The Really High Housewives of MetroWest Boston

Out with the chardonnay, in with the gummies—why a new generation of Greater Boston parents are choosing cannabis to cope.

Illustration by Comrade

Of the gazillion times as a parent that I’ve looked around and thought, Everybody else is doing this better than I am, one moment comes easily to mind. I was at my 10-year-old daughter’s strings concert a few years ago, perched on a metal folding chair beside a hundred other eager moms and dads. Yet instead of enjoying the sweet, tentative sounds of Beethoven and Bach emanating from the stage, I kept sneaking glances at my phone, worried whether I’d get out in time to pick up my twin boys from basketball practice, if I had enough deli meat left to make the kids’ lunches, and whether I’d remembered to let the dog in before I’d left the house.

When I noticed a slender brunette a couple of rows in front of me beaming at the stage, blissed out to the music, I couldn’t help but stare. How was this woman fully embracing the moment? I wondered, while I practically had one foot out the door, ready to tackle the next bullet point on my seemingly never-ending to-do list. Later, when a mutual friend revealed that this mother of two and her inner circle were “cannamoms”—a term for mothers who regularly use recreational cannabis—I felt vindicated. No wonder she was so freakin’ happy. But my smugness soon faded, replaced by a vague sense of jealousy as I recalled the woman’s beatific smile: Could she be on to something? I wondered.

Turns out, she was: Ever since recreational marijuana became legal in Massachusetts in 2016, I’ve watched with fascination as cannabis dispensaries have popped up on seemingly every street corner. Roughly 250 shops now sell everything from flower to concentrates to edibles, and recreational sales have topped $4 billion in revenue since November 2018. But if you’re picturing a bunch of dudes sprawled on a couch eating chips and playing video games in a thick cloud of smoke, think again: By 2020, women were the fastest growing group of new cannabis consumers, increasing year-over-year sales by 43 percent, according to a report by the cannabis analytics firm Headset. Today, women are firmly holding 34 percent of the total market. “The future of cannabis is female,” Bethany Gomez, managing director at Brightfield Group, a cannabis market research agency, told NBC News. And increasingly, it seems, more and more of those women are mothers.

I’m seeing it in my own community in the leafy suburbs west of Boston: Cannabis gummies have become as ubiquitous as Lululemon leggings and UppaBaby strollers, particularly among millennial mothers in their thirties and early forties. Moms are popping edibles as they’re folding laundry in the evening, before heading to back-to-school night, and during Friday-afternoon playdates. They’re setting up elaborate home bars decked out with cannabis-infused drinks and bowls of colorful gummies and hosting Cannabis & Crafts nights. It’s a whole new world out there, with nary a bottle of rosé in sight.

How did we get from “wine moms” to “weed moms”? Obviously, the legalization of cannabis has been a key factor, leading to increased accessibility and acceptability. But we also need to take a hard look at the relentless nature of modern parenting, which is pretty much the opposite of how many of us were raised. Today’s parents are deeply involved in nearly every aspect of their children’s lives, whether it’s scheduling playdates and driving their kids to sports practices, music lessons, and math tutors every afternoon, or sitting beside them nightly to help with homework. On weekends, they’re hosting Instagram-worthy birthday parties and going to all of their kids’ soccer, baseball, and basketball games—sometimes out-of-state—with sliced oranges in tow.

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In other words, we spend way more time actually caring for our children than our own parents ever did—in hopes that this highly involved approach will maximize our child’s chances of future success. But at what cost? Parents are exhausted and stressed out. Is it any wonder mothers—who still take on the majority of childcare responsibilities—need something to take the edge off at the end of a long day?

That “something” used to be alcohol. Once upon a time, my friends and I enthusiastically embraced wine-mom culture, hosting happy-hour playdates with juice boxes, Goldfish, and chardonnay. We’d giggle knowingly at memes like “Oops, did I buy wine instead of milk again?” and dab at our faces with cocktail napkins inscribed with, “Shh, it’s my turn to wine.” Mommy juice helped us cope with the stresses of parenting—but only just.

Then the pandemic hit, and our carefully crafted façades crumbled. Suddenly, our children and spouses were home with us 24/7, and our worlds were turned upside down. We were homeschooling, working, and trying to hold it all together. It wasn’t long before Wine Wednesdays were preceded by Margarita Mondays and Boozeday Tuesdays—followed by Thirsty Thursdays. Gathering for drinks around a fire pit, bundled up in winter parkas and boots, gave us something to look forward to during that particularly bleak period.

About two years in, though, we began to feel pickled. Even one glass of wine gave me a headache or interrupted my sleep—and I wasn’t alone. Some of my friends were also begging off a second pour—it just wasn’t worth feeling like crap the next day. That’s when I first heard of cannabis gummies making the rounds in my cloistered suburban enclave. Word on the oak-lined street was that it gave you a nice buzz without the unpleasant side effects. Better yet, you could still carry out your duties as a parent—say, watching your daughter’s strings concert—and enjoy it a hell of a lot more than you would have otherwise.

That sounded enticing, but as someone who grew up in the 1980s with Nancy Reagan telling me to “Just say no” to drugs, I’d need a little extra push to convince me to give cannabis a go. Luckily, I didn’t have to look too far.

Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Why do so many women—all highly motivated, educated professionals juggling motherhood and careers—believe in the transformative powers of cannabis? Just ask Liz, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, a Boston mother of three who’s been using cannabis with her husband since the start of the pandemic. “Life just truly feels a little easier, better, lighter,” after a gummy, she says.

When I ask Liz what a cannabis high feels like for her, she compares it to the buzz she gets from a cocktail. “I’m relaxed and socially engaged and still highly functioning,” she explains. Liz tells me she started taking gummies a few years ago when she realized alcohol didn’t agree with her: She’d sleep poorly and have low energy and less patience with her kids the next day. Whereas with gummies, she could still get up at 6 a.m. to exercise without experiencing an “unpleasant fog.”

Liz says she knows plenty of moms who use it more often than she does—in lieu of a glass of wine at a playdate, for example—but among her friends, it’s mainly reserved for weekend gatherings. “Someone typically brings out a box and asks if you’d like one—the same way they’d ask if they can make you a cocktail,” she says. “It’s become normalized.”

Kate, who also asked to remain anonymous, is a former college athlete and agrees that cannabis no longer feels “taboo.” The first time she tried a gummy, “it was just wonderful,” she says. The self-dubbed “100 percent type A” mother found herself less wound-up and more relaxed with her two children. And she appreciates that she’s not drinking in front of her kids. At a Fourth of July gathering, Kate split a gummy with her close friend as the children ran around the yard. “I still have all my wits about me,” she says. “I can still tend to a boo-boo or take a kid to the bathroom.” Cannabis, she explains, is “the perfect balance…it doesn’t make me hung-over, and it doesn’t make me feel full and gross. It’s been a good fix for me.”

Of course, there are people who think otherwise, including members of the advocacy group Parents Opposed to Pot, whose goal is “bursting the bubble of marijuana hype” and educating people about the dangers of cannabis use. Among other criticisms, the organization points out that it is the substance of abuse most commonly connected to child abuse deaths. And yet, I’ve had trouble finding tales of impaired parents making poor choices. The closest I came is a friend’s story of a mom she knew who was certain she’d hidden her edibles in a place her children were least likely to look—until she walked into her bedroom one day to find her young son scaling the shelves of her husband’s closet, reaching for a box labeled “belts” at the top. Horrified, she ran over and pulled the boy down before he opened the box and revealed their secret stash. With what-ifs flooding her mind, the shaken woman shared her cautionary tale at a gathering of close friends, adding with bewilderment, “His pants don’t even have belt loops.” (No doubt all of those women went home that evening and reassessed their own hiding spots.)

Despite incidents like this, though, more than half of parents who use cannabis believe it makes them better parents, according to a 2021 study conducted by the Harris Poll. At first, I wondered whether this was simply a way to justify the indulgence and neutralize the associated guilt. Yet I kept hearing from mothers who told me that cannabis allowed them to be more present with their children and to enjoy the small moments instead of stressing about what they were making for dinner, for instance, and whether their kids would actually eat it. One MetroWest mom told me she has a go-with-the-flow attitude after taking an edible—and finds that her creativity really blossoms when she’s playing with her daughter. “I was able to come up with things for us to do that maybe an anxious mind would have blocked me from doing,” she says.

Then there are the women who’ve turned to cannabis for its purported health benefits. Kim (not her real name), a Wayland mother of two, started drinking cannabis-infused seltzers instead of wine as a way to cut down on calories. Her drink of choice—a lemon-lavender tonic by Cann infused with 2 milligrams of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, a.k.a. the active ingredient in cannabis) and 4 milligrams of CBD (cannabidiol)—has only 30 calories in an 8-ounce serving. “You get a little bit of a buzz and a high, but you’re not dancing on tables like you might with alcohol. It’s a calm feeling.” Recently Kim has noticed more of her peers switching from wine to cannabis after recognizing the damage alcohol can do to their minds, bodies, and moods.

While drinking alcohol has always been considered a socially acceptable coping mechanism, there’s growing evidence that it’s not healthy for women. In addition to the negative effects that Kim and her friends noticed, physicians correlate heavy alcohol use with liver disease, multiple types of cancer, heart damage, and cognitive issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Curious whether cannabis is truly a healthier alternative to booze, I reached out to Peter Grinspoon, a primary care physician and cannabis specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. I asked Grinspoon, the author of Seeing Through the Smoke: A Cannabis Specialist Untangles the Truth about Marijuana, straight out: “Is cannabis a healthier option than having a couple of glasses of red wine?”

“Yes,” he says, “in almost all cases, that’s absolutely true. It’s certainly less addictive and less damaging.” He calls cannabis the “more sensible option.” Grinspoon says he’s not surprised that women are switching from wine to cannabis now that it’s legal and they have another option to help them relax. “In a perfect world, we’d all eat tofu, do yoga, meditate, and be perfectly harmonious,” he says, “but in reality, most people need something [stronger].” He’s seen an uptick in female patients who are suffering from anxiety or depression and haven’t responded to typical psychotropic medications. They’re finding relief from cannabis.

He cautions that it’s not safe for everyone—among them, teenagers, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and anyone with a history of psychosis or a family history of schizophrenia. Doctors don’t necessarily recommend smoking cannabis, because it can irritate your lungs, but unlike cigarettes, Grinspoon says, it hasn’t been associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or lung cancer, though it has been associated with chronic bronchitis.

Remembering the potheads and burnouts from my high school days, I asked if you can become addicted to cannabis. Yes, he admits—people “get stuck, like they’re smoking their life away, and it’s interfering with their life goals. You certainly see that, but not as often and not as gruesomely as they can with opiates.” He emphasizes that the rates of addiction to cannabis are much lower than with alcohol and tobacco. He also debunks the myth that women are more susceptible to addiction to cannabis. Women tend to use it for anxiety, he says, “and to my understanding, they’re using it by and large quite successfully” when dosed correctly.

What’s more, Grinspoon takes issue with the stigma around women using cannabis—by society and the medical community. Psychiatrists, he says, largely believe that there are no psychiatric conditions that benefit from cannabis and that it makes anxiety and depression worse. He calls that information “outdated” and sees a huge disconnect between the lived experiences of patients and the professed position of psychiatrists. “It’s like a hangover from the War on Drugs,” he says. “Millions of people use cannabis with benefits and without any problems.”

As for women taking edibles, “Why make them feel bad…if it’s a natural plant-based medicine that helps them relax a little bit and connect with their kids and focus and let go of all the things that are burdening them? That’s a good thing.” He pauses for a minute before adding, “Most doctors have been taught to think this is heresy.” But in 10 years, he tells me, “Everyone’s going to agree with this.”

“In a perfect world, we’d all eat tofu, do yoga, meditate, and be perfectly harmonious,” says Peter Grinspoon, a cannabis specialist at Mass General. “But in reality, most people need something stronger.”

Joyce Gerber is already a believer. The founder, creator, and host of the Canna Mom Show, a Cambridge-produced podcast that showcases female entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry, Gerber has made it her mission to introduce women—particularly mothers—to the wonders of cannabis. As such, she regularly invites women to join her at dispensaries throughout Boston to show them the ropes and has hosted a Cannabis & Crafts night to demonstrate the options (alas, no one crafted, she says, but fun was had).

Gerber is thrilled that this male-dominated industry is finally catching on to the fact that women are the future of cannabis: “Women of a certain age know the least amount about cannabis and have money to spend,” she asserts. And companies have been more than happy to fill that knowledge void, positioning cannabis as a self-care product and focusing on health and wellness in hopes of capturing an untapped (and potentially quite lucrative) market of professional women. Even Goop founder, Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow, has climbed aboard the ganja train, investing in a cannabis-infused beverage company and calling cannabis the “hero ingredient of the future.”

The “pinkification” of cannabis marketing also means emphasizing cannabis’s ability to help women slow down, find balance, tune in, and relax (plus sleep more soundly and have better sex!). As a result, packaging has become more feminine and upscale, featuring sophisticated colors and designs and clear labeling (bye-bye, cheap plastic baggies and sexually suggestive imagery). “There are enough women who have money, resources, and power that we can build an industry that is different,” says Gerber, a 57-year-old lawyer and former PTA mom who says she was the least likely in her high school to be a cannamom. “I grew up in the era where I believed it was bad for your brain. I thought it made you go crazy and jump off a roof.”

I laugh and tell her, “Me too.” As a middle-schooler in the mid-1980s, I was haunted by the anti-drug PSAs. To this day, one of my favorite retorts is, “I learned it from you, Dad.”

“We were all told this, and it’s hard to change what we were told to believe,” Gerber says. “The narrative that was given to us was intentional and malicious, really. We are changing the conversation.” Gerber hopes people will see her, garbed in a fitted blazer and pearls, and think, “She’s not what I thought a cannabis user would look like.”

Gerber’s cannabis awakening occurred in 2016 when she and her husband toured a dispensary and grow facility on a whim while on vacation in Colorado. After researching cannabis laws, she got involved with a cannabis podcast media company, and in 2019, the Canna Mom Show was born.

Her goal is to crush the stigma around cannabis and caregivers, recalling her own experience working as a lawyer and mothering two small children. “I actually feel bad that I didn’t use [cannabis] when the kids were little, because I would have been much less stressed.” The crazy part, she says, is that it was okay to stop and get a drink with coworkers before picking up the kids at daycare, but “if I lit up a joint, I’d have arrested myself,” she jokes.

She believes cannabis is the answer for type A women like herself. “The idea that one human being is going to be a superstar at work and raise beautiful children and keep her marriage together and look good—I don’t know if it’s possible to do everything at once. We did it, but we didn’t feel like we were good enough,” Gerber says. She’s thrilled that moms are normalizing what she calls “plant medicine” and that this first generation of pioneering women is really talking about it openly.

Wayland mother Sarah Patel is one of those pioneering women who’s figured out that there’s a market for women-centered cannabis products. This past July, she launched a new cannabis beverage called Kelia. It’s a noncarbonated, low-calorie drink made with natural botanicals and juices in three flavors: grapefruit-ginger, pineapple-jalapeño, and watermelon-coconut. Infused with varying degrees of THC, the drinks have wellness properties aimed at boosting metabolism, immunity, and hydration, respectively.

Patel started smoking pot when she was in her teens for the euphoric effect. But after her daughter was born, she realized that it was helping quell her anxiety more than anything else, acknowledging that women often suffer from low self-esteem and body issues. “There’s this voice in my head that says, ‘You aren’t smart enough, you aren’t pretty enough’—and that voice really just quieted after taking [cannabis]…I wanted to give women especially a way to experience that very relaxing, very calming effect that cannabis gave me.”

Patel observed that women tend to socialize over drinks, which is where the idea of a cannabis-infused beverage came from. Aware that smoking can be intimidating for some women, she developed a juice-based drink that you can sip slowly, as you would a glass of wine so that you can see how you feel before having more. “You want to have something in your hand,” she says. Kelia provides that focal point—and the buzz—that water or a mocktail doesn’t. Patel consciously designed Kelia’s can with a mother’s eye for detail: minimalist, sleek, and mature-looking so her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter won’t mistake it for juice.

As a female business owner, Patel is committed to educating women on the benefits of cannabis. “There are a lot of things we deal with that can really take a toll on us…and we’re still expected to come home and be a mom and be a wife and be so many things to so many people. This beverage means: Take care of yourself also.”

Illustration by Zohar Lazar

So where does this leave me as I contemplate joining the ranks of MetroWest cannamoms? On my way to Union Twist Cannabis Co. dispensary in Framingham, actually. I’m meeting Gerber, who wants to show me how far the industry has come from the days of back-alley exchanges of dime bags of weed. Before I even arrive, though, it’s clear we’re in a different world altogether after I make a quick stop at Whole Foods—only to discover that Union Twist is right across the street. I’m delighted to know that I can get my organic raspberries and weed on the same outing.

By 10 a.m., there’s already a line behind the nondescript building, and Gerber tells me to have my identification at the ready. “If it was as hard to get into a gun shop as it is a cannabis dispensary, the world would be a much safer place,” she says wryly. We enter a clean, bright foyer that looks like a spa, with wooden benches and large, colorful paintings on the walls. A man sitting behind a glass panel at a desk greets us amiably and runs our licenses through an authenticator. I note that he’s watching a cooking show on a large television screen. Nothing about this experience so far is what I had imagined. He remotely unlocks a second door, and we walk through to see another glassed-in counter with three registers, each staffed by an employee. A few products are tastefully displayed by brand around the room, and a list of additional products and their contents and prices scrolls on several monitors.

It’s completely overwhelming to someone who has no idea what she’s looking at or what the words even mean: pre-rolls, vapes, concentrates, tinctures. It’s like learning another language, and really, the only way to do that is through full immersion. In the meantime, the men (and I say “men” because that’s all I saw) behind the counter are there to guide me. They’re so laid-back (natch!) that I secretly wish every clerk in Boston were as chill as if they had taken a hit before work. They happily offer advice and educate me on all of the products—of which they seem personally familiar.

Gerber purchases something called “Ice Cream Cake,” a hybrid strain that purports to be a relaxant and has a sweet, sugary aroma and creamy vanilla flavor. Later, she says she’ll put it into her one-hitter pipe, a little cylindrical device that holds a small amount of the flower, and smoke it.

She hands the clerk her ID again, plus a few bills, and I’m reminded that this is a cash- or debit-card-only business (since credit card companies and banks want to distance themselves from cannabis, which is federally illegal). A tip jar and hand sanitizer rest beside the windowsill. It’s so, well, normalized. Gerber tells me that the product you get from a dispensary is highly tested and highly regulated, and that’s what makes it so expensive—and why some people still turn to the illicit market.

Theres now little doubt in my mind that cannabis is beneficial for the women who are using it—whether it’s helping to relieve stress and anxiety, making them more present with their children, or allowing them to sleep more soundly.

It’s such a high-brow experience that when I leave, I’m surprised to see two customers squatting on the curb out front, smoking as cars whiz by on Route 9. The scene feels out of place with what I’ve just observed inside. But it’s a subtle reminder that any kind of legalized vice comes with some negatives.

I arrive home empty-handed from the dispensary, slightly disappointed in myself. I just couldn’t get Nancy Reagan’s voice out of my head long enough to pull the trigger. But over the past few months, I’ve gone from being mildly opposed to cannabis to becoming a believer. There’s little doubt in my mind that cannabis is beneficial for the women who are using it—whether it’s helping to relieve stress and anxiety, making them more present with their children, or allowing them to sleep more soundly. And it’s certainly healthier than alcohol, with fewer negative side effects. Cannabis lets most people be chill: happy, laid-back, and social. What’s not to appreciate about that?

At my monthly book-club gathering a few weeks after my outing with Gerber, I tell the host about this article and how I’m considering giving cannabis a try. She interrupts me to say, “I’ve got some upstairs. Should we do it together?”

I hesitate for only a split second before responding, “Yes!”

A Beginner’s Guide to Weed

If the last time you tried pot was in the beer-soaked basement of a college fraternity house, you’re in for a pleasant surprise: With the legalization of recreational cannabis in 2016, the whole experience has become quite civilized (heck, it’s not even referred to as “marijuana” anymore). Despite the drug’s newfound legitimacy, though, it can still be intimidating to walk into a dispensary for the first time. Here are a few pointers on where to go and what to buy.

Find Your Place

The Cannabis Control Commission (masscannabiscontrol.com) publishes a list of licensed dispensaries on its website. Once you locate a few nearby, ask around for recommendations and read online reviews, noting the quality and breadth of products, plus the staff’s knowledge of what they are selling. The dispensaries’ websites should also give you a good feel for the company and its approach to selling cannabis, plus offer a photo preview.

Bring Your ID

Make sure you have cash or a debit card and an official form of identification with you. You’ll need to show it at the entrance and again when you make a purchase.

Be Curious

Explain to the budtenders what you’re looking for—whether it’s relaxation, focus, better sleep, or pain relief—and ask for advice. They’ve often tried many of the offerings and can guide you toward products that address your needs.

Start Low

The simplest options to start with are the edibles and cannabis-infused drinks (which, by Massachusetts state law, can contain only up to 5 milligrams of THC per serving) because there’s no need for additional smoking implements. But be sure to “start low, go slow,” says Peter Grinspoon, a cannabis specialist at Mass General. “The easiest way to get in trouble with cannabis is to take too much,” which can make you feel self-conscious and anxious. He recommends trying half of a gummy the first time. And wait until you start to feel the effect—which could take multiple hours—before consuming more.

Set the Scene

Seasoned cannabis users recommend trying it for the first time in a comfortable, relaxed environment with people you know and trust.

Photo courtesy of My Bud Vase

High Design

Elevate your smoking experience with these cannabis accessories designed by women for women.

My Bud Vase founder Doreen Sullivan transforms glass and ceramic vases into bongs that are beautiful, functional, and inconspicuous. mybudvase.com.

Tired of utilitarian pipes, prop stylist Jenny Wichman of New York–based Yew Yew designs glass smoking implements that can “proudly live on a countertop.” yewyewshop.com.

Known for vintage-inspired clutches inspired by her love of midcentury style, Edie Parker founder Brett Heyman created a line of burn clutches and other accessories, such as handblown glass pipes in the shape of fruits and flowers. edie-parker.com.

L.A.–based entrepreneur Angela Mou’s Elevate Jane is a contemporary smoke shop that specializes in modern functional art pieces, among them bongs, pipes, and ashtrays, that are meant to be displayed. elevatejane.com.

Kristina Lopez Adduci of New York’s House of Puff wants you to think about each of her pieces as “your own little work of art”—whether it’s a handblown glass tamping stick and matching cigarette holder, or a hemp wick holder and ashtray. houseofpuff.com.

First published in the print edition of the August 2023 issue with the headline “The Really High Housewives of MetroWest.”