For Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month:

Let’s talk about weed, social issues, and feelings!

Photo Credit: Vernon Clements/ House of Weird Perfection

Let’s be real, everyone needs to be more educated on both the benefits and harms of cannabis, not to mention its impact on our mental/emotional wellbeing, the War on Drugs, social and economic equity, and the health of our planet.

But isn’t it interesting that the Asian community has such a huge stigma against cannabis even though hemp has been used as herbal medicine, fiber, and a food source for millennia in Asia

Today, there are a total of 36 US states that have at least legalized medicinal marijuana, which shows that there are benefits to having legal access to this plant. But being raised as that quiet, humble Asian American who’s been conditioned to stay away from all drugs, I would have never imagined myself being here to speak to such taboo topics today.

Engaging with cannabis has not only acted as a “gateway drug” to loving myself as I grip with Asian, American, and male identity, but writing and podcasting about cannabis and emotional health has connected me to so many inspiring stories about how this plant has changed lives. 

How much more generational healing might we witness if we learned about an educated, conscious use of cannabis? This is not just for Asians, humans needed this education yesterday.

The History Of Cannabis Dates Back To Asia

As far as we know, the earliest signs of cannabis were cultivated as hemp (cannabis’ plant cousin with less than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive component that gets you high) in Japan for its fiber and food source. China used hemp to make clothes, shoes, ropes, and paper. Early Indian texts refer to cannabis in Ayurvedic practices, a religious healing tradition that aided in physical and emotional ailments, difficult childbirths, arthritis, dysentery, and insomnia. Hemp is believed to have made it to Europe around 1200 BC and from there spread throughout the world to Iran, Iraq, France, Russia, Chile, and Spain.

Hemp was primarily used as the dominant textile plant until the invention of the mechanical cotton gin was introduced from America in the late 18th century. And in the 1930s, petroleum-based textile companies and the newspaper / lumber companies saw hemp as a threat to their businesses. With the help of the US Government, heavy tax laws were proposed on the distribution of hemp, with production later banned altogether.

Even more interesting is that after the Mexican Revolution, there was an influx of Mexican immigrants into southern US states. Along with their language, culture, and customs, Mexicans also brought cannabis, which they referred to as “marihuana.” Americans played into the fears of the “disruptive Mexicans” with dangerous behaviors, like smoking the “foreign” marihuana, even though Americans have been using cannabis for years. It gave authorities the power to then search, detain, or deport Mexican immigrants. 

The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the Controlled Substances Act in the 1970’s and President Nixon’s War on Drugs was also then used to control the Black population as well. Add in the National Immigration Act of 1965, and you have a complicated social mix that places affluent Asian immigrants under the “Model Minority” (while ignoring other Asian communities in poverty), creating a wedge between all minority groups and thus more susceptible to government control.

Following America’s lead, many Asian countries like Japan, China, Singapore, Malaysia, and South Korea now have some of the strictest anti-cannabis laws. Culturally, Asian parents all over the world will beat you with their shoes if they find out you smoke weed. 

Today, many humans are suffering from not only physical health issues, but mental health issues like depression, anxiety, work burnout, and loneliness as well. Of course, cannabis is not meant to be the magical cure-all for all of these things, but it has already shown significant medicinal value for millions of self-medicating patients. And there’s even more potential to heal the Asian community with conscious cannabis use as well.

Demonization Of Cannabis And Mental Health In Asian Communities

When was the first time you spoke to your Asian parents about weed? How about your mental or emotional health? If you haven’t at all, you’re not alone. According to Mental Health America, Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are 3 times less likely to work with a mental health professional than their white counterparts.

This is the unfortunate reality we’ve found ourselves in, where we have to hide our pains and struggles, as well as the tools we use to cope with them.

The mental health issues negatively associated with cannabis is a consequence of the lack of education and legal research available. No one ever taught us how to use this medicine properly! Because it was banned during a crucial time of scientific discovery, researchers missed out on the permission and resources to conduct studies on the pros and cons of the plant, even to this day.

The reputation of cannabis was then associated with illegal activity from lower-income people of color with behavioral issues. Seeking mental health services is a privilege because of the exorbitant fees. Because of that, lower income groups turn to cannabis as a cheaper coping mechanism. These “patients” with unaddressed mental health issues who were consuming cannabis products were then seen as a problematic group, even if they needed cannabis to ease their physical and emotional pains.

Thus, the stigma of the “Devil’s Lettuce” that makes you violent or insane, was solidified. Later on, as the effects of cannabis were observed, people started labeling cannabis consumers as lazy. The side effects of some canna-products sometimes included being “couch locked” and a loss of focus, which were negative in the eyes of employers and concerned family members. 

Photo Credit: Onward Content

Growing up with Asian immigrants, I absorbed the whole narrative that cannabis was bad, as well as the racial biases against Black and Mexican people. I never felt safe enough to talk about any of it, not racism, not mental health, definitely not cannabis.

Because of that, I felt alone and over-sheltered. I hit a quarter-life crisis in my late twenties when all of my repressed negative emotions no longer had anywhere to go but out to my romantic partners and coworkers. With that prolonged frustration, I felt apathetic about my career, about dating, about my creative hobbies.

Luckily, I had the foresight that I could not continue passively living life for too long. That’s when I found meditation.

The Western Appropriation Of Eastern Mindfulness Practices

When the shelter-in-place orders came into effect in 2020, I was sad to see the communities around me falter with deaths, illnesses, and loss of financial stability. For so long, I didn’t know what to do to help, let alone help myself as a small business owner.

The year before, I had left my cushy corporate tech job to try my hand at entrepreneurship. And that also brought financial instability, loneliness, and debilitating stress. In isolation, I was already battling all of my anxious thoughts of where my income was going to come from, what soul-aligned value would I provide to the world, what meaning did my work have? Will I ever find love?

In a sense, I was prepared (as much as anyone could during an unprecedented global pandemic). And what helped me most was dedicating a few minutes to an hour of uninterrupted time with my thoughts and emotions every week.

As I created my own practice, I found connection with other communities. I felt less alone. But what was interesting was that there were only one or two others that looked like me in these spaces. It made me question, Why are all these eastern practices like meditation, yoga, and ritualistic cannabis full of white people? Isn’t it interesting that western society has adopted these wellness practices as a sign of affluence?

How many people of color do you see owning and running a yoga studio? Most likely a very small percentage.

Unfortunately, it’s reached a point where many people of color have a stigma against these wellness practices as “hobbies for the rich.” Otherwise, it’s become too cheesy and far into the clouds for many of us while we’re still focused on surviving, protecting our families, and putting food on the table.

Now, many more Americans are forced into survival mode. That leaves less space for these ethereal concepts of our higher self and purpose. As the world continues to search for win-win solutions, can Asian Americans, meditation, and cannabis be a key to bridging the gap? Can we reclaim our eastern traditions to help our western families?

Why Asian Americans May Have A Unique Opportunity

Obviously, one ethnic group with super meditation powers and mind-altering compounds can’t fix everything on their own. This is going to require a collaborative effort from all people, not just Asians. But we do have a unique advantage having a mix of both western and eastern traditions.

So if there’s any part of you that’s tired of seeing any or all of the issues brought up here, it’s time to ask yourself – is merely surviving enough anymore?

Find Community With Conscious AAPI For Cannabis

I’m a co-admin for a Facebook Group where we offer group cannabis meditation sessions for the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) community.

Deepen your relationship with cannabis and other Asian-identifying here!

It’s ironic to call myself a cannabis wellness and emotional fitness coach because I grew up ignorant of the benefits of both. But using cannabis to intentionally improve my emotional wellbeing, I’ve seen myself transform from a shy, insecure, reserved kid to someone who’s full of gratitude for the freedom and confidence I now have in my life, career, and relationships. I write about how cannabis and mindfulness meditation has been crucial for both my development as a leader and educator professionally, as well as personally redefining my masculinity, cultural identity, creativity, and success.

Written by: Victor Ung

Edited by: Veronica Castillo

Sponsored by:

Herb of Life Cultivation, LLC

Korasana (with partner Zero Point Extractions)

Peacock/ Wunderkind CBD

The Botanical Joint

Portland Ashwagandha Farm 

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Thank you all for supporting the mission of this blog by taking care of the Writers! With your support, we are able to educate, inform, connect, and break stigmas. Cannabis builds community, and we are grateful to you all for being a part of ours! Please visit our sponsors! Collectively, they compensate the Writers for their contributions to this blog.