Aimee Brown | 20.12.2020

Richard speaks to Aimee Brown, a young woman who suffers from debilitating endometriosis, as well as adenomyosis. “Endo” affects one in ten Irish women, or more than 155,000 women in Ireland. There is an average wait of nine years before patients are diagnosed with this condition, often after repeated misdiagnoses. Aimee’s symptoms began at age eleven, but she did not receive a formal diagnosis of this condition until the age of 21. She has written My Endo Manifesto, which includes chapters such as: “Repeated Detrimental Surgeries & Medical Trauma”, “Mental, Physical and Psychological Scarring”, “Extensive Counselling & Lack Thereof”, and “Prescriptions & Personal Cannabis Experience”. 

According to this personal testament: “Endometriosis is a common chronic inflammatory condition where tissue, similar to the tissue that normally grows inside the uterus, grows outside of it. This more commonly happens around the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, the bowel and the areas at the front, back and sides of the uterus. In some cases, it can be found outside the pelvis (lung, skin, brain, diaphragm). It triggers a chronic inflammatory reaction, resulting in pain and adhesions. Adhesions develop when scar tissue attaches separate structures or organs together. Symptoms include severe pain, hormonal imbalance, fertility and intimacy issues, chronic fatigue.” Aimee uses cannabis to treat her pain and says that it is far more effective than any drugs she has been prescribed to date.

Twitter: @AimeeLouB / Instagram: @endowithaimee_blog

You weren’t formally diagnosed with endometriosis until you were 21. Why do you think this was? Well firstly, because I was never actually referred to a gynaecologist. The GPs (and I’ve seen a couple of different ones over the ten years), they all told me the same thing: “Unfortunately, this just happens to some women. And you’re just unfortunate.” There was never, “It could be endometriosis.” I’d never even heard of it till after I’d gotten the diagnosis. So I think the main failure was that the GPs didn’t recognise the symptoms. They weren’t aware enough to actually refer me to a gynaecologist, in my opinion. So there’s a lack of education out there in the medical profession in Ireland, basically. One million percent. Even amongst the gynaecologists themselves, who are supposed to be kind of up there in the area of endometriosis.. They don’t have the level of expertise that we need as patients. 

You were placed on a waiting list by Tallaght University Hospital for an appointment with a Pain Management Team and have been waiting since 2016. Why is the wait so long? I was an in-patient, I was admitted for ten days or something, in 2016. I was seen by the pain team and the consultant told me that all I could do was wait for an outpatient appointment. But according to the pain clinic, they never got a referral for me until 2019. But according to my notes (and I got my medical history under The Freedom of Information Act, I requested everything) I have proof that I’ve been waiting since 2016! That’s insane. The injustice is just horrendous.

You’ve been using cannabis to treat your pain since the age of fifteen. How has it helped you over the years? Honestly, I believe if it hadn’t been for cannabis, I wouldn’t be here today. It truly is the one lifeline and the one consistency that I’ve had, even though it’s not the level of consistency that I deserve. Because if it was regulated, I would know exactly what kind of strain I was buying. Whereas I’m kind of depending on the black market, which is not ideal. But at the same time, without it, I don’t know where I’d be. Even though I’m still in chronic pain every day, I reckon that I would be so much worse off, if I wasn’t smoking cannabis. My whole body is tensed up with pain, whereas when I smoke it’s almost like I can let the pain flow through me and I can relax a bit. There’s a lot of people out there with chronic pain conditions that have had to rely on the black market it seems. And it’s desperate. If I had the knowledge and the capability and obviously if the law was different, I’d love to grow my own. Yeah. D’you know? And I’ve looked into that recently. I bought a book, Cannabis Growing for Beginners. So, I’m reading that and I’m trying to get familiar with the process so that I don’t have to be feeding the black market. I don’t want to be supporting criminal enterprises. I don’t think anyone does. 

You were on 23 different prescription tablets for pain management, including Palexia (which is often prescribed for terminal cancer). The medications have side effects including severe tremors, nausea and poor balance, to name just a few. You stated before that Amitriptyline almost cost you your life because of its severe side effects. Can you elaborate on how that drug affected you? I wanna  say it was nearly a mild psychosis that I went into. My brain wasn’t my own. The fits of rage that I was getting, that I didn’t know what to do with it. It got to the point where I was scratching the skin off my own face. I was self-harming, because I didn’t know what to do with everything that was bubbling inside. I was paranoid. It was just the most horrific experience, mentally.

So you’re no longer on any of those tablets? In March this year I met a new GP for the first time and it was honestly one of the most heartbreaking days of my entire life. She took one look at the prescription and her demeanor completely changed. “Do you realise this is an end of life drug?” And I was taken aback a bit, and I said: “Excuse me, do you realise that I didn’t put myself on that? If you have a problem with what I’m on, you should surely be taking that up with the Doctor who’s prescribed it and not (be) taking it out on me.” So she didn’t like that, first of all. And I had a whole folder of all my surgical notes and I have a lot of research about cannabis and endometriosis as well, in the same folder. And when she got to that page, oh my God.. It was like I personally insulted her. So, she went ballistic and she shouted at me, “Nobody will be getting any benzos or sleepers around here!” And I went into shock, I got really upset and I said: “Excuse me, I have never been on benzos or sleepers in my whole life, not once ever. Why would you say something like that?” 

“Well it needs to be said, it has to be put out there.” I said: “No, it really didn’t. There was no need for that. And if I had known you’d be so offended by the cannabis conversation, I wouldn’t have brought it up. I had this conversation openly with my previous GP and things were fine. I never expected this kind of reaction.” So, she told me I had insulted her and that she never wanted to see me as a patient again. So I literally left the place hysterical, shaking, (with a) panic attack. Couldn’t believe what I’d been subjected to. And that day I decided: “I’m not taking any more of these tablets, because I’m not gonna have any Doctor look at me like that ever again.” So I abruptly stopped all pain relief and the anti-depressants. All I’m taking now is my pill continuously and Buscopan. That’s all I’ve been taking since March, even though I’m in severe chronic pain. Because of the psychological impact of that day, that just pushed me over the edge.

I can’t believe that a GP would speak to someone like that. It sounds like she showed you no sympathy whatsoever, no consideration of things from your point of view. No compassion, no humanity. She didn’t even know me, she made up her mind in two minutes after looking at a prescription without even asking me any questions. Am I in pain, is it working? No questions. She just made up her mind and that was that. It was honestly the most heartbreaking thing. And you had just explained to her what prescription tablets you were currently on and you mentioned the cannabis. I had given her a photocopy of the prescription from the previous GP and that’s what she was going off (of). And she found when she was going through the folder, she came across the cannabis. And once she’d seen cannabis, she closed the folder. She didn’t look at any of the detail. It was like I had said something really offensive about her mother. Aimee giggles She was so offended. I couldn’t relate to that. Yeah. And the previous GP was alright about the use of cannabis alongside the medications, is that right? Yeah, I spoke openly with him about it and he knew that that was helping and he heard when I was telling him about the side effects of the medications and stuff. And I kind of pitied him to an extent, because he didn’t know what to do with me. He’s not equipped to handle a case like mine, I think. And I’m not the only one, there’s many, many, many endo warriors out there in the same boat. Their GP is just at a loss.

Now I’ve battled with depression and I’ve had a PTSD diagnosis since (I think) the age of thirteen, so I’ve always had psychological conditions. But never to the extent of this particular drug (Amitriptyline). They were heightened a lot by it. I can’t even express to what extent. I can’t exaggerate enough how quickly I lost myself. I only took them for two weeks and I was a completely different person. It’s surprising that you were on 23 tablets to begin with, because surely some of them are already going to affect each other. Well, when I saw the pain specialist as an in-patient in 2016, his advice was until I get an out-patient appointment, I should take two Tylex, four times a day, three anti-inflammatories, say 400mg, so that’d be 1200 in the day, and Paracetemol every four hours. Regardless of if I’m in pain or not, that was his advice. To keep the massive flare-ups at bay. So, I was not willing to take eight Tylex a day, three anti-inflammatories and eight Paracetemol if I’m in pain or not… That’s not living, there’s no quality of life in that. It’s just throwing pills at the problem out of desperation, isn’t it? Exactly.

You quoted your own gynaecologist as saying the following before you were put under anesthetic in 2018: “Be prepared if we don’t find anything because more often than not if we’re used to being in pain, the pain can be all in our heads.” How did this affect you? I just thought: “Number one, if that’s really a possibility, why would you be about to cut me open? And number two, falling to the ground with stabbing pains in your pelvis is definitely not psychological.” I knew it wasn’t but for somebody who I was trusting to cut me open and look inside to say this to me five minutes beforehand, it was devastating. Now, I understand that she needs to manage patients’ expectations. And it is a chronic illness, there is no cure. The only thing we can do is try to best manage it, so I completely understand that and I get that she has to manage patient expectations. But the delivery of that statement and the timing of that statement was very, very, very insensitive. Of course, it beggars belief. I know that when they say “all in your head”, they mean that the pain signals that are going from the brain to the pelvic region, that’s been happening for so long that even if the disease is removed, that can continue to happen. I think that’s what she meant, but that’s not what she said. Yeah, the way that she delivered it definitely came across the wrong way. Very cold! Aimee giggles 

Yeah. You’ve had four laparoscopic operations (keyhole surgeries) in the past seven years. Three of those were in Ireland. Your last excision surgery in Ireland made the illness even worse for you. As a result, you had to leave work in 2018 and travel to the Wellborn clinic in Romania at a cost of €8,000 to undergo surgery with Dr. Gabriel Mitroi. How does the treatment process in Romania compare to Ireland? First of all the centre is dedicated to endometriosis, so his surgeries consist of 90% endometriosis and 10% endometrial cancer. So that’s why his expertise is so superior because he’s solely focusing on that area. Whereas in Ireland, the gynaecologists are obstetricians as well. They’re in different fields. So, we need more dedicated professionals in Ireland, number one. Number two, it’s because he’s the second in Romania in a multi-disciplinary setting. There’s different Doctors present. So that, if the endometriosis has gone to…for example, for me it was my diaphragm. Right up near the lungs. A gynaecologist is not qualified to go near there.

I was told in Ireland, that’d probably be a general surgeon that’d deal with that. And when I told that to Dr. Mitroi, he was horrified! Because a general surgeon should never, ever treat endometriosis. That’s why we need a multidisciplinary setting so that we’re getting rid of the entire disease from all areas, in one surgery. Whereas at the moment in Ireland, if you have it in the bowel or the bladder, it’s different operations for each. And that’s just too many surgeries. According to 1Kathleen King’s research, Irish women were having up to thirteen, seventeen, even twenty times more surgery than our European counterparts! That’s absurd! There’s a video of one of the TDs quoting that in the Dáil, when the topical questions were put forward. 

You worked with People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny and Kathleen King, the Chairperson of the EAI (Endometriosis Association of Ireland), to host a presentation at Leinster House in December last year. During the talk, Kathleen said she wished for the government, ‘working with the EAI, to develop a multidisciplinary centre of excellence for endometriosis within Ireland’. Have there been any developments on this front since then? Unfortunately not, to my knowledge. No. I’ve met with a new Doctor who recently started in the Coombe, Doctor Hugh D. O’Connor, he’s an endometriosis specialist. And he is working towards that setting. And he told me that he rarely operates without a colorectal surgeon in the room, if he feels the patient is gonna need that. So he is already trying to establish that multidisciplinary setting, but he needs support from the government basically. Okay.

You wrote to Tallaght University Hospital in December of last year, about the need for a consultant’s signature to give to your GP, so you could apply for a medical cannabis licence. What kind of a response did you receive and have you been able to register for the licence since? No. The response was a flat out “no” from the gynaecology team, because apparently that’s not their area of expertise. They said it would have to be a pain clinic, pain management specialists, who would have to apply for that kind of a licence. So I’ve since gotten an appointment with the pain team, I was there in July this year… Absolute disaster! The specialist refuses to treat me while I’m using cannabis. From his point of view, whatever he tries to put me on, he doesn’t know how it’s gonna react to cannabis. So he won’t accept my life experience with the plant as being enough. Not only will he not even entertain the idea of applying for a licence, he also refuses to treat me as long as I am using cannabis for myself. Okay.

So it’s still a very complicated environment when it comes to the knowledge, or lack of it, that’s out there about cannabis in relation to other prescription drugs. It’s a mess. And it’s really annoying. I said to him: “It upsets me that if I lived in Canada, with the exact same pain and the exact same condition, I would have the opportunity to have a better quality of life”. And his response was: “Well, emigrate.” Terrible. And I said: “Honestly, I feel emigrating would be a very cowardly move, because I’m not the only one in this position. Why would I leave my own country to go somewhere else, instead of fighting for what’s right. What should be happening here. And he said: “Well that’s a completely different argument.” 

You received correspondence from Philippa Bridge Cook (Executive Director of The Endometriosis Network Canada). What exactly did she say when she got in contact with you? She said she’s really sorry that we don’t have access to cannabis here. What they do with the endometriosis out in Canada, they run workshops and they explain to patients the best strains. Because obviously they have a lot of research to go on, over there. They show the best strains to use for particular symptoms. They advise how to take it, what’s the best dosage. If you want to use edibles, they advise which ones are best for which symptoms. So there’s a lot of education over there. And I’d love to have access to the same thing. I think many people would. That was in Canada, but I also have research and there was only a new paper put out recently, from Doctor 2Mike Armour (of the National Institute of Complimentary Medicine at West Sydney University).

And he’s done a couple of studies on women using cannabis as pain management for endometriosis. And he has concluded that it is the best form of pain management for severe endometriosis pain, with the least side effects. That’s what his conclusions were. There’s only gonna be so much longer that medical professionals here can ignore all the emerging data from around the world before they’re seen as a laughing stock. I probably should’ve mentioned about the pain specialist… When we had the conversation, he gave me paperwork to back up his side of it and why he doesn’t use cannabis as a form of treatment. Which I thought was better than just being completely shut down. At least he was backing up why. And I asked him: “Would you be open to a new way of thinking if new research emerges?” And he said he would be. So that’s kind of a plus. So he wasn’t entirely anti-cannabis. He felt that there wasn’t enough data that he was familiar with.

The data he was going off was an EU paper. Whereas I was going off Australian and Canadian and American. Actually, I think Israel did a study as well recently, on endometriosis. So they’re finally beginning to learn more about at least treating it with cannabis. Yeah. Because like that, it is a chronic condition, there is no cure. The gold standard treatment is excision surgery, whereas in Ireland, more often than not, they use ablation surgery. The difference is, if you could imagine a flower growing, ablation would be burning the top of the flower, but the root is still there. Whereas excision is cutting it out from the root. The ablation surgery is less severe from the patient point of view, it would be in and out in no time. Whereas excision is kind of more invasive, because you’re actually cutting right in. If you have deep infiltrating endometriosis like I did, they have to physically cut right down into the organ to cut the root of the disease right out. So that’s more invasive. But the recurrence rate of endometriosis is much higher with ablation surgery, because the root is being left behind every time. And that’s the reason why there’s more surgeries for Irish women, because they’re constantly having ablation, which is not actually dealing with the root cause. 

In 2018, your surgery in Ireland made things worse. And after your surgery with Dr. Mitroi in Romania you felt it had made a massive difference, relative to the surgeries before that. And you wrote to a solicitors’ office about taking legal action for medical negligence that you experienced at TUH and got a letter back last November saying that your Statute of Limitations (the two-year window to begin legal proceedings for negligence) had expired. So effectively, the person who botched your surgery in Ireland will receive no repercussions. Yeah there’s no repercussions. She told me there were no signs of deep infiltrating endo in the pelvis, and yet fourteen months later, that’s what the Doctor in Romania removed. I hadn’t got a chance to see her for a long time. I approached her in a public setting.

We had an endometriosis info day at the Carlton Hotel. And it was about six weeks after my surgery in Romania and she was taking questions at the end of the day. I queued up and she didn’t even recognise me. I didn’t say who I was, but I asked her: “In your professional opinion, can deep infiltrating endo develop in the pelvis in fourteen months or less?” And she said: “Well, every case is different.” And I said: “Yeah, but in general?” And she said: “No, in general no.” So, unbeknownst to herself, she admitted that it would’ve happened to me there, basically. Yeah. And yet still, the solicitor said: “The Statute of Limitations ran out. It’s two years.” And I said, “But it was only last July”, and (we’ll) say this was October, it was still within the two-year bracket. The solicitor said it would still tie-in to the first operation that I had with the same surgeon, so therefore, the first one would put me outside the two-year bracket.

Returning to cannabis, I was arrested last year on the side of the road and brought to the Garda station and denied my prescribed medication, resulting in a serious, awful flare-up. It was a routine checkpoint. And he (the Garda) checked my tax, NCT and stuff. I couldn’t wait to get through the checkpoint. It was the first time that I’d actually had everything in the window and I was excited. He checked everything and then asked me for me licence. He took the licence, went off for a good ten minutes. He comes back to the car and another squad car pulled up on-site. He said: “Now, you have to do a random drug test.” And I said: “Well, I don’t think there’s anything random about it. You’ve had me licence for the last ten minutes. You’ve obviously phoned in, checked up and stuff. Everything is okay in the car. I don’t understand why you didn’t wave me on, like you did the car in front.”

He insisted that it was a random thing. He gave me the thing to test and he said that I had to rub it around me mouth for up to eight minutes. A swab. Around me gums, for eight minutes. It was really sore. When I gave it to him afterwards, it was a complete lie. I think Google said it was two minutes. I didn’t know why he insisted, but anyways he told me it was testing for benzos, opioids, cocaine and cannabis. So straight away, I knew I’m on over 600 milligrams of opioids daily, so I was definitely gonna fail on that. And I didn’t fail on that, it was just the cannabis apparently. That’s very strange. That’s what I said, right? I said: “How do you know when the test is done?” and he said, “It slightly changes colour.”

To my knowledge on that day, that thing never ever changed colour. So, I don’t know how he was able to indicate whether it was negative or positive. He told me he had to arrest me and bring me into the station, because a GP had to come and take a blood test to determine if I’m above or below the threshold I’m allowed have in me system. I said “That’s news to me, since when is there any threshold allowed in your system?” And when you get the result, it doesn’t say “Threshold” or not. It says, “Class of drug/alcohol”. And then on the other box, it says: “Cannabinoid class”. It doesn’t say how much or how little and it says nothing about opioids, which I find very hard to believe, considering what I was on. But the most degrading part about it was…

It was in March and it was the first (day) of the really nice weather. And that day I’d brought my mam and dad over to see me new house that I’d only moved into, in Birr. So I dropped them home and I was on the way back. So I’d no handbag with me, I had nothing. I was wearing short-shorts, flip-flops and a little top. So you can imagine how degrading it was. On my hands and knees, rolling around a squad station, with male Guards all around me, clutching my vagina, with my arse pretty much hanging out of my drawers. It was the most horrific experience, I can’t even.. I ended up not leaving the house for over a week. It took me a month before I’d drive the car again. I’d only been starting to get back the confidence to drive the car, because of my condition. The condition stopped me and the tablets… Because of the tremors, I couldn’t drive the car because my leg would kick out and hit the accelerator.

It was a nightmare. So I was only just starting to get confident, now and again, to drive the car. And the sad part is, I wouldn’t be able to do that without cannabis. I need the cannabis to be in a position to drive. And what led to that treatment at the station, what exactly was the justification for that? They couldn’t get a Doctor. I was there for two and a half hours and I couldn’t get a Doctor and because I didn’t have my own prescribed medication on my person, they wouldn’t let me boyfriend at the time go get the meds and bring ‘em back to me. They wouldn’t let me mam give me a few Tylex that she had, just to tide me over. They refused me any of my own prescribed medication. I don’t understand how they had you in such a humiliating way at the station. The fact that they didn’t let me get the medication when I was supposed to take it, meant the condition and the stress I suppose, flared the pain severely.

You were debilitated so severely that you were on the ground in pain. Yeah. And there was one female Garda, she did feel sorry for me. But I hadn’t had a period or any bleeding for years and I bled that day in that station with the stress and whatever. And I asked her for a pad and they didn’t have any. She said, “I have a tampon in the car.” And I said: “Well unfortunately due to my condition, I can’t use them. I need a pad. If you’re gonna arrest me and keep me here against me will, the least you should do is have sanitary towels.” Yeah. So yeah, it was very, very humiliating. And then she kept saying to me: “Look, when the GP gets here, she might be able to give you something for the pain.” So then when the GP arrived, she had already made up her mind that I was a criminal. She was terrified walking into the Garda station.

She was a bag of nerves and she couldn’t look me in the eye. She butchered me trying to get blood, ‘cause I’ve terrible pains as it is. It is a nightmare any time I get blood taken. That made her even more nervous, I think. But that’s no use to me, d’you know what I mean? The one person that I thought was actually gonna help me then in that situation, couldn’t even look at me. D’you know? Where to even start with that… Pretty horrific! I’m so sorry that you had to go through all of that. Yeah, thanks. But speaking out is the only way we can try (to) get rid of the stigma. It’s mad how common it is, but the shame and the stigma around women actually saying that they’re struggling…they’re not taken seriously. If you go to A&E, “It’s all in your head”, or “You haven’t got a high pain threshold. You don’t look sick.” And you get all of these ridiculous biased remarks. And that’s why people suffer in silence.

Do you believe that other countries are significantly more informed on the condition than they are in Ireland? One million percent! Look at Dr. Mitroi in Romania. They have three endometriosis centres, just for one country! And the endo is known as a silent cancer in Romania, so even the level of awareness is much higher. But Dr. Mitroi wrote to his government only a few weeks ago, looking to them to give more support to women in the workplace. And even though they’re so advanced, he still believes they’re really behind. And he’s actually taken time out of his life to write to his government, that’s how dedicated he is to his patients. He has a 3free A-Z endometriosis guide on Google Docs. It’s freely downloadable for anyone. And the education that it offers is quality. And he actually featured a poem that I wrote in that as well, which is epic for me. It’s being downloaded in loads of different languages. It’s really cool, he does a lot from a patient’s perspective.

There’s an incredible quote from him: A very important thing to remember is that endometriosis is the most aggressive benign disease. It looks like cancer and the surgery is often worse than those treating cancer, but it is benign. That suggests that endometriosis itself is like a form of cancer, that it just hasn’t been classified as one yet. But because it’s not malignant and it won’t kill you acutely or imminently, it’s not taken seriously. But what they fail to understand is that, when endometriosis grows and spreads and migrates, it does cause severe trauma to other organs. My friend’s bladder and ovary were so badly adhered to her bowel, that her surgery took eight hours just to get the bladder detached from the bowel.

It really does behave like cancer in the ways that it migrates and stuff. And we don’t know enough about it, we don’t know how it starts. We just don’t know. That’s something that Stephen Donnelly and Simon Harris should encourage more funding for. Simon Harris blocked me on every social media account and now when I email his office, I get a bounce-back to say that I’m blocked from the server. Stephen Donnelly, I haven’t really persisted as much (with him), because honestly… The stress that I put myself under trying to get the word out really kind of deteriorates me condition, which defeats the purpose of me trying to have a quality of life. I am trying to maintain a balance as well, you know? Interesting that Simon Harris would block you.

He replied to me last year, saying that the RCOG (the Royal College of Gynaecology) had assured him that any gynaecologist can diagnose and treat endometriosis. Yeah, but it would seem that that’s not the case. It’s so far out of the ballpark and wrong, it’s dangerous. And I actually took a screenshot of the email, put it on my Instagram. And when Dr. Mitroi saw that, he was horrified. He did a post specifically to address what our Minister had falsely believed, basically. He was horrified. Where to begin with all of this? We’ve a lot of work to do in Ireland, haven’t we? Yes, absolutely.

Thanks for taking time to educate me about your condition. I wish you all the best moving forward!

I appreciate the invitation to come on and have a chat about it, so thanks for that. Bye! 

References:

1 The Endometriosis Association of Ireland website: https://www.endometriosis.ie

2 The following survey results were recently published, which showed huge potential for cannabis

as pain relief for endometriosis:

https://nicm.edu.au/news/1_in_10_women_with_endometriosis_report_using_cannabis_to_ease_their_pain 

3 Endometriosis from A-Z can be downloaded from Google Docs here:

https://books.google.ie/books?id=5jbADwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false 

* Petition for the establishment of a multidisciplinary endometriosis care centre in Ireland:

https://bit.ly/3zNROIH

** The Women’s Health Task Force website: https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/-womens-health/  

Educated Stoner – Evangelizing Cannabis: Praise the Lord & Pass the Pipe!

A continuation of the Educated Stoner series by freelance journalist, producer and cannabis advocate, Sharon Letts. We encourage our readers to check out more from sharonletts.com as she documents her experience with cannabis from beating cancer to remedy recipes, essays and books to video and podcast interviews, and much more. Twitter: @SharonLetts

The past five years I’ve covered six states, three countries, and thousands of miles in a state of Divine Intervention, with people suffering from real illness put in front of me like little animals to St. Francis of Assisi. I often feel like Theresa Caputo, “The Long Island Medium” (less the hair and nails). Spirits come to her like patients are put in front of me, daily. Either I meet people with real illness, or they know someone suffering under traditional care – there are no coincidences – or, maybe everyone is just getting sicker? When I tell people Rick Simpson Oil, or RSO, put my breast cancer into remission, most don’t believe it. But, when sitting on this kind of knowledge it becomes a responsibility to share. It’s actually the only way to get the word out, for no Department of Health Services will be passing out pamphlets any time soon. Those who know must “be the pamphlet.”

Physician Heal Thyself

While travelling in Eastern Washington State my lower back went out, leaving me helpless with severe spasms in my sciatica. Anyone who has suffered from the pain of sciatic spasms knows what I’m talking about. The second the swollen muscle or tendon presses a nerve against a bone, the pain is excruciating and can level a grown man in a second. Out of real medicine, a visit to Urgent Care disappointed, as the Doctor was a cold fish about my Cannabis use for pain, only offering opioids or a steroid injection. Even then she could not promise the spasms would be gone. Cannabis makes them go away, I informed, but she wouldn’t engage. I finally asked if the clinic was federally funded.

To this she gave a knowing and firm, “Yes”. She couldn’t have talked about this good medicine if she wanted to. The nurse listened attentively, however, and confided in me when the doctor was out of ear shot that she was suffering from spasms in her legs, and how could she get some of this medicine? She shared this with me as she stood (all day) at a computer taking down patient information. My heart sank to hear her situation, and I shared what I could. She not only “liked” my fan page on Facebook, she read an essay I penned on pain management and sent me a note of thanks.

All Aboard the Wellness Train!

On a train recently, the conductor announced if anyone on board had nausea medicine. Now, the ramifications of me helping someone with Cannabis are great. Firstly, I’m not a doctor; I’m merely an enlightened Cannabis patient. Secondly – well, there are enough reasons why I shouldn’t help, but my mom is looking down on me from Heaven, this is God’s medicine, and she didn’t raise someone who sits on their hands. No matter the consequences, I adjusted my proverbial Florence Nightingale hat, put my faith on the rule of the rail’s “right of way,” and headed down to the car in question with my little bottle of Nternal Oil, a light oil made in the Bay Area of California, with very little psychoactive properties due to the low heat process used. There sat one very sickly passenger and all eyes were on me as I announced, “I have medicine that works great for nausea, but it’s made from Cannabis.”

To this, I get the usual blank stares, and I must use the dreaded word, “Are you familiar with Marijuana?” (You know, I really wanted to say “The Marijuana.”) To this, her eyes light up, knowingly, and I ask if she has a teaspoon. The looks on the faces surrounding this woman are priceless as she takes the dose. She thanks me and I wish her well, making my way back to my seat. Checking on her two hours later, she is found chatting it up with the woman next to her, a drink in one hand and food in the other. “How are you feeling?” I inquire, already knowing the answer.  To which she replies with eyebrows raised, “I’m feeling better,” as if surprised at the outcome.

No Coincidences

Stories are all around me. Sitting in the waiting room at a local lab in Humboldt County, California where I live, a woman next to me explains how her 45 year old daughter is getting an MRI done for a brain tumor. The woman was confined to a wheel chair with multiple health issues, including chronic pain, depression, and PTSD for a past trauma. Her daily prescription cocktail consisted of more than 20 pharmaceuticals and for the most part she was bedridden on a daily basis. One thing led to another and I informed of my work and my own healing with the plant. Both the woman and her mother were Cannabis patients, only smoking to relieve symptoms and complications from numerous prescription meds, as is the norm, but bud is expensive and they couldn’t always medicate as needed.

To make a long story short, within weeks I was able to introduce them to a local dispensary for its “Compassionate Care Program,” and today (some months later) she is out of the wheelchair, had progressed to a walker, and is now walking of her own volition. She’s also done away with more than 10 prescription meds to date.

Can I get a witness?

The minute someone is educated on this plant, lives are changed. And I don’t say that lightly. While the psychoactive properties of the plant can be challenging, lower percentage strains are being hybridized and grown everyday now, with real medicine being made with lesser or non-psychoactive effects. Safe access is crucial in getting the medicine to the masses in legal and medicinally legal states, but even the best dispensaries need to know about ingesting and provide many options for many ailments. Once someone knows the benefits of this plant, they are compelled to share. All we have are our words.

These are mine: The Lord as my witness, I will Evangelize Cannabis until the last non-violent, failed Drug War patient is released. I will sing this truth to the heavens until God smiles down upon me with thanks for praising his good work. Though I may be called a conspiracy theorist, I will walk through the valley of Cannabis and know that it is good. Amen.

Farrell Miller | Toronto, Canada | 21.11.2020

Farrell Miller is the COO of Erbn Green, a female-founded company that wants to help you “discover how cannabis fits into your modern life and how it can help you fuel creativity”. She is also a board member of NORML Canada and has a JD in Law from the University of British Columbia. Twitter: @FeralMiller

When did you first develop an interest in cannabis? So, I first delved into cannabis when I began managing an accessories store in the mountains as a second job while I was teaching snowboarding, out west in the Rocky Mountains. And while I was working there, I met a fellow who had told me he was interested in opening the first medical access clinic in Kelowna, which is when the early medical access regimes were in place. The Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, which allowed patients to purchase cannabis from the government with a prescription. So that was something that interested me and that sparked my initial delve into the cannabis world. So it started off in Western Canada. The Okanagan region has been a leader on that front for some time now, so I was fortunate to be there in the sweet spot.

How long have you been involved with NORML [National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws] Canada? I first heard about them when I was doing small advocacy efforts out West and I made it a point of meeting the lawyers who were at the time on the board of 1NORML Canada; Kurt Tousaw, Paul Ewin, Jack Lloyd. And they were doing some really, really interesting work for patients. And they were fighting their legal battles, writing to the government and promoting regulatory change in that respect to allow patients to access better cannabis from the government, grow their own cannabis. Which is what led to the next level of medical access system, the ACMPR [Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations], which is what directly preceded legalisation. This allowed patients to both produce their own and purchase from the government. So there were some developments in the law that I was following. And I started doing my volunteer work with NORML Canada while I was in law school, so about 2015. And I really, really took a lot of initiative there and now I’m on the board. So it’s been quite a ride. Yeah, sounds like it! 

As a former law student at UBC [University of British Columbia], what is your overall opinion on the Cannabis Act of 2018? Are there any areas of Canadian cannabis legislation you’d like to see improved? Yes, so I’ll just go through the ten recommendations of NORML Canada. We decided to make these recommendations now that the cannabis act is gonna be up for review in 2021. Okay. Number one being to increase the public possession limit. So right now it’s only legal to possess up to thirty grams, which means that retailers.. And I’m the owner of a cannabis retail store in Ontario.. We have a limit of thirty grams, which means that we cannot sell a person more than thirty grams at one time. And that’s a lot of cannabis. But when you translate that into equivalency limits in the extra category, and beverages in particular, you see that a gram of cannabis is equivalent to five plus grams of beverage. Meaning that if you have more than five beverages, you’re over the legal limit. Making a six pack of cannabis beverages illegal. Farrell laughs Okay, I can imagine that getting pretty ridiculous. Absolutely! So, if you’re picking up beverages for a dinner party, you legally cannot pick up more than five at a time.

We can’t sell more than five and it’s absurd, so that’s number one. And number two is permitting the combination of cannabis products. There are some individuals who are advocating for the ability to put keef or hash inside joints, for example. And that is right now not permitted by Health Canada, but that is something that consumers have indicated that they want. And NORML Canada mostly being a consumer advocacy organisation, we really advocate for loosening the laws that really make it better for the consumer, ultimately. Number three is a little bit focused on medical patients, while we don’t focus exclusively on medical patients. We recognise and respect that the whole recreational legal framework was built on the legal challenges that patients had to fight to get to a regulatory space that made a little bit of sense to offer recreational.

Right now though, medical patients are kind of suffering because there is no store front opportunity for medical cannabis. And as someone who owns a retail recreational store, I get customers all the time who come in and want medical cannabis, they want medical advice. And my staff and myself, we’re not Doctors, we’re not authorised to give medical advice. And so that’s kind of just a hole in the legal regulatory landscape, where the medical patients have sort of been left out. They can order online from anywhere in the country, that’s one of the things that medical cannabis users can do that recreational users cannot.

They can order delivery. However some people really want to have that in-person interaction and talk about the cannabis a bit more. And so allowing medical sales licence holders for example to establish storefronts and act kind of like pharmacies for medical patients is something we’d be interested in seeing. So I suppose the next one from that is opening up a channel for natural health products that contain cannabis. So taking CBD out of the strict control of the Cannabis Act, which is where it is now. And if you compare Canada to somewhere like California, while Canada is federally legal right now, we’re very restrictive on who can grow (and) who can sell. We include every cannabinoid in the definition of cannabis and we include CBD in that.

In California, with the passing of the Farm Bill federally, hemp that contains less than 0.3% THC is considered just an agricultural product in the US. And so, especially in States that have legalised on the State level, you’re seeing these CBD tinctures, dietary supplements on the shelves of Whole Foods and traditional retailers, not just cannabis licenced retail stores. So, California is an example where both are able to thrive. You can sell wellness products outside of the restrictive framework of the cannabis licensing regime and there are those cannabis stores that are authorised to sell cannabis as well but that also are able to do well in that kind of mixed framework so… There’s minimal risk with consuming CBD, so we just kind of want the regulations to accurately reflect the risk value.

And we see the risk is relatively low, so we think the regulations on CBD right now are a little bit overkill in Canada. Sounds like it. Yeah. And I could keep going, but those are the main ones that I would like to see changed. There’s a few more and we have them on the NORML Canada website. But those first few are super important. How does your recently-opened 2Erbn Green store differentiate itself from the competition in Ontario? When the cannabis licensing regime first opened up, basically the only way of saying it is, there weren’t enough people working at the licensing office to process all the interest, right? So we had to restrict it to a lottery system.

You had to express your interest and you got entered into a draw and if you were fortunate you could win the chance to apply for a licensed retail store. And so in the early days, two years ago, those opportunities to get a licence were so coveted and so valuable that people who won this lottery, and I was not one of them, were offered major incentives from large organisations in cannabis. Both retail and organisations maybe loosely connected to producers that are out there, offered large amounts of money to basically fly under their banner in franchise-esque agreements. And so you started seeing a lot of that. A lot of franchise models.

Big organisations trying to purchase these licenses from these people who were fortunate enough to win the opportunity to do so. And it started to create a little bit of a monopoly, from my perspective at least, so it was important to me to be an independent cannabis store that is not operating under a big corporate banner that already has interests in other areas in cannabis. And we’re female-owned. So that’s another thing that was important to me, that overall perhaps, there was not enough participation from women in executive roles in cannabis and so that is something that I think makes us stand out a little too.   

You say on your Twitter bio that you are part 3Métis. Are there any interesting traditions among Métis cultures involving cannabis or other psychedelics? So I actually researched this a while ago, because I was really interested in the indigenous right to self-governance and their ability to create their own structure on their own territories. My heritage goes way back on my mother’s side. I am a 4Red River Cree, partially, and it’s very diluted, which makes me Métis. And when I looked into it and I spoke to my aunt on that side, she’s lived on some reserves in Alberta. She’s been somewhat of my teacher when it comes to discovering my own indigenous heritage and learning those traditions.

And between my research and my discussions with her, I determined that actually, cannabis had very little to do with indigenous cultures, in North America anyway, until colonisation. It was really brought here to us. But we did have a lot of traditions around psychedelics and tobacco as well. So tobacco ceremonies and spirit journeys, when it came to psychedelics. Have you noticed changes in the public perception of weed in the wake of the federal cannabis act? Slowly but surely. People are becoming more comfortable with the idea of walking into a cannabis store the same way they walk into the liquor store. However, there still are people who will not even work with us as a legal cannabis entity. We’re a licenced legal store. Anywhere from contractors to landlords you approach.

They do not want to deal with cannabis businesses. And I think that that comes from the stigma of being underground and elicit. And I think we’re still carrying the weight of criminalisation on our shoulders in that sense. So we’re just slowly trying to change the face of cannabis a little bit and show people that it is part of a modern way of living. And you can include cannabis in your life in a way that makes you comfortable. You don’t have to step outside of your comfort zone to experience cannabis. Recently disrupted global travel aside, have you noticed a significant increase in cannabis tourism since 2018? I suppose I would say a little bit. When I spoke about the early days of licensing a handful of those stores that were first open…

I think one of the first stores were out in Ottawa and I had a lot of people who drove out from Toronto to go check that out. It’s all been pretty close to home, relatively. Unless you work in the industry. Myself and other people in the industry that I know who are national sales representatives, who are going from Western Canada to here to tour facilities, check out retailers and see how things are done in other Provinces. So it’s really big within the industry right now. And I just think the regulations need to catch up to being a little bit more visible to the consumer. It’s very restrictive right now because of the promotions regulations. We really aren’t allowed to communicate the few opportunities that are out there, when it comes to cannabis.

So you reckon it just needs to be streamlined a bit better to give it more of a mainstream appeal, essentially? Yeah and then the licenced producers, the people who are growing and processing the cannabis, will be able to get their Farmgate stores up and running. They’re something that the government permitted; licenced entities that are able to process cannabis to open a facility on-site to sell their cannabis. Kind of like, a farmer’s market rather.. Farrell giggles Yeah. When those start popping up we’re gonna start seeing a lot more cannabis tourism. Excellent, hopefully I’ll get over there myself eventually. Yeah. 

Do you think the recent level of reform in the U.S is at least partially influenced by the benefits seen across Canada? I think so, maybe. But at the same time, what I mentioned earlier with the States really looking a lot better than Canada right now… I think they’re just looking in the mirror. They’re looking at California, they’re looking at Colorado and they’re seeing the success there. Let’s remember that the population of California is bigger than all of Canada. It’s easy to forget! Exactly! So while I want to believe we’re having an influence… I know that Canada, we’re full of all this expertise that we’re willing to offer and all of that, but we did take a lot of notes from Colorado too when we first created our licensing regime up here.

In Ireland, we’re still in the Stone Age when it comes to legalisation of cannabis, so we’re just looking across the pond in general to you and to America, hoping that any day now our government will make a little bit more effort with that, you know? Farrell giggles Yeah. What do you think the regulated market can do to improve its stakeholding in the industry and to diminish the gains the black market has generated? So, referring to those changes that we recommended on the NORML Canada website and also adding in… maybe loosening up the promotions regulations, bringing them a little bit more in line with the alcohol industry, so that we can stand a chance. Because right now with Covid and everything, it’s really difficult to communicate what makes your business different.

To communicate anything really special about it. It’s all limited to age-gated environments. Any places where legally minors are not permitted. So anywhere like… the back of a bar bathroom. But even then, if the bar is operational and open to families at all, you can’t advertise there. So you could really only advertise on the inside of cannabis stores, once people have passed beyond that age check, the age gate. Whether it’s in-person or online. There are some online environments as well with that age gate that you can advertise on, but that’s usually limited to adults’ sites, whether it’s cannabis sites, porn sites, you can advertise there. But it’s not a great way of capturing everybody. Of course not, you’re limited in what you can achieve there.

Do you think the price or quality of legal weed has influenced some consumers to seek out the black market to make purchases, or are there other external factors at play? Yeah, so that I guess ties into the previous question too. I’ve had people come into my store and say: “I buy my hash from an illegal retailer, an illegal dispensary.” And there’s one in particular in Toronto that’s just notorious. They’ve been busted tonnes of times and they just keep popping up. And I really cannot blame the consumers. I am on the board of NORML, which is a consumer advocacy organisation, and you can’t argue with logic. If people want to save money and they feel like they’re getting better value for a cheaper price at an illegal dispensary, it’s common sense.

They’re going to go there. So unless the government can amend the regulations and allow legal operators like myself to compete a little bit better… For example, I cannot open up a container of hash and show this person what it looks like. But he can go to the café and they have it right on display for him and he can touch it, he can feel it. I mean it’s maybe not Covid friendly, but he likes that experience a lot more. And with the legal space, everything is sealed, shut, contained, locked, child-proofed. So some people just don’t enjoy that experience as much. 

Do you have any interesting stats through NORML Canada perhaps, of the rates of people who buy it illegally versus people who buy it legally at dispensaries? I don’t have any hard statistics off the top of my head, but I will tell you that the number is shrinking. We’re getting closer to being able to win those consumers over and I’ve witnessed it myself. I’ve had a customer come in and say: “My shipment comes in tomorrow, but I’m here to have some tonight.” Farrell laughs And I saw the same guy in my store a second time. So maybe the convenience of being able to come to a store instead of waiting for his package might eventually win him over and I hope it does.

And I guess one observation I made when it comes to sales trends is that the sales at recreational stores like mine are much higher and are doing much better in smaller towns. I’m not sure if it takes longer to get packages there maybe, than it does in cities? Have any noticeable challenges emerged for people in the wake of cannabis legislation? Yeah. A big challenge right now is being able to compete with other retailers that are offering discounts. I’m biased from the retail perspective, because I am a retailer. So something that I’m running into right now is that our regulator on the provincial level has told us that discounts are permitted. However, the federal level has issued a bulletin saying that all discounts count as illegal inducements

So, I’m literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. Having a law degree, I don’t know whether I should be permitting this. I see other retailers giving discounts. I want to be competitive, I wanna compete with that, but I would also rather they get their hands caught first before me, so… I guess it’s a kind of an ongoing battle between federal and provincial laws. Yeah, exactly. Farrell giggles So long as common sense wins out, I suppose that’s the main goal at the end of the day. Yeah, 100%. All the best with Erbn Green and with all of your efforts. And thank you so much for devoting a little of your time to this interview. All the best moving forward. Thank you so much, cheers!

References:

1 NORML Canada website: https://www.normlcanada.org/home 

2 Erbn Green website: https://erbngreen.com/ 

3 Wikipedia information on Métis people: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Métis 

4 Wikipedia information on the Little Red River Cree:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Red_River_Cree_Nation 

Brandee Hewlett | Los Angeles, California | 13.11.2020

Brandee Hewlett worked in bartending for 14 years, starting at an Irish pub. She then worked at a gay nightclub for 8 years, before moving on to fine dining and bartending competitions. It was at this point in life she began to feel a ‘massive pull’ to shift away from ‘serving poison’. Nowadays, she teaches Zen Yin yoga and incorporates sound healing therapy into her classes. She advocates strongly for cannabis, something she thinks of as plant medicine. Instagram: @108hopedealer

When did you first become interested in weed, and why personally do you use it? When I was about thirteen is when I started getting interested and it was more the mischievous side of me. I found a bong in the park, so – You found a bong? Richard giggles I did, and it was only a cardboard tube, so… in hindsight now maybe, someone was trying to hide it there. Brandee giggles But it was like a pot of gold, so I grabbed that. And my friend’s mom didn’t care, so we went over there and we tried to smoke out of the bong.. I mean we did, ‘cause we got super high. Right. But that was my first experience getting high. Cannabis and my relationship with it has evolved exponentially since then. It’s changed into medicine and being able to dose myself appropriately. And what influenced you to take up yoga? So, I worked at a nightclub for eight years and it had just closed. And I had just turned thirty and I had a really hard time with hitting thirty. It was this point in my life where I was just lost. And I was at a few different jobs that I wasn’t enjoying, different bars, different restaurants.

And I was really just seeking something, something maybe outside of myself to get me out of this misery. So I was getting my hair done at this salon and next door was this yoga studio. And I walked in and she invited me in that night and I came back for class and that was it. No looking back. Yeah. How does cannabis improve yoga for you? I think because cannabis and yoga have sort of the same side effects. It’s helping you to get deeper in your body, a little bit more out of your mind. And for me, when I’m consuming cannabis and I’m moving, I’m so much more able to be out of the head. Thinking further into the body, rather than just staying above the shoulders. I just think that it’s this symbiotic relationship that feeds off of each other. It’s relaxing or it’s invigorating depending on what strain you use, so it’s pretty versatile and amazing. How did you become involved with Dee Dussault‘s 1Ganja Yoga collective? How did I? On Instagram I found Dee, because that’s how the algorithm works. I like yoga, I like weed and it just like, magically appeared. Ta-da!

In one or two weeks she was having yoga teacher training and I was like: “Oh, this is so cool, I wanna do this!” I hit her up and the price was a little bit more than I could afford at the time. So I let it go, I was like: ”Whatever, it’s not gonna work for me”. And a week before the training started, she messaged me and she goes: “I wanna give you a discount on the training if you’re still interested.” And I was like: “Great!”, so I did that. And she’s just super supportive as a mentor. She’s great. Have you got any interesting stories from your involvement with Ganja Yoga? Let me think. So there’s a couple things. Interesting people that I’ve met, I don’t know, I wonder if she’d get upset with me if I… Oh, okay, I have a really good one. She got invited to a cannabis party, so it’s this house that got rented out by Airbnb, totally illegal to do something like this. They threw a massive party and Dee was invited and I was her plus one, so we went! And it was crazy, to go up the canyon. It sat up (at) the top of the mountain.

The traffic was insane because everybody was getting dropped off in cars at this party and so the neighbours were pissed. So we go to the party and we’re like: “Oh my gosh!” And everybody’s an Instagram influencer. So, everybody’s all done up and they’re so LA. And they’ve got their cameras and their Instagram pulled up, or Tik Tok, whatever they’re doing. And people would talk to us like: “Are you two influencers?” So her and I were like: “Wait, where are we? This is so weird!” So we smoked as much weed as we could and then we took off that night and.. It was like a nice adventure, but it was not our vibe at all. It was cool though, because we were on the same level at least! So she was like, “Are you ready?”, and I’m like: “I’m ready”. Laughter Sounds like it was a little bit intense with all the influencers everywhere! It was. It’s a different world, to be around them. Have you ever been stigmatised for using cannabis? Yeah, for sure. Yep.

I come from the middle of America. St. Louis, Missouri is my home town and I think there was a lot of stigma there. When I moved here… It was in the ballot the November after I moved here to become legal. And so I think there was really no stigma with it out here. People would smoke wherever they wanted to and it was just a free-for-all and I was like, “This is amazing!” So then, I start doing Ganja Yoga and I take this Ganja Yoga retreat and I start promoting it at the yoga studio that I worked at. And yoga people at that studio specifically (I don’t know about all of them).. They were not feeling it and I felt pretty ostracised. The experience really changed for me after that, because I didn’t realise how much of a stigma it still held with some people and especially in the yoga community. Would you say now that there’s a lot more yogis out there who have embraced it, that they would use it pretty often as well as practicing yoga? Yeah, I think a lot more people do it and I think that a lot more people don’t say that they do it. Right.

Because there’s a lot of us that will meet at these Ganja Yoga events and realise that we’re that one lone toker outside of the yoga studio before class and we’re trying not to smell like it when we go in, you know? So then when you make a space for all these people to come together, they’re like: “Yeah, I’ve had that same experience”. So I think that there’s a big group of people, it’s just a subset or a little niche of the yoga community that are stoners. Brandee giggles Do you think legalised cannabis has been a success overall in California, to you personally? Oh, to me personally? Hmm.. I don’t think that I’ve been affected by it personally. I don’t go to dispensaries. Yeah, not to me personally. But I do know that it’s done good things for some people, it’s more accessible for some. But it’s also really hurt a lot of small farmers and stuff, so there’s some good and there’s some bad that’s come from it for sure. 2Sienna Moodie would’ve mentioned that a lot of people who would’ve been making a living from it for a long time were then shut out, once it became legal. How would you suggest improving weed laws there?

Number one, every cannabis conviction, everyone that’s in jail for cannabis needs to get out today, yesterday, four years ago. So that needs to happen right now. And I would say social equity programmes for the people who do have past felonies for cannabis.. Let them get licences. They already know this business, let them have a licence to do this legally. Those are two of the main things that I’m passionate about that I think should happen immediately. Do you think the MORE [Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement] Act to federally decriminalise marijuana in the U.S has a good chance of being voted through the House of Representatives 3next month? Yeah, I do. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, time will tell. I know that our Vice President elect (Kamala Harris) has sponsored the bill. I think it has a good chance, yeah. And how do you feel cannabis and drug policy reform will fare nationally, under Joe Biden and Kamala Harris? How will reform do? Hmm… I think politicians say a lot of things and we hope that they’re gonna follow through with that, but both have been opposed to cannabis being legal in the past.

So I tread very lightly with believing in politicians before I really see what they’re gonna do… I’m hopeful! Laughter Well fingers crossed! When did you and Sienna Moodie first meet and how did Spaced Out become a reality? Sienna and I met through a mutual friend, who made a support group for yoga teachers. She just made this little chat on Instagram at first and added a bunch of yoga teachers she knows, all across the country. I think she was another one of the cannabis yoga teachers, that’s what it was. We were kinda like, “Oh hey!” And so, we took each other’s classes, and I think that we both teach very similar styles, so we like each other’s classes a lot. Our technique, or the things that we say are very similar. We like a really strong vinyasa practice, but we also like a really mellow, chill yen practice. So it’s cool to practice together and teach each other. And then we started talking about doing events. We met up in the desert.

There’s this cannabis-enhanced mineral springs spa and so we hung out there and really got inspired by that place. What’s that place called? Oh, I don’t wanna tell ‘cause then everybody’s gonna go to it! Oh it’s a secret, okay. No, it’s called The O Spa and it’s in desert hot springs. Wow, I didn’t know such a place existed. It’s amazing. It’s so great, it’s so cool. So then Spaced Out was just born because we kept having ideas step by step, one by one. We would reach out to people and be like, “Hey do you wanna sponsor this?” So we have two sponsors for the event. Stone Road Farms? That was one, right? Yep, and they supply us with their amazing pre-rolls. They’re sort of like this small farm. They don’t have a massive grow. The dad and the son put their heart into the business. And then Kikoko teas, which is a women-owned company that sources their cannabis from women when they can and they make these really beautiful teas. We have these 4Spaced Out socially-distanced cannabis yoga sound bath things. And it’s grown into having merch and it’s been really awesome to collab with someone. Like I said, we have a really similar style of teaching so we just flow together really well.

The sound bath concept, how would you describe it? So it’s me, someone in the middle of the group. And I have a 5rainstick, I have different shells that make noises, I have these Japanese chimes… Sienna told me about your crystal singing bowls, they sound really cool. Yeah, and each one is tuned to the different 6chakras, so I basically start with a big massive bowl, the root chakra, and it helps to ground everyone in and it helps to get them settled down. So there’s definitely a way the class flows. So sometimes where she’s teaching a pose, where it’s a heart opener, like a back bend or something supportive where the heart is lifted, I’ll play the heart bowl. And it just emits this frequency where it’s healing, it’s calming, it can reduce pain in people. There’s so many benefits and it just sounds so trippy, it sounds like you’re in another dimension. And where did you find out about sound therapy, was it through a yoga contact or something you stumbled across? When I first moved to LA, I was super broke and I was looking for free events to go to.

And they had a free sound bath one night at the yoga studio up the way, and so I went to it and it was my first experience (of this kind) with sound. And it was one of those experiences where I was trying not to open my eyes, because I wanted to stay immersed in it, but I wanted to see what was making the different sounds ‘cause it was so trippy. Brandee giggles You were working in the bar and restaurant industry for 14 years. You said that you felt as though something pulled you from that lifestyle, you’d had enough and you were tired of serving people poison. What made you gravitate away from that into new territory? I don’t necessarily know why, but it just started becoming this feeling that I wanted to do more in this world. I wanted to help people instead of just serving people booze. And it wasn’t always the case in fine dining, because it was cool to serve great food too, but there was still something that was just feeling really empty about that. So for me it was just a need to feel like I was fulfilling a purpose in this life. Okay.

Ireland has got a big drinking culture, bars everywhere, and the authorities have got no problem with people getting together and getting drunk and all the craziness that comes from that. But they’re very reluctant to move ahead with introducing some meaningful legislation for cannabis, even medicinally. So we are years behind ye in California. We’re hoping with the trend towards legalisation recently in America and globally that they’ll be nudged into starting something. But for whatever reason, they buy into the Reefer Madness stuff and the old fashioned thoughts about how cannabis can lead you to other terrible things. It’s like Topsy Turvy World over here, you know? It’s crazy. Terrible things like munchies and getting sleepy. Brandee laughs Have you any last words you’d like to leave with people in Ireland about cannabis or yoga? Yeah, I for sure do. With cannabis, the stigma that’s around it is such an old thought pattern. It’s such an outdated way of thinking and science is now backing this up.

If you see some of the videos that have gone viral about cannabis, about how much it’s helped people that needed it… In some of these instances, you can see physical symptoms of someone. I don’t know if the guy had Parkinsons, he was just shaking and he could barely light the bowl, have you seen 7that? Yeah. It goes to show how powerful this medicine can be and I just don’t understand why the stigma is still around, because there’s so much proof that it is medicine. If everybody could just take a step back and see that it’s helped so many people, I think that some minds would change. If people were just more open to seeing another side of the story. And with yoga, it’s super powerful. Just like any sort of medicine, yoga is the same where you use your breath to cleanse your body of stress, of emotions, of any kind of bullshit and it’s for everyone. Every shape, every gender (if you still live under that construct). Every size. It just stands for anyone.

There’s chair yoga, there’s veteran yoga, there’s cannabis yoga, there’s any kind of yoga that you could think of. And so I just would encourage anybody that’s thinking about it to even get online and find something. If you’re older, if you don’t have great mobility, or maybe you’re in a wheelchair then get on Youtube and look up chair yoga. See what you can do. Because it’s so powerful and it’s really changed my life. I used to be so anxious and I used to be so unsure about myself and through yoga I’ve really found this inner strength and it’s just an ease to any kind of anxiety that I’m feeling. So I would just encourage everyone to try it. Thank you so much for your time, we really appreciate it. It was nice talking to you and getting to know you a little bit! Thanks for having me, take care!

References:

1 For more information on Ganja Yoga: https://www.ganjayoga.com/about

2 Check out our interview with Sienna Moodie at this link:

https://greenlensblog.com/2020/10/04/sienna-moodie-palm-springs/

3 The MORE Act has since been voted through the House of Representatives:

https://hightimes.com/news/house-representatives-votes-decriminalize-marijuana/ 

4 For updates on Spaced Out yoga, follow the official Instagram account:

https://www.instragram.com/spacedoutsfla/ 

5 Wikipedia info on rainsticks: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainstick 

6 Wikipedia info on chakras: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakra 

7 The viral video in question, from the documentary Ride with Larry:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNT8Zo_sfwo 

Educated Stoner – High Art: Cannabis & Muse

A continuation of the work of freelance journalist, producer and cannabis advocate, Sharon Letts.  We encourage our readers to check out more from sharonletts.com as she documents her experience with cannabis from beating cancer to remedy recipes, essays and books to video and podcast interviews, and much more. Twitter: @SharonLetts

When I became pregnant with my daughter at 29, I sadly left the herb behind to be what I thought was a responsible and upstanding single mom. At 13, my daughter was diagnosis with Fibromyalgia, an auto-immune system malady causing chronic pain and other debilitating complications. By 16, she couldn’t attend school, couldn’t play softball or do any of the physical activities she loved. When she was 16, a friend acquired a small bag of weed off the black market for her to try, stating it would help ease the pain. I rolled a joint for the first time in years and we sat in the garden, puffing and passing. She didn’t like the euphoric feeling from the THC and that afternoon we spent a full three hours thrift shopping until the effects wore off. So, there I was with this little bag of green. What to do? I was sorry I couldn’t help my daughter, but after all those years of abstinence it made me feel just as good as it did years prior. I decided to forget about the stigma, created a workshop in the garage and let the muse in.

An earlier diagnosis of Thyroid Disease had me 50 pounds overweight, and smoking soon found me walking my neighborhood with a camera, bringing home broken bits of things, becoming an assemblage artists in the process. Cannabis speeds up metabolism and in a matter of weeks I was dropping pounds. You’d think I would have gained more weight by smoking, but contrary to popular marijuana myth, the plant actually got me up off the couch and out into the world again. I started smoking again in spring and by summertime I had stopped watching television, lost the 50 pounds, gained some muscle back, pitched a tent in the garden and slept out under the stars until the rains came in the fall. Yes, my muse was fully activated. I loved smoking again! What fun, what pleasure! I could check into my little workshop, take a few hits and create to my heart’s content. My day job of writing for television prospered, as well, as I excelled creatively and professionally. Yes, everything I’ve ever written has been done fully medicated – be it for television, dailies, weeklies, or magazines.

It’s how I connect with that place. I don’t know how it works and I don’t care, I’m just grateful. My newfound health had me yearning for a different life and soon my daughter and I made the move to Northern California and Humboldt County, where she enrolled in college and I began writing for newspapers. Humboldt County is synonymous with Cannabis and I slowly realized that most of my co-workers above and below the administrative line were involved somehow in the industry out of need, as Humboldt is a rural area and the hunting, fishing, and lumber industries were a shadow of what they once were. Minimum wage jobs beg subsidizing, and savvy residents grow, trim, and make product to get by. And though I’ve never grown, I’ve learned the ins and outs of this region and its estimated 14 billion dollar industry. As a features writer covering human interest stories in the county, when the daily newspaper I was writing for began to lay off staff, I was the first to be let go.

But the muse persisted, and soon I began writing a series for a local weekly titled, “Behind the Curtain”, with a play on words of the “Redwood Curtain”, the protective shroud that keeps Humboldt so very rural and cozily covert. Published prior to California’s failed attempt at legalization via Proposition 19, it put a human face on the Nor Cal grow scene, detailing the ins and outs of living and working in a grow house and all that implies, as the neighborhoods of the area are changed forever supporting an indoor scene. The series also began my newfound career in writing about Cannabis as medicine, and today I write internationally on the subject, penning many stories each month for magazines profiling everything to do with good medicine. Smoking made me feel better physically, but it also helped me find my artistic center once again – and that, in turn, made me emotionally happier.

At 50, I could not have found my medicine at a better time, for that’s when the body begins to change and weaken and Cannabis acts almost as a “Fountain of Youth,” if you will. It’s a rejuvenator of the body and rights the wrongs that cause us to have myriad modern day ailments that seem to lead everyone to pain, depression, and deathful disease. And for finding one’s muse, it’s a must, with the moral of this story being, if you have found your medicine smoke-up, eat your weed,  be happy and healthy and your weed will never let you down.