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How to Talk to Your Family About Cannabis

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If you feel nervous or uncomfortable talking to a family member about cannabis, you’re not alone. Thankfully, as legalization takes hold throughout the U.S. and acceptance grows, more patients feel empowered and encouraged to share with their families how cannabis helps them. However, that doesn’t make sharing your cannabis consumption with a family member an easy task.

To learn more about the best way to have these important conversations, we spoke with Rebecca Cammy, LCSW, and Denise Young, LCSW, of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia.

Tips for talking to your family about cannabis

The first discussion about medical cannabis with your family can be the hardest one. Once you get the conversation going, however, it should feel more familiar and easier to navigate. Aim to  frame the discussion in a manner that promotes understanding and acceptance.
To do so, Cammy and Young offered the following pieces of advice, which they’ve gleaned from hours of conversations with medical cannabis patients about their experiences. For communicating with the young ones in your family, read our related guide on how to talk to children about cannabis.

Focus on how cannabis helps you

When speaking with family members about cannabis, it’s a good idea to direct attention to how cannabis helps alleviate your symptoms and improve your quality of life, rather than on cannabis itself. According to Cammy, consumers should focus on the issues interfering with everyday living, whether that’s pain, anxiety, neuropathy, or something else. Let your family member know that you’ve tried everything and found something new that offers relief. 

“Start with the problem and go through what has been tried and exhausted,” Cammy said. “Let them know your medical team is presenting cannabis as another option that may be helpful.”

“Keep in mind the medical focus and need for additional support for whatever you’re going through,” Young added.

By framing the conversation in this way, your family may be less focused on cannabis itself and more elated that you’ve found a solution that helps return your quality of life. However, there is always the likelihood they will have follow up questions about how cannabis works and how it affects you, so be prepared to answer some of those inquiries.

Consider your family’s familiarity with cannabis

When discussing cannabis consumption with a family member, it’s important to tailor your conversation to each member’s familiarity. Suppose you’re speaking with your grandma, who’s never considered cannabis as anything more than an illegal drug. In that case, you may want to use a different language than if you were speaking with a cousin who lives in California, where medical cannabis has been legal for more than 25 years.

“It’s hard to make generalizations because the [family member’s] familiarity with cannabis is paramount,” said Cammy. “Familiarity is where you determine the approach and where to start from, no matter their age or how this person is related to you.”

Consider your audience when discussing your medical cannabis consumption, and emphasize the fact that you are relying on cannabis under the supervision of medical professionals.

Inform your family about cannabis product types

Young said that many folks assume that cannabis has to be inhaled, which can carry with it the added stigma of smoking. The idea of a lifelong non-smoker picking up a pipe could be uncomfortable or even shocking for some family members. Patients should be prepared to explain to their families that there isn’t one singular way to consume cannabis, and that other routes of administration, like tinctures, topicals, and edibles, are all within the realm of possibilities.

“There’s a lack of education,” said Young. “When you’re talking about cancer patients, there is a raised concern of inhaling — I’d make that forefront in the convo.”

Cammy suggested using these types of misunderstandings as opportunities to educate family members about the variety of consumption methods available to cannabis patients. 

“I think there’s a shock when cannabis is suggested in a clinic, especially for older adult patients with children,” said Cammy. “ We have to normalize that a lot of folks are using this as a mechanism to control symptoms, and not just via inhalation.”

Prepare for and accept divergent perspectives

When having these conversations with your family, expect that someone may disagree with your decision. But even if you think a certain family member won’t be receptive, it’s still important to have the conversation. 

According to Young, discussions are often more effective when people can express their questions and concerns without judgment, and this could open a door to change someone’s perspective.

“When I talk to patients who are nervous, I allow them to disagree totally and to need time to process and think about it,” said Young, acknowledging that this perspective is helpful both for patients speaking to their families and clinicians speaking to patients. “It’s important to provide them info on medical conditions and side effects while understanding that there may be some push back and that they may need time to process the info before they are totally on board.”

Addressing stigma and an education gap in a more accepting world

Cammy and Young acknowledged that a stigma still hovers around cannabis consumption, even though most states have legal medical or adult-use programs. Young said that for many, cannabis can conjure stereotypes of lazy people glued to the couch with a bag of chips. That sort of stigma can be difficult to combat for some, particularly those in your family who grew up with “Just Say No” messaging around cannabis. 

“Stigma encompasses so many things – a social stigma and a mental stigma are still attached to what it means to be a cannabis consumer,” Young said. “It was put out there that cannabis was a bad thing and that it was a really dangerous drug – that’s the communication people have received in the media and it sticks.”

Cammy added that a lack of education around cannabis consumption, including alternate forms that don’t involve inhalation, contribute to the stigma some patients may experience when discussing cannabis with their families.

“Many people are still unaware of cannabis products like tinctures and Rick Simpson Oil that don’t need to be inhaled,’” Cammy said. “When we say to patients in the clinic that cannabis can be helpful as a remedy, a lot of people are surprised to learn that there are topical options, edibles, and other means of getting cannabis into the system.” 

Still, as medical cannabis programs continue to launch nationwide, both Young and Cammy said they have noticed patients are less hesitant to discuss how cannabis may help them, both with their doctors and with their families. Read the Ethos guide to speaking with your doctor about cannabis.

“The more common it becomes, the more someone has heard that someone in their family or a friend or someone with a similar illness has… tried some kind of medical cannabis product,” said Young. “This increasingly common acceptance is making a difference.”

Whether this progress extends into a patient’s family life, though, can vary depending on their family’s perspective toward cannabis, their cultural background, personal experience, and other influencing factors that need to be considered on an individual level.

What if my family never comes around?

Whether this progress extends into a patient’s family life, though, can vary depending on their family’s perspective toward

There is always a chance that your family may not accept cannabis as medicine. However, at the end of the day, no one knows you better than you know yourself. Both Young and Cammy agreed that it’s always necessary to do what’s best for you when it comes to your health, especially when a medical professional makes an informed recommendation. 

“Each person needs to do what’s right for their medical care. Not everyone will be on board with that, and I think that’s okay as long as you have a good understanding of any medication you take – medical cannabis being one of them,” said Young. 

“And that’s for every decision you make,” added Cammy.

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