Which sexual minority smokes the most weed? Score top marks if you said bisexual women.
That's one of the things Dr. Margaret Robinson talked about when she presented High/Functioning: Bisexual Women and Cannabis earlier in January at the Dalhousie Feminist Seminar Series. (The series, led by Erin "Notes From a Feminist Killjoy" Wunker, isn't always about weed. But the self-described "informal discussions about feminist scholarship at Dalhousie" are always worth checking out.)
In High/Functioning, Robinson—a bisexual, Two-Spirit scholar and assistant professor of Indigenous studies at Dalhousie—shared findings from her 2015 study, "The role of anxiety in bisexual women's use of cannabis in Canada." Robinson's study was based on information from a large Ontario study (where 92 bisexual women reported using weed in the past year), and also used qualitative data Robinson collected from 23 bisexual women in the Greater Toronto Area.
Throughout her lecture, Robinson reiterated the three main findings of her study: 1. Bisexual women use the most cannabis of any sexual minority. 2. The pot use definitely serves a function for these women and improves their quality of life. 3. Support to reduce cannabis dependency is lacking within their communities.
For the most part, the people she studied were not prescribed medical users. A few women in the large Ontario study had their MMJ card, but none of the Toronto residents in Robinson's smaller study had their license. In interviews and focus groups, Robinson had participants rate and discuss their experiences with PTSD, depression, internalized biphobia, how active participants are in the LGBTQ+ community, and how out to their families they are.
Compared to people who don't use weed, depression was found to be three times as prevalent in active cannabis users, who noted feeling symptoms such as exhaustion, overeating and trouble concentrating. In her lecture, Robinson paused to ruminate on the possible "directionality" between depression and frequent cannabis use, suggesting that the classic stoner traits of lethargy and binge-eating look a lot what Dwight Schrute calls "the fancy word for feeling bummed out." Are the side-effects of smoking weed making these women depressed?
Listening to Robinson, an explanation occurred to me that perhaps people who smoke cannabis become more tuned into their body and emotions, therefore can pinpoint depression and express what they're feeling more easily. I know many women who dedicate self-care rituals around their cannabis use, finding it easier to connect to their inner-selves when on a slightly higher frequency. Many certainly have anxiety and depression, but they use cannabis as a healing medicine to combat, alleviate and work with the symptoms. In Robinson's study, active users had lower scores when asked about suicide—making them less likely to take their own life—but that statistic was not unpacked within the lecture.
When I'm using weed as self-care medicine, I like being able to pick a strain that will give me the effects I'm looking for. At the lecture, someone asked Robinson what exactly the women in her study were smoking. She said that by and large, "they don't know what they're getting" when purchasing pot: "They know that there are such a thing as 'strains,' but these women were not using dispensaries, and did not feel comfortable going into any store [associated with] cannabis."
Robinson pointedly ensured diversity within the bisexual women interviewed, and I understood immediately that my ability to stroll in to National Access Cannabis, any dispensary in the city or have selected strains delivered to my apartment is extremely privileged. Many of the women interviewed will choose not to utilize the legal market; not everyone feels safe having the government record their cannabis consumption. Those who work in or choose to shop in the black market for personal reasons will have little benefit, or protection, come legalization.
Despite reporting higher rates of depression, active pot users in the study said they have significantly better social support networks, citing weed as a wonderful way to take the nerves out of socializing. There was also less internalized biphobia for the frequent smokers, and the speed at which they found confidence in their sexuality came swifter to these women as well—not the case in a study on queer men and cannabis use.
Functionality and ability to exist in one's own mind all topped the list of reasons bi women are getting high. "The idea of 'hamster brain' kept coming up in all conversations," Robinson said, making a circular motion with her hands. Racing thoughts and rapid worries are easily wrangled after a few puffs, and cannabis can transform an anxious brain back into a hospitable place to exist. The participants who smoke pot all had a focus on productivity and work ethic, and felt it extremely important to assert their ability to function "normally" when high.
Robinson is still deciding where the study will go come legalization in July. As for the question of why bi women are smoking the most weed of the sexual minorities, she restates they are doing so with a purpose: Functionality and relaxation. (And I can confirm. As a bi woman I love to embrace two seemingly opposing ideas.)
The soothing terpenes of cannabis may be particularly well-suited to easing the pressures of having an identity that is under-represented in the larger queer community. That's one theory, at least, a starting point for other radical academics to explore.
Send theories to Lucy LaPlante at firstname.lastname@example.org.