Tobacco and cannabis use has been deeply ingrained in Native cultures for centuries, with ceremonial and medicinal purposes central to their use.
However, the impact of colonization, westernization, and modernization has had a significant impact on how Native communities interact with these substances.
Today, tobacco use is one of the leading causes of death and disease among Native communities, while cannabis use has become more prevalent in recent years due to changing attitudes and legalization.
This blog aims to explore the impact of tobacco and cannabis use on Native health and wellness, the historical context surrounding their use, and the barriers and potential solutions to addressing their use in Native communities.
Historical Context of Tobacco and cannabis
Tobacco and cannabis have been used by Indigenous peoples across the Americas for centuries, often in traditional and ceremonial contexts.
The sacredness of these plants has been deeply ingrained in Native cultures, with tobacco being used in offerings and ceremonies and cannabis being used for medicinal purposes.
However, the arrival of European colonizers in the Americas led to a significant shift in how tobacco and cannabis were used.
Colonizers introduced commercial tobacco products, which were highly addictive and harmful to health.
They also demonized the traditional use of tobacco and cannabis by Native communities, often associating these practices with savagery and barbarism.
As a result, commercial tobacco products became widespread among Native communities, leading to high rates of smoking-related illnesses and death.
Meanwhile, the use of cannabis remained largely underground, as it was criminalized and stigmatized by federal and state governments in the United States.
Today, the use of both tobacco and cannabis remains a complex issue in Native communities, with many community members advocating for the preservation of traditional uses while also grappling with the negative health impacts of commercial tobacco products and the changing landscape of cannabis legalization.
Understanding the historical context of tobacco and cannabis use in Native cultures is crucial for developing effective strategies for addressing their impact on Native health and wellness.
Health Risks Associated with Tobacco Use
Tobacco usage is a major source of mortality and disease in Native populations.
Commercial tobacco products, such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco, are highly addictive and contain numerous harmful chemicals.
Here are some of the health risks associated with tobacco use:
Cancer: Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, and tobacco use is also linked to several other types of cancer, including mouth, throat, and pancreatic cancer.
Heart disease: Tobacco use increases the risk of heart disease, which is a leading cause of death among Native communities. Smoking damages the lining of blood vessels, leading to plaque buildup and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Respiratory diseases: Tobacco use is a significant cause of respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. These conditions can severely impact the quality of life and lead to disability and premature death.
Reproductive health: Tobacco use can have negative impacts on reproductive health, including infertility, erectile dysfunction, and low birth weight in newborns.
Cultural impact: Tobacco use also has cultural impacts on Native communities. Tobacco is used in traditional ceremonies and is deeply ingrained in cultural practices. The impact of commercial tobacco products on traditional tobacco use can have far-reaching effects on cultural practices and community identity.
Addressing tobacco use in Native communities requires culturally-responsive prevention and intervention strategies considering the historical and cultural significance of tobacco use.
Such strategies may include community-based interventions, tobacco cessation programs, and advocacy for policies that reduce tobacco use and promote health and wellness.
Health Risks Associated with Cannabis Use
Cannabis use is becoming more prevalent in Native communities, with changing attitudes and the legalization of cannabis in many states.
However, like any substance, cannabis use carries potential health risks. Here are some of the health risks associated with cannabis use:
Mental health: Cannabis use can adversely affect mental health, including an increased risk of psychosis, anxiety, and depression. It can also worsen symptoms in people with preexisting mental health conditions.
Impaired cognitive function: Cannabis use can impair cognitive function, including memory, attention, and decision-making. This can negatively impact school or work performance and overall quality of life.
Respiratory health: Smoking cannabis can have negative impacts on respiratory health, similar to tobacco use. It can lead to chronic bronchitis, lung infections, and other respiratory illnesses.
Substance use disorders: Cannabis use can lead to the development of substance use disorders, including cannabis use disorder. This can impact daily functioning, relationships, and overall health and well-being.
Cultural impact: Cannabis use can also have cultural impacts on Native communities. Traditional uses of cannabis, such as for medicinal purposes, may be impacted by the commercialization and legalization of cannabis.
Addressing cannabis use in Native communities requires a nuanced approach that considers the potential risks and benefits of cannabis use.
Culturally-responsive prevention and intervention strategies, such as providing education on the potential health risks of cannabis use and integrating traditional healing practices, may effectively promote health and wellness in Native communities.
Additionally, advocacy for policies that prioritize the health and well-being of Native communities may be necessary to address the potential negative impacts of cannabis use.
Addressing Tobacco and Cannabis Use in Native Communities
Addressing tobacco and cannabis use in Native communities requires a comprehensive approach that considers these substances’ historical and cultural significance.
Here are some potential strategies for addressing tobacco and cannabis use in Native communities:
Culturally-responsive prevention and intervention
Prevention and intervention programs should be culturally-responsive and consider the historical and cultural significance of tobacco and cannabis use in Native communities.
These programs should incorporate traditional healing practices and teachings to promote health and wellness.
Tobacco cessation programs
Tobacco cessation programs that are culturally sensitive can be effective in reducing tobacco use in Native communities.
These programs should provide resources and support to community members who want to quit smoking or using other tobacco products.
Advocacy for tobacco control policies
Advocacy for policies that reduce tobacco use and promote health and wellness in Native communities can have a significant impact.
These policies may include tobacco taxes, smoke-free policies, and tobacco advertising and sales restrictions.
Harm reduction strategies for cannabis use
Harm reduction strategies, such as providing education on safe cannabis use and harm reduction supplies like clean needles and naloxone, can help reduce adverse health impacts associated with cannabis use.
Advocacy for cannabis policies
Advocacy for policies prioritizing the health and well-being of Native communities in the context of cannabis legalization is essential.
These policies may include regulations on commercial cannabis products, taxation to support health and wellness programs, and restrictions on advertising and sales to youth.
Tobacco and cannabis use have significant impacts on the health and well-being of Native communities.
While tobacco use has a long history in Native communities, the changing attitudes towards cannabis use have brought new challenges.
Addressing these issues requires a comprehensive approach that considers these substances’ historical and cultural significance.
By working together and taking a nuanced approach, we can promote health and wellness in Native communities while respecting their cultural practices and traditions.