Photo (above) by Chris Desabota
HOW DRAG QUEEN LAGANJA ESTRANJA REMAINS STONED ON THE THRONE
Written by Kyah Luna
Laganja Estranja never slows down, even in quarantine. From choreographing and writing the short play Up in Smoke, starring in the series Muse Me on YouTube, and her debut album HIGHconic, fast approaching, Estranja takes her THC to-go.
“I am a successful stoner,” who has “chosen an alternative form of medication,” Estranja emphasizes.
Located in L.A., Estranja boasts an impressive resume as a former Rupaul’s Drag Race queen, founder and choreographer of Laganja’s Dance School, musician, and cannabis activist.
“As someone who’s always on the go with a million jobs throughout my day, I need a medicine that’s going to keep me active,” says Estranja.
While one could say she’s a sativa girl, it’s particularly the lemon and tangerine terpenes that are benefiting her the most, Estranja explains.
Terpenes are aromatic hydrocarbons found in many plants such as peppermint, rosemary, lemons, and cannabis, according to Medical Jane’s Introduction to Terpenes. Estranja specifically favors the citrusy limonene terpene.
“I am putting myself through a lot of physical pain with drag, with the tucking, super gluing earrings to my ears, the nails,” says Estranja, “so again, the cannabis helps to alleviate some of the pain.”
Limonene’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties can provide significant pain relief. The compound enhances mood, is a dietary aid, and protects and possibly fights against cancer cells. Currently, it is undergoing trials as a treatment for breast cancer, according to a scientific study in São Paulo, Brazil.
Yet, Estranja, born Jay Jackson in Dallas, Texas, could never imagine forefronting the cannabis drag community.
“I chose the name Laganja Estranja because I thought it was cool . . . but I had no idea that one-day people would be waiting in lines at my meet and greets with joints for me!” exclaims Estranja.
Before she became a female impersonator, Estranja dreamed of performing on Broadway and was a “’good boy. I got all A’s. My parents were high school counselors,” she remembers.
Estranja first experienced cannabis at 18 years old after a dance injury left her in chronic pain. She found it relieved discomfort and helped her to sleep and eat healthier.
“I really believe that because my first introduction to the plant was as medicine, as a way to be a better creator, that I had a different lens to the plant,” Estranja says.
Estranja used cannabis to enhance her creativity and focus on dance, earning the title U.S. Presidential Scholar of the Arts as a teenager. Wearing a pink triangle pin, she performed in front of then President George H.W. Bush.
After high school, Estranja relocated to attend the California Institute of the Arts, eventually earning a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree in dance and choreography. But it was not until 2011 that the Estranja persona debuted at an amateur contest at Micky’s West Hollywood, a popular gay nightclub.
After winning the competition, Estranja threw herself into the spotlight as a regular showgirl at the club.
Estranja competed on season six of LogoTV’s RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2014. Due to federal regulations specific to production sets, Estranja was not allowed to medicate during the showing. Instead, she turned to a substance that was allowed on set — alcohol, which helped relieve the stress and pain of rigorous drag performances.
“I was extremely depressed and almost lost my life and cannabis pulled me out of that hole,” Estranja explains. “I found this plant to really save me from many situations. I was sober three years after my spin on RuPaul’s Drag Race where I was dealing with alcohol.”
Estranja began her road to recovery, asking herself, “What am I trying to escape?” Alcohol allowed her to escape the physical and mental pressure of performing. It boosted her confidence and allowed her to relax. That was when she turned to cannabis again.
Estranja finds consuming cannabis is a helpful alcohol harm reduction method.
“I decided through self-discovery that it was a choice. I was choosing to be an alcoholic, just like I was choosing to be depressed,” Estranja explains. “If you want to be the most happy you’ve ever been, you’ve got to choose that first. When I am medicated, I am able to make that choice a lot easier.”
Many questioned Estranja’s sobriety as she continued medicating with cannabis. Yet despite the general classification of cannabis as a recreational drug, research finds the plant successfully reduces the harmful effects of alcohol withdrawal and usage, according to The Harm Reduction Journal.
“It became something that when I was sad, or I was depressed, I was able to smoke cannabis and look at my life in a more grateful way, in a more humble way, and I think it really kept me grounded,” says Estranja.
After three years of sobriety, Estranja can now have a drink at dinner with friends. Estranja does not believe she is cured of alcoholism; but attributes her recovery to the benefits of cannabis, therapy, a stable support network, and introspection. Instead of getting tipsy before a performance, Estranja gets high to relieve the strain of dance and to reinvigorate her energy for the audience.
Cannabis also allows her to evaluate her impact and responsibilities.
“I chose to not drink. I choose now to moderate, and I choose to continue to live with my eyes open and aware of the facts that I could easily slip, but that’s a choice,” Estranja states.
In 2015, Estranja toured the production #TeamTooMuch with drag star Gia Gunn to promote safety and substance moderation, specifically within the drag community. She realized that a queen could not be a queen without a platform. Cannabis pulled her out of a dark place and she wanted to share her story with others.
Estranja partners with brands she believes stand for her communities, not just those that “slap a rainbow on it” in June. For Pride
Month 2019, she collaborated with Roxanne Dennant of Fruit Slabs of L.A. to create edible gummies. The campaign focused on celebrating the LGBTQ+ community emphasizing the liberation of gender expression.
“I am really sure to partner with companies who are not only talking the talk but walking the walk and making sure their staff is diverse, that they’re hiring people of color . . . I pick and choose who I stay in contact with, and I am lucky that I have that ability,” Estranja explains.
Estranja is certainly not the only one interested in accountability this year. In a recent series of tweets, Miss Fame, a former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant, called out drag queens, including Estranja, who created content with Jeffree Star, a YouTube beauty influencer exposed for racist and problematic actions., who have not addressed their connection to him. When asked about this, Estranja states, there is no relationship between them, and there never was one behind the scenes in the first place.
“It’s all about accountability in oneself. You have to hold yourself accountable, and if you can’t do that, well, then you’re not really a person I really want to be involved with,” she continues. “My relationship with Jeffree Star is my relationship. I didn’t make some big public statement about how we are not friends. I don’t trash him in public because I don’t need to do that. Karma will get everyone.”
Today, Estranja enjoys participating in the online cannabis community. “This time at home has really given me a chance to focus on my creative side,” she says. She often appears on WeedTube and is uploading regular content to her YouTube channel as well.
Estranja keeps her tiara on her head and her seat at the throne as a successful stoner. If she could say anything to a cannabis skeptic, she’d say, “to judge a plant that saves someone else’s life, I would just say you might want to take a look at that, gorg.”