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Emily Allan: Room For Weed And Wine

Alcohol consumption was never out of the ordinary for Emily Allan. The Ethos – PA Marketing Coordinator, who grew up in an Irish-Catholic household, said that alcohol was never frowned upon – it was simply part of her life.

“My family is Irish, and drinking is very much part of the culture. Drinking is normal and that’s just what you did after work — you came home and had a beer or a glass of wine,” Allan said.

Equally as ingrained in Allan from a young age was cannabis demonization. After 12 years of Catholic schooling and years of the “Just Say No” era anti-drug PSAs, the possibility that cannabis could be a part of her life, medically or recreationally, wasn’t even an inkling of a possibility.

“The conversation was only about how drugs are bad,” Allan said. “Even when I got to college, I still didn’t touch cannabis, because it was ingrained in my brain to not go near it. I didn’t touch cannabis until I was 22 out of pure Catholic guilt.”

It took her first introduction to cannabis in college to confirm that cannabis wasn’t for her – or at least, she thought it wasn’t for her.

“My first cannabis experience was out of a bong, it was black market cannabis so who knows what cultivar it was, and I couldn’t stop coughing,” Allan said. “All that coughing made me start to panic because I couldn’t catch my breath. I immediately wrote off cannabis and decided it wasn’t for me.”

It wasn’t until her grandmother became ill that Allan reconsidered cannabis as a healing tool. An amputee, her grandmother experienced phantom pains that were only calmed by CBD, applied topically at the recommendation of a nurse. That opened the door for Allan to reexamine what she thought she knew about cannabis, including how CBD might help her manage generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

“We found CBD lotion, bought it, applied it to my grandmother’s legs, and she was pain free,” Allan said. “That’s when the lightbulb went off for me. I may have had a bad experience, but maybe I had tried the wrong kind of cannabis. My grandma was my lived experience seeing how cannabis can improve someone’s quality of life; that phytocannabinoid medicine could help.”

That personal experience sent Allan into a deep dive into CBD’s pain-relieving properties, including obtaining certification in cannabis business from Mount Aloysius College. The research around CBD and chronic pain is new but emerging: Promising studies have observed CBD’s impact on pain with low potential for abuse.

Similarly, CBD is known to modulate the impact of THC on the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), balancing out any potential anxiety responses like the one Allan felt when she first tried cannabis in college.  

After her grandmother’s passing, Allan said her interest in CBD took a back seat to her other passion: wine. She developed a professional interest in the alcohol industry, working as a bartender and later as a sommelier, with the eventual goal of transitioning into marketing for a brewery or distillery. Notably, she said, her family celebrated and encouraged these milestones in the alcohol industry.

“I still enjoy wine from time to time, but it’s a treat now – I approach it in a more mindful way,” Allan said. “I taste the wine, I taste the notes – it’s more of an experience.”

But then March 2020 and the global COVID-19 pandemic came. Allan was laid off from her job at a country club. She found a new job as a dispensary associate with Ethos. This opportunity reprioritized Allan’s interest in CBD and phytocannabinoid medicine in general. Shortly after, Allan registered for Pennsylvania’s medical program, the largest in the United States with more than 635,000 registered patients.

“Becoming a patient was the best way for me to fully explore how cannabis could help me manage anxiety,” Allan said. “In a dispensary, I felt more comfortable exploring THC products and evaluating how that impacted my routines. With CBD products outside the dispensary, the quality was always 50/50.”

Allan started out with a 1:1 THC:CBD tincture, then a 1:1 THC:CBD vape. She slowly built up her understanding of how cannabis products, phytocannabinoid ratios, and terpene profiles affected her mind and body – Allan is a powerlifter – as well as her tolerance for THC. 

Although Allan had embraced cannabis in a way her high school or college self could never imagine, there were two important people still not fully on board: her parents.

“When I applied to work at Ethos, I told my mom about a job at a dispensary – her immediate response was ‘a distillery?’ It took her a bit to fully understand,” Allan said. “My dad had a harder time understanding. He fully envisioned me coming out of the Mystery Machine wearing a tie-dye t-shirt.”

Slowly but surely, time has softened both their perspectives. To her parents’ surprise, Allan said, some of their friends and coworkers came out of the woodwork to share their own experiences with cannabis upon learning that their daughter worked at a dispensary.

“My mom was shocked how many people around her were consuming and not boldly advertising it,” Allan said. “With alcohol, you can say ‘I’m having my glass of wine, then I’m going to bed.’ You can’t just put it out on Facebook that you’re going to have a session with cannabis without anyone looking at you differently.”

To Allan, that experience is a signal that more people are ready to talk about cannabis and be more open about its normal, everyday role in their lives — but there’s still a long way to go.

“It takes having open conversations to help others feel more at ease with trying cannabis to see if it helps them,” Allan said. “You don’t need to wear the pot leaf t-shirt, but having these conversations is the first step to not getting side-eye and awkward silence when it comes up. A dispensary is not a haunted house — it’s just a regular store. That’s the sort of apprehension I want the world to move away from.”

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