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Melissa Etheridge is best known as a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, but lately she’s been making a name for herself as a fierce cannabis advocate. The mother of four has been smoking marijuana recreationally since she was 21 but didn’t learn of its medicinal benefits until years later when she was battling cancer. She’s been a proponent of the herb ever since.
“It seems that our society is kind of having a crisis of technology, a crisis in our belief in our own health, and that something outside of it is going to make us better,” Etheridge, 55, tells Yahoo as part of our special report, “Weed & the American Family.”
In 2004, Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer, and over the next year, she underwent a lumpectomy plus five rounds of chemo and radiation. It was then that she discovered cannabis as a medicinal aid thanks to singer and close friend David Crosby.
“I asked many of my friends [who had gone through chemo], ‘What’s the experience? What are you doing?’ And my friend David Crosby, he was the first one who said, ‘You know, Melissa, you have to do medicinal marijuana. You have to [try] cannabis. That’s the way to do it. It’s too hard otherwise,’” Etheridge recalls. Doctors initially tried to prescribe for her a steroid, a pain reliever — in total about “five, six pharmaceuticals” — but she declined.
“I’m like, ‘No, I’m going to go this natural way,’” she explains, laughing, “I’m gonna go with this one plant that [the] side effect is euphoria. I think I’m OK with that when I’m on chemo!”
This wasn’t Etheridge’s first encounter with weed, as she had smoked occasionally for fun, but “not regularly” since she was 21 years old. “I was not a drinker, and it was just my choice of relaxation,” she shares. However, after her first round of chemo, the activist’s view on marijuana was forever changed.
“It was a wake-up call for me,” she declares. “When I used it as medicine, it became so clear to me that it has been maligned and misunderstood, and I really wanted to help people who are suffering. I mean, going through chemotherapy is suffering… and cannabis helps so many parts of just that. That’s just the beginning of what it does medicinally.”
She continues, “I smoked to be normal. I smoked to be out of pain. I smoked to lighten myself because you’re poisoning yourself with chemo. It wasn’t about being high; it wasn’t at all anything like that. It was just being to a place where I could communicate with my children, to where I could get up, to where I could eat, where I didn’t have to go to the hospital. It was great medicine.”
Etheridge is cancer-free today, but she’s not cannabis-free.
“Let’s be clear, I’m still smoking,” she laughs. “Cannabis is a part of my life. When I started my new life with my new health, it was very important to me to maintain the healthful benefits that cannabis gave you.”
For the acclaimed singer, those benefits include easing stress, feeling balanced, getting a good night’s sleep… and having some killer date nights.
“Oh, cannabis is the best marital aid,” Etheridge notes. “It is good medicine for a relationship.”
Etheridge wed wife Linda Wallem in 2014 after four years of dating, but they have been friends for nearly two decades.
“Let’s get personal here,” Etheridge says. “There are certain strains [of weed] — you get a nice indica on a Friday night when it’s date night, and it takes down your inhibitions. Your sexual desires are enhanced. I recommend this for relationships.”
So when is it time to light up in the Etheridge-Wallem household?
“I would say normally right around when the kids are going to bed,” Etheridge reveals. “That’s sort of how it ends up. When the family’s there, once everybody gets to sleep, it’s our time. It’s Mama time… We take a bath every night and smoke, talk, wind down, and sleep a very, very good night’s sleep.”
Etheridge adds, “Now, when I don’t have my children — I share custody with my ex — that’s different. We’ll smoke before dinner, and we, you know, will enjoy that.”
The singer has four children from two prior relationships. She has daughter Bailey Jean, 20, and son Beckett, 18, with former partner Julie Cypher (both fathered by David Crosby). She’s also mother to 11-year-old twins, daughter Johnnie Rose and son Miller Steven, with ex Tammy Lynn Michaels (via anonymous sperm donor).
“My family, all four of my children, understand cannabis… they call it medicine,” she says. “I don’t smoke in front of them, but they have certainly walked in and caught me at times, you know, back in my porch and smoking… and they ask, ‘Is that cigarettes?’ And I have to be very, very clear with them that it’s not cigarettes. There’s a difference between cigarettes and cannabis. Yes, this is a smoke, but cannabis is medicine, and they completely understand cannabis is medicine. There’s no need to hide it. It’s normalized at home.
“My children completely take what I say as true… and when I hold [a joint] without shame or confusion, then they can understand it, as simple as if I was pointing to a bottle of Percocet and said, ‘That’s Mama’s medicine,’” she explains. “This is medicine, and they see an herb and they see that’s where my medicine is. I treat it just as any other medicine in the house, just as a bottle of vodka would be, you know, ‘This is for Mom; you don’t [try] this. When you’re grownups you can deal with that.’”
Etheridge’s two oldest kids, Bailey Jean and Beckett, have a clearer understanding of marijuana, given their age. They’ve even smoked with their mom.
“It was strange,” Etheridge laughs. “It was funny at first, and then they realized it’s very natural [at the] end of the day. It brings you closer. I’d much rather have a smoke with my grown kids than a drink.”
The musician firmly believes that if you take the naughtiness out of smoking, then it won’t be something kids will run to.
“There’s a funny thing that people take on, especially grownups, because of how we were raised with this stigma that cannabis is for hippies that wanna check out and drop out,” she notes. “My parents [said] that weed, that pot was the worst thing. They were drinking, but don’t you dare smoke that pot. I’m not judging that. That’s absolutely a path. Cannabis, in this go-getting world, is good medicine. We are turning to alcohol, we are turning to opioids… cannabis is the one that’s not gonna hurt your liver. It’s not gonna kill you. You overdose cannabis, you fall asleep!”
While eight states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for recreational use, more than half of the states have legalized medicinal use of it. However, Etheridge knows that shattering the stigma surrounding cannabis is still an uphill battle.
“The fear that surrounds cannabis comes from 70, 80 years of constant misinformation,” she states.
Etheridge got involved campaigning for the cannabis industry years ago and will be rolling out her own line of product from Etheridge Farms later this year. While her household is a modern, pro-cannabis American family, the Grammy winner hopes others will open their minds to the good that marijuana can bring.
“I would hope that in the future, 10 years from now, that there would be households that felt this was a holistic choice, or at the very least, not have a fear of what a plant medicine can do with your body and the benefits that you can have,” she muses. “Health is a civil right… I liken the cannabis revolution to the same-sex marriage because there was just so much fear involved. Cannabis is a resource. Cannabis is an alternative. It’s clear this medicine that is cannabis helps.”
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