately known as “Brownie Mary,” became an iconic figure in the medical marijuana movement in San Francisco during the 1980s and 1990s. A hospital volunteer and activist, Rathbun earned her nickname by baking and distributing cannabis-infused brownies to AIDS patients. This occurred at a time when the epidemic was at its peak and treatment options were limited.

Her actions, although illegal, brought significant attention to the potential benefits of medical cannabis, particularly its ability to alleviate pain and enhance the quality of life of those with serious illnesses.

Rathbun’s civil disobedience and her subsequent legal battles emphasized the need for policy reform regarding medical cannabis. Her dedication to the cause and compassionate approach made her a beloved figure. In turn, her efforts helped pave the way for the eventual legalization of medical marijuana in California. As a testament to grassroots activism and the impact of individual efforts on larger social and legal changes, Rathbun’s story is inspiring.

Final Thoughts: Iconic Women in Cannabis History

The narratives of these phenomenal women illustrate the enduring influence of women on the cannabis landscape. Their stories, spanning millennia, highlight the therapeutic, creative, and societal roles of cannabis while also challenging the legal and cultural barriers it has faced.

These women, through their unique contributions and battles, have not only showcased the potential of cannabis but also paved the way for future advocacy and policy reform. Their legacies remind us of the significance of cannabis beyond, far beyond the stigma, advocating for more access and continuing research on its benefits.

In honoring these pioneers, we are inspired to continue their work, advancing the conversation about cannabis with an informed, compassionate, and inclusive approach.

Note: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be professional medical advice. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or prescribe treatment based on the information provided. Always consult a physician before making any decision on the treatment of a medical condition.

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