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Mom Talk: How I Became A Cannabis Convert

Written by Jewel Zimmer


Times are changing fast these days (byeeee Snapchat, hello TikTok), and one major cultural shift is the perception and use of cannabis. Its stoner image is being phased out as nuanced and high-end products come legally to market and promise to help with everything from sleep to sex to stress. In today’s Mom Talk, Jewel Zimmer, a mom to two young girls and founder of Juna, honestly shares her story with us—how she went from skeptic to cannabis convert over the course of ten years.

I arrived in San Francisco in August of 1998 to work at a restaurant that was, at the time, number three in the country according to Gourmet magazine. Within two weeks I had made a birthday cake for Julia Child and made dessert for the New York Times restaurant critic. My world was full of inspiring chefs, aspiring chefs, doers, thinkers, and incredible palettes for me to learn from. I also studied wine and became a level one sommelier, so wine was a big part of my life. But pot? It’s not that I was a stranger to it—I grew up in the mountains of British Columbia where the pot culture was alive and well—but I never dreamed it would be a part of my life or that I would one day attempt to redefine it.

In 2009, after my oldest daughter was born, I gave up my fine dining career and launched a chocolate company called {cocoa} absolute. The motive of this transition was so that I would have more flexible hours as I entered this unchartered territory of motherhood. When designing our first chocolate collection, I approached it the same way I would designing a dessert for the restaurant; with extreme precision and nuance.

When I was working in restaurants, there were always certain criteria I had to meet around taste, texture, and ultimately, experience. My standards for my chocolate were the same: sourcing and farming were paramount for quality and flavor, and {cocoa} absolute was a collection of artisan single origin chocolate from all over the world. The idea was to showcase how the terroir affected flavor and also to accentuate the therapeutic and experiential benefits one could get from the cacao bean itself.  It wasn’t just about how our chocolated tasted—it was about how it made you feel and what reactions it kicked off inside your body. We were extracting all of the naturally occurring polyphenol antioxidants and mood enhancers such as anandamide (a cannabinoid also known as the “bliss molecule”) from the cacao bean and infusing it back into the chocolate. Ultimately, we were one of the first functional beauty foods to hit the market back in 2009. We launched with Barney’s New York and Dean & DeLuca, and had a cult following from here to Japan.

Almost immediately after our launch, I was approached by several people from the local cannabis community to do chocolate formulations. It sounded way too fringe for me. I was a chef, not a weed dealer. This was ten years ago, when the Bay Area was home to a handful of medical marijuana clubs, and there was no such thing as recreational dispensaries. Still, for some reason this opportunity continued to present itself to me—I was asked multiple times over the years to somehow marry cannabis with my chocolate making.

But it wasn’t until 2015 that my thinking on the subject started to evolve. After I brushed off another suggestion that I incorporate cannabis into my business, my husband said to me, “You try so hard to align yourself with the universe and your path, yet you keep pushing away the one thing that keeps presenting itself to you.” Whoa—his comment knocked me back. I consider myself a spiritual person, and his observation emotionally triggered me in a way I couldn’t deny, so I decided I would honor the opportunity and explore it the next time it presented itself—which was only two days later.

After a series of conversations and going down my own rabbit hole in order to learn everything I could about this plant—from the science and benefits to the chemical makeup–I had fallen in love. I learned that the cannabis plant had over 100 different cannabinoids. A couple of those were the ones that got your high (THC), but there was also this other cannabinoid that was immediately super interesting to me called CBD. It was a cannabinoid that didn’t get you high, but seemed to have incredible benefits.

I learned that this compound had the ability to decrease stress and anxiety, was a powerful neuroprotectant, and a potential hormone/endocrine stabilizer. After all my reading, I was sure CBD would save every woman—and especially mothers—in America! Yet, I still hadn’t tried it for myself. So, just like any chef would do, I set out to source the best quality cannabis flower I could find. Using my culinary connections, I started cold calling vegetable CSA’s in Mendocino, California, to try and find out if they also grew cannabis. My digging led me to a beautiful couple with a gorgeous, organically grown cannabis farm. One day, my husband and I packed up our two girls and drove to Mendocino for a visit. What we saw when we arrived was a lush farm full of cannabis plants. And sprouting up between the cannabis leaves were basil, rosemary, roses, and peppers—the idea was that these companion plants would exchange nutrients and terpenes (the flavor, aroma, and experience molecule) with the cannabis plants to fortify the nutrients and experiential compounds. The whole process and philosophy couldn’t have been more in line with the way I had been cooking and creating nourishment my entire career.

One of the flowers they grew was very high in CBD and smelled of blackberry. We brought enough back to San Francisco to have it extracted by a chemist to mirror the plant—we made sure all the nutrients in the flowers themselves were translated into the extract. I casted 100 dark chocolate bites, each with 3mg of THC and 2mg of CBD (to date still my favorite combination!) and dubbed it our JADE formula. I remember the first time I tried it. Not only was it the first time trying my own creation, but the first time I had ever tried an edible and I was so nervous. I made sure both my girls were fast asleep and then indulged, feeling simultaneously apprehensive and excited. As I waited 45 minutes to feel anything, I anticipated what I might experience: Would I get couch lock, the munchies, or the giggles? Would I feel anxious? Would I just fall asleep?

To my surprise I felt just a slight shift in perspective. I felt happy, relieved, and relaxed, like all my muscles had softened. The feeling of letting go of tension for the first time in a long time felt so foreign, and I engaged with myself on another level. Not just more relaxed, but exploratory. I was tapping into creative thoughts and really being present in the moment versus escaping it.

Yet, I couldn’t give the stuff away. I was that mom at the park: Pulling pot chocolate out of my bag and I swearing to the other moms that they would be able to take 1 chocolate to take the edge off, but still be functional. I promised putting the kids to bed would be more enjoyable and less stressful. That they would drink less alcohol, sleep better, and get a boost to their libido. But I was too early. Much like the early conversations the cannabis community tried to have with me five years prior—this all seemed to fringe for them. They were an emerging consumer and needed time, education, and convincing on the benefits and the safety.

But somewhere around 2017 there was a shift: Cannabis was possibly going to be legalized in California, Sanjay Gupta was raging about the health benefits of CBD on the news, and I started to receive a lot of texts asking if I still had those chocolates. Because of my background in food, and who I was as a mother, I became a trusted source. We started putting on focus groups and were able to see real time feedback from my friends and contemporaries when they tried it for themselves. Seeing those results, I started to explore what legal cannabis entrepreneurship would look like. I realized that this plant that I had been brushing off for so long had the ability to help in so many ways, and, as a chef, I had an early opportunity to help transform its image and introduce it to people who could benefit. To take this plant—known for smoking and getting high—and transforming it into a functional, ingestible food with mindful, targeted dosing and a conscientious and rare philosophy for sourcing.

I launched Juna in August of 2018, selling hemp-derived CBD tinctures that can be shipped anywhere in the country, as well as low-dose cannabis products sold at strategic dispensaries across the state of California. Today at shopjuna.com, you can order cannabis drops to be delivered straight to your door via our 3rd party delivery partners. I source our hemp CBD the same way I’ve sourced ingredients my whole life: I look for organic or biodynamic farming practices and permaculture or companion planting techniques.

My goal is to introduce cannabis to the mindful woman—a wellness seeker who is looking for options other than alcohol and vitamins to help with stress, sleep, and sex. Cannabis works with our internal cannabinoid system to help regulate the body to keep it in homeostasis and achieve optional function. CBD also has an incredible relationship to breast health—our internal cannabinoids are the foundation of breast milk! Current research on cannabis and hemp CBD is still limited, but we know it has enormous untapped potential. This plant is truly the plant that never stops giving. And I’m forever grateful I gave it a chance.

Jewel is offering MOTHER readers 15% off their first order. Use code “mother” at Juna World to try it out.

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