By Sophia Bruun
Dr. Jan Roberts is affectionately known as “Dr. Weed Lady” (@drweedlady) across her social media platforms. Dr. Roberts, LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) helps thousands of patients improve their mental health. Her practice includes the therapeutic use of cannabis. As a New York University (NYU) researcher and instructor, Dr. Roberts teaches and mentors the future generations of clinicians on the therapeutic uses of cannabis.
Dr. Roberts is an entrepreneur and activist. In addition, she is a founder of nonprofit and for-profit health organizations. For example, one is the International Research Center on Cannabis and Health. Each organization she connects with champion facts and science. That is, the scientifically-driven incorporation of cannabis into accessible and holistic health and wellness practices. Dr. Roberts is also the co-host of podcast New Hemp Times. Dr. Weed Lady is also busy with her recent creation of a private equity fund, Madison Square Partners.
Virago means “female warrior” and “nasty woman.” This double play-on-words highlights the multidimensional nature of the feminine spirit. “We are both sides of that,” says the weed lady. “Why do I have to play the good girl? You need your shadow side and your light side.”
As the boss of her own company, Dr. Roberts continues to fight uphill battles. “I’ve been in conversations where it’s hard for me to get a word in.” In such instances, Roberts boldly asserts the nasty woman within. “That’s how I protect myself,” she tells Honeysuckle. And, links her present goal to the past.
“Virago means female empowerment. I’ve been a single mom, on Medicaid, in need of food-stamps. I’ve made a lot of money. And, I’ve lost a lot of money.” She has been there. She says, “Whatever act you’re in, be the best at that act.”
A Female Warrior with Two Master’s Degrees
Hailing from the small town of Saraland, Alabama, Dr. Roberts was the first in her family to attend college. Her background includes earning two Master’s degrees, raising three children, and as a single parent. She is also founder of one of the largest mental health private practices on the East coast: Partners in Health and Wellbeing.
After all of those accomplishments, she follows her dream to Manhattan where she pursues a doctorate at NYU Silver School of Social Work. While earning that doctorate, Roberts discovers her heart’s calling. Her road leads her to the intersection of cannabis and wellness. The “ah-ha” moment – her turning point – is a shingles-induced discovery of the medical efficacy of CBD edibles. “Using cannabis medicinally changed the way I saw everything,” Dr. Roberts recalls in an exclusive interview with Honey Pot Senior Editor, Keyanah Nurse.
Traditionally, mental health clinicians’ training includes studying cannabis pathologically. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and National Institutes of Health Research (NIH), for example, receives funding for researching details of the problematic use of cannabis. The sole goal of these studies is to examine pathological use rather than therapeutic use. As Dr. Roberts dug deeper into her research on and experimentation with the plant while earning her doctorate, she could no longer accept the stigma around cannabis in the mental health field. “We were robbed of a medicine because of racism.” Her bottom line: “We need to change the way we think about cannabis.”
Dr. Roberts combats misinformation around cannabis through consulting, education, and science-based research and development. In 2017, she co-founded the International Research Center of Cannabinoids and Health (IRCCH) with Jahan Marcu, Ph.D. Through the IRCCH, Dr. Roberts conducted a pilot study to evaluate clinicians’ attitudes and knowledge of cannabis. Findings illuminated the inconsistent standards of qualifying abuse. “In the clinical realm we need to be better at knowing what abuse is and what abuse isn’t,” she explains, citing the approach she takes with her patients in therapy, “If I have a client who wants to smoke weed all day and do nothing, that worries me.”
However, when appropriately used, Dr. Roberts views cannabis as “a gateway to wellness and wellbeing.” She encourages patients to take the legal route to secure a safe, regulated product. Holding her own medical cannabis card, Dr. Roberts experiences the plant as a spiritual tool that breaks down barriers while deepening awareness and insight. Understanding the multitude of health benefits and the profound mind-body connection that cannabis can bring, Dr. Roberts is highly motivated to develop this industry responsibly to reach its full potential.
Cannabinoid Receptors in Women
Given that the uterus contains more cannabinoid receptors than any other organ in the body, women’s health and cannabis research go hand-in-hand. Through affiliation with Northeastern University and their Center for Drug Discovery, Dr. Virago’s research team will explore the relationship between hormonal regulation and cannabinoids. Look for two cannabis-based medicinal products, treating vulvodynia and vaginismus, set to launch in 2021. Dr. Virago’s long-term goal is to provide gynecological treatments for every woman at all stages of her life cycle.
As Dr. Roberts passionately explained, “We want to create products that can even work through post-menopause. Our products are not just for sexual pleasure. They’re actually for sexual healing, physiological healing. They’re really about harnessing the endocannabinoid system to make your body work more in commune with nature.” But, it’s not just about the products. “Dr. Virago is a statement about women taking control of their lives, including their bodies and their roles as women; it’s time to bring to light the issues that face women so we can be treated equally in the marketplace and the healthcare space. Being a women-owned and led business is critical right now more than anything. We need diversity of perspective on what it’s like to be a woman, and my goal is to develop a brand that is consistent with female wellness and empowerment across the lifetime locally and globally.”
Feminism and Activism
Reflecting on what this brand means to her, Dr. Roberts struggles to find words: “As a feminist, I grew up in a time when…” she pauses, “I almost lost my scholarship, stipend, and health insurance when I was in graduate school because I was pregnant and had to go on bed rest due to preterm labor.” While conditions keep improving, women continue to fight exclusion from research. “As a woman, I didn’t know anything about my body and how it works,” she continues. Thus, she aims to change that: “If you can make a difference, there’s nothing better than that.”
Alongside obstacles women face in business, aging poses unique physiological and psychological challenges for women. While the female body and hormonal makeup undergo significant changes with time, the commercial narrative of what is sexy, i.e., encompassing youth’s ephemeral nature, remains unfortunately intact. Often there is a sense of becoming invisible with time, and, as Dr. Roberts states, “[There’s] this belief that as we become older we become less sexual, and that’s a myth.”
Women and Their Sexuality
Sexuality remains a fundamental aspect of the human experience, standing as a pillar of wellbeing, irrespective of age. In fact, many women report improved sex lives well past the idealized stage of emerging adulthood. From her personal experience, Dr. Roberts shares, “It was so strange for me, at 40 years old, to connect to that sexual power — [I was] more confident in my body, stretch marks from kids, but I didn’t care.”
In a capitalist market, exploiting young women’s bodies is fuel for consumption. Yet embracing female sexual agency remains taboo. This new age of body positivity invites women from all walks of life to rewrite the narrative around what’s sexy. Dr. Roberts defines sexy as power. She explains, “I’m not talking about political or economic power. I’m talking about power from within. To me, that’s what’s sexy. To me, it’s about connecting with who you truly are as an individual and being that person and trusting that person is good enough… I don’t want to sell sex. I want to sell confidence.”
Whether in business or in bed, women face challenges not dissimilar to cannabis. Women have been ignored for their virtues. We’ve been written off, understudied, and misunderstood. In the year 2020, outdated myths around women and cannabis no longer stand. Dr. Jan Roberts and her trajectory are a testament to the vast internal power one can build. Here’s to a new year of embracing challenges, persevering in the face of failure, and following one’s heart. Dr. Roberts says it best: “We are all viragos. We are all female warriors.”