Ep#52: Cannabis In Asian American Culture And Mental Health (ft/ Amanda Tran)

Amanda Tran
Find Amanda at :  https://www.linkedin.com/in/amandatranucla

In this episode, I speak with/talk to Amanda Tran after finding an interview she had with the Asian Americans for Cannabis Education. I became curious about her work with MedMen and the operations side of the cannabis industry. I resonated with her mission for social justice and mental health with cannabis as an Asian American woman.

Disclaimer** Cannabis can be used to enable better mental health, but it does Not replace formal therapy for serious medical conditions. If you are experiencing disabling thoughts, emotions, or behaviors, please seek professional help. The wellness applications of cannabis are still being researched. Please proceed consciously.

Some Quotes From Amanda In This Episode

Asian American Identity and Cannabis 

“I think culturally, being Asian American, we’re told not to break the rules or do whatever works for you. It’s more like look around, make adjustments, make sure you are a positive part of society.”

When it comes to weed and Asian American identity, we might look down on weed because there’s a sense of laziness or counterculture. A lot of times being Asian American means being identified as being model minorities. The message we hear is … do a good job, be an upstanding contributing member of society and listen to your elders. All these principles and Proverbs we live our lives based on. 

I think cannabis use can fit into some of the traditional values when it’s not being made to look like something only horrible criminals do. You realize that weed could be compared to tea. You know, for all the times that I’ve seen my elders sit around and have interesting thoughtful discussions over a cup of tea with fruit, I’ve kind of replicated that with weed. Whenever I have friends over, like, here’s a bowl. Here’s some water. Here’s some tea. Here’s some fruit. Hi, let’s catch up. How are you? 

For me my experience with cannabis has always been about that. It’s not about getting high. It has always been a way for me to connect, create community, and have deep meaningful conversations about how I’m feeling and what really matters.

Cannabis In Culture 

“I think weed used around the Bay Area is … associated with really great tech innovation and tech productivity.”

Growing up in California, I was blessed with good weed whether or not I went out and sought it. And eventually, I did go get a medical card. That was kind of intimidating at first. Like, Okay, here I go to obtain weed, right? …  nothing in life prepared me for this or told me that this is how you become an adult. But I knew that’s what worked for me because of the great exposure I had to weed around friends.

I think in a cultural context, cannabis is meant for connecting. Whether with yourself and doing something creative or having a conversation with someone. It’s not about antics.

This is really about dialogue and discussion and thoughts and ideas. When you limit discussion or you don’t have discussions, your thoughts and emotions can really get out of track and out of control. It’s hard to get a hold and grasp of, but for me, weed has always been associated with expression. 

Creating Awareness

“In order to exist within society, the way cannabis could exist, we’ll have to work with the authorities.”

Going back to the grassroots movements and history of weed. We’ve got to show that hey, For so many people all over the country cannabis is a positive thing. Something people do want around. 

Let’s listen to that. Let’s amplify that. Let’s collectively make that known through ballot measures, and through openness in our personal lives too.

I remember there was a time where I couldn’t imagine doing what I’m [currently] doing. I can’t believe I’m so comfortable posting about my weed use.

I try to imagine going back to high school. I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke weed. [I] didn’t do anything but go to school, go to sports practice, and do volunteer work. 

If you had told a 16yr old me, like, hey, the more open you are about using weed, the more you’re going to be progressing this thing that you really care about, which is weed. I would have been floored! I would have been, What in the world are you talking about?

There was a work I saw that made me feel pretty good about weed. It was a documentary that used to be available on Netflix. It’s called Culture High, and there are some really smart, articulate talking heads on there.

[The documentary]  got into the reasons why weed became restricted, and now sort of regulated the way that it is. It’s very political. There’s racism and classism at play.  The reasons that we don’t accept weed today are purely political and capitalistic. 

So I think what really helps me think about weed is making comparisons and contrasting it to other things that we do. I mentioned that I don’t drink coffee in the morning. It really just messes with me, making me bounce off the walls and  [feel]  completely unfocused. But weed is that morning coffee for me. It really is. A lot of people will talk about using weed at the end of the day or to go to bed. And that’s great too. But that’s not how I use it. I tend to use the strains that kind of get my morning going.

Debunking Misconceptions

“Cannabis is not like alcohol, which is really inhibiting. Weed has a way of giving value and credence to your thoughts and feelings. Alcohol takes off the filter.” 

We’re getting into behavioral neuroscience a little bit. So alcohol and other substances can remove the cognitive filter responsible for making rational judgments lowering the user’s inhibitions. This can have you making all kinds of decisions, right?

 I feel like cannabis has more to do with thoughts and feelings. It literally doesn’t affect your decision making faculties the way that alcohol affects your judgment. That’s why you cannot drink and drive. Or call your ex.

I think weed takes off your thoughts and feelings filter. It allows you to release the inhibitions you have about opening up emotionally and being vulnerable with how you feel. So if you’re feeling sad or angry, feel it. And that’s good. 

I mean, that is the single most powerful thing about psychology. [It’s] that in acknowledging your feeling, you’ve already addressed it more than halfway. Once you’re able to say, “I am sad or unhappy about this thing,” it has already been addressed. 

I think cannabis does that by allowing people to be in a space where they can process their feelings openly without that wall or filter up. This has the potential to really help people. More studies need to be done to research the impacts of Cannabis for treating mental illness. Sadly we can’t do that with cannabis being federally illegal. It bars a lot of research, which is a real shame, especially if it can help someone who is really struggling.

Cannabis Industry and Conception

“This is what it’s going to look like, this is what it’s going to feel like, and this is how we’re going to contribute to the community. These are the charitable things we’ll do. This is how we’ll keep it safe.”

Being the weed lover that I am, I knew that I needed to get into this industry. It’s brand new, and it’s being established. I want to make sure that it becomes an equitable, positive industry. Because, I mean, it’s a plant that’s supposed to be beneficial. 

The cannabis history is very grassroots driven. And I’m sure you also know the political reasons that weed became banned in the US is largely due to race. There’s a lot of social justice to be had with the cannabis industry

At the start of 2018, I jumped in and started working for a licensing and compliance firm. At this firm, I was a consultant, and I talked to so many different people who wanted to either start cannabis businesses or wanted to move their underground gray market cannabis business into the legal world.

I accomplished five commercial cannabis licenses. I put together these huge applications for some of the clients and submitted them to the cities to say, “Hey, this is the type of business we are drawing up. 

This is what it’s going to look like, this is what it’s going to feel like and this is how we’re going to contribute to the community. These are the charitable things we’ll do, this is how we’ll keep it safe. We’ll keep it away from schools.”

 So through the licensing and compliance firm, and through this work that I did, I really learned that in order for something to be legitimate and embraced, you have  to show and demonstrate that you have good intentions. 

This is a great time to be in the weed industry and talking about weed. It’s about intention and how we’re going to move forward as we continue trying to bring about legal regulated cannabis as opposed to cannabis from down the street. Who knows what happened before that cannabis got into your hand? 

 Now it’s time. We got the permit. We got the license. Let’s build on it and create this business that we promised to the community. This business is supposed to be a safe, legitimate, clean, cool business. 

Most recently, I worked for MedMen, a very large cannabis  company with presence across multiple states all over the US. MedMen are very much about access and normalization. MedMen retail stores are really pleasant, really easy to walk into. 

I remember thinking about the first time I stepped into a little weed shop before prop 64 with my little, you know, medical recommendation letter. I didn’t know what to expect. 

With really nice retail fronts and really clean presentation, people feel, “Okay, I can step in and look around just like any other shopping experience.” You just poke your head in, and it’s not too difficult. Chances are there’s going to be something that catches your eye or sounds appealing.

This is where the marketing and branding matters. I think just honestly feeling like it’s normal and accepted is what is going to help people get there. We don’t have to push. The product almost sells itself. 

 Sometimes I worry that big weed or commercial cannabis is just really being smoothed out a lot to make it accessible, but then losing that sense of uniqueness and counterculture. So there’s a little bit of a balance to strike. I want it to be accessible and easily understood, but also it’s meant to hopefully induce growth also.

I hope it doesn’t just become this really chill way to relax by the pool type of thing. That’s also kind of classist as well, right? Like, you hear interesting songs by black artists talking about weed and how they use it to cope with some really serious stuff. Then you see [cannabis] ads with bohemian, white luxurious settings.

Hopefully there’s room for everyone to understand and use weed towards growth, in addition to relaxation and enjoyment.

Resources:

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