Writer Sharon Letts visits with singer songwriter Melissa Etheridge at her home in Los Angeles. Sharon's celebrity patient profiles detail their relationship to cannabis, and how their voices can help the cause in educating the masses on good medicine.
Celebrity Advocate: Melissa Etheridge
A voice for people, patients, and the plant
Musician Melissa Etheridge dodged the bullet of hard core drug use during the 1970s and 80s. While fellow artists were grappling with addiction, Melissa was coming to terms with her sexuality in an industry dominated by homophobic men.
“I’ve always felt issues with the Gay rights movement and the cannabis movements are so similar,” she said from her home in the hills outside of Los Angeles proper. “Both movements are based on stereotyping, fear, and misinformation and people need to come out from both closets and talk about it.”
The path Melissa took to advocacy may not have always been a choice, but it was paved with inspiration and knowledge from her father who taught constitutional law to high school seniors.
“He really helped me to understand at a very young age what our government is about,” she shared. “Our founding fathers based the constitution on the way the existing tribal nations resolved conflict – how they made peace between the tribes in the new world. The way it’s all set up with checks and balances works, it really does.”
In January of 2014 Melissa released the single, Uprising of Love, in response to Russia’s tough anti-Gay laws and the LGBT community’s request to boycott the 2014 Olympics in Russia. The song is a call to arms for brothers and sisters around the world still drowning in disrespect while American Gays are gaining ground.
My eyes are wide-open recognizing change
It feeds the fires of the fear
Where human love seems strange
I’m gonna rise above
I believe that love is love
I’m gonna raise my hands
With every woman, child and man
I’m gonna start an uprising of love
Proceeds from the song named after the Russian advocacy group by the same name were donated to the Russia Freedom Fund, aiding the cause on Russian soil.
Melissa said she was confident the democratic process in America would allow Gay marriage in time. Cannabis, on the other hand, has been the harder stigma to squash.
“Both the Gay rights movement and the movements to end cannabis prohibition are based on misinformation and fear,” she said. “Children are being taken away from their parents for being cannabis patients, and children in extreme gender conflict are being thrown out of their homes by their own families.”
The contrasts are startling, with performer Miley Cyrus’ non-profit Happy Hippie Foundation siting 16 million youth are made homeless each year, with 40 percent identifying as LGBT, with family rejection at the top of the list for reasons why (Laganja Estranja, Dope Magazine, Sept. 2015).
With or without Child Protective Services ever getting involved, families continue to discriminate against their pot-smoking, cannabis ingesting family members, with rhetoric rivaling that of a national political campaign.
In 2004 Melissa was diagnosed with breast cancer and began the grueling traditional treatments of surgery and chemotherapy, successfully putting the cancer into remission. As widely reported, she also endured great physical and emotional suffering, causing her to up her cannabis use during the process with great success.
Fellow rock star, friend and surrogate father of two of her children, David Crosby, suggested she smoke cannabis to quell the nasty symptoms from the chemo and the meds that accompany the traditional treatments.
“Medicating with cannabis saved my life,” Melissa explained. “The side effects of chemotherapy are horrible. Going through treatment was the most eye-opening experience I’ve been through. The medications you must take during and after the treatments have awful side effects and really damage your body. I had no energy whatsoever, could not eat – and cannabis helped with all of it.”
Melissa said she ended her traditional treatments early due to how bad the medications made her feel once the cancer was gone, with cannabis making a huge difference to her well-being, both physically and emotionally.
The greatest fear she had wasn’t in using the herb, but what others would think – specifically Child Protective Services, who are notorious for removing children from the homes of real patients in legal medicinal states or otherwise. During her Key Note Speech at the 2015 Cannabis World Congress Business Expo, she announced to chuckles she was thankful her kids were still with her today.
The beneficial effects of simply smoking cannabis for pain and nausea alone while undergoing chemotherapy or radiation have been proven to be widely effective, as discovered with work done with AIDS patients in California.
Dr. Donald Abrams gained approval and recognition for his clinical trials with AIDS patients in San Francisco between 2003 and 2005, documenting a 30 percent reduction in pain by smoking cannabis while taking prescription pain killers.
Other studies show secondary cancers and other serious ailments such as stroke and heart attacks presenting directly linked to the use of chemotherapy, chemo drugs, and radiation (Dope Magazine, Tommy Chong; August 2014).
Because of the damaging side effects of longtime conventional therapies Melisa said she won’t go down the traditional trail if or when her cancer comes back.
“I’ll definitely ingest the cannabis oil if I need to,” she said. “I’m a firm believer in its benefits, and was sorely disappointed when Angelina Joile made the decision to get a double mastectomy out of fear.”
Melissa said out of all the highly debatable subjects she’s been involved with, from Gay rights to enlisting David Crosby as surrogate father to her babies, her speaking out against surgery as prevention for cancer hit her with the harshest criticism.
“People can do whatever they want with their bodies – your body is yours,” she offered. “If you fear something so much you decide to cut healthy tissue off, by all means, go ahead. But don’t present it to the public as if it’s a courageous act, when it’s based solely on fear.”
Those in the cannabis community are always shaken when hearing of anyone in a high profile position choosing traditional therapies when they could get educated on the plant and make a difference for many. That said cannabis causers are also painfully aware they are ahead of their time when it comes to knowledge on the plant – specifically in putting cancer and serious ailments into remission.
The recipe for making “Rick Simpson Oil” or “RSO” is actually an old recipe re-created by Canadian Rick Simpson more than 15 years ago, after he was told there was nothing more to be done for a terminal case of skin cancer. Since his success, the recipe and protocol have been shared via word of mouth only ( helped by social media), and involves ingesting orally, or delivery via suppositories, 60 grams of the strong oil in 90 days, with some of the most invasive cancers being reported gone in less time (Rick Simpson, Dope Magazine, July 2015).
While Mellissa admitted she doesn’t enjoy ingesting, she said she’s open to learning more about it – especially where cancer prevention is concerned. She’s working with a former Iron Chef, teaming up with Greenway Compassionate Relief of Santa Cruz in California, creating a variety of infused products, to include a delicious hot, sweet mustard; honey sticks in three varieties, “sunny, funny, and honey” – representing sativa, hybrid, and indica, respectively; “Balmz Away” topical salve; and small batch wine in association with Coup’ Vineyards in Santa Cruz.
Her “Know Label Private Reserve” branded bottle of “tincture” can be compared to a “tonic” from pre-pharmaceutical days of apothecary (see companion story in this issue), and is literally label-free, with the varietal and her name written in gold ink along the base of the bottle. The word play in the brand is purposeful, alluding to knowing about the good medicine inside the bottle. Each bottle is valued at a humorously denoted $420 each.
“We are infusing wine with cannabis in a cold process with green bud and plant material that doesn’t activate the THC,” she shared. “The feeling is a warm, full body high. People who don’t want to smoke or have issues with the psychoactive properties of THC like this option – especially if they already enjoy wine.”
Markets to distribute products developed include the legal State of Colorado, teaming up with Starbuds dispensaries in Denver, giving her an edge on the Rocky Mountain High state.
“We are still working out legalities of production with alcohol, distribution across state lines, and testing to be in accordance with each city, county, and state ordinance out there,” she advised. “That’s something I’d really like to get involved with – helping to implement smarter ordinances locally in cities and counties. The main thing is, it’s all truly medicine and California is about to go recreational. We need to keep the state at the forefront of cannabis as medicine, where it’s always been.”
With the Department of Agriculture’s change of heart giving cannabis products measuring in at less than 0.03 percent THC a “Hemp” moniker, she may be able to ship the wine across state lines soon. This writer would not mind being in a “bottle of the month club” with that brand, as alcohol infusion is one of my own personal favorite deliveries of the plant.
On another note, the artist is currently using her voice and her notoriety on the project of her life, helping to integrate cannabis as medicine with traditional therapies, in negotiations now with a national cancer treatment center chain.
“I’ve joined forces with nine actual oncologists who know, at the very least, that this plant is good medicine,” she offered. “We will be creating places where cannabis will be integrated into traditional treatments.”
While Medicine Man of Denver hints at a relationship with a pharmaceutical chain, and President Obama’s nod to real research on U.S. soil, the plant just may have a chance helping the masses do away with many of the real illnesses and disorders plaguing our country and world today.
“As I see it illnesses are getting worse and the medical community is up against a wall for options on how to treat everything” she surmised. “Then you see documentaries, like Sanjay Gupta’s ‘Weed’ on CNN - because he gets it. Doctors are starting to realize something is not right, that this plant may be a viable option. The future is about health and truly understanding a more holistic approach for each of us. We are responsible for our own bodies. We need to know we have a health system that is poisoned and taking one pill won’t fix it. That’s the next big paradigm shift that needs to happen.”
Starbuds dispensary, Colorado
Happy Hippie Foundation: Miley Cyrus
U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health (NIH): Symptoms of nausea/cannabis
U.S. National Library of Medicine (NIH): Cannabis as breast cancer cell inhibitor
Journal of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics: Cannabis and breast cancer cell growth
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. (PNAS): Cannabis and human cancer cell proliferation
Dr. Donald Abrams, Prof., Dept. of Medicine, UCSF
Journal of the American Academy of Neurology: Cannabis & pain management trial, Dr. Donald Abrams
Sharon provided consistent content for three years to then start-up Dope Magazine, including her Road Trip series; patient, product, and medicine maker profiles; event and festival coverage, and the occasional celebrity visit. The following celebrity covers were written for Dope Magazine as patient profiles, detailing their personal cannabis use and how their voices can help educate the masses on good medicine. Sharon looks at her celebrity interviews as interventions for this reason, as celebrities are just people who have been misinformed with the rest of us for decades. Sharon believes that educated celebrities have a responsibility to share truth with their followers.
Clockwise left to right:
Jimi Hendrix and an interview with brother Leon on alcoholism in families; Laganja Estranja, giving a voice to the LGBTQ community on good medicine, with a sidebar on PTSD; Dr. Carl Hart, author and professor of neurosciences at Columbia University, speaking on discrimination within the failed War on Drugs; Melissa Etheridge talks about her help with cannabis through chemo and her advocacy for the plant; Rick Simpson, re-creator of the oil that puts everything from cancer to MS into remission; Women Grow co-founders Jazmin Hupp and Jane West take a look back on its first year, and what it means to women in the industry; Tommy Chong talks about his second bout with prostate cancer and his use of cannabis as medicine; Former NFL star Kyle Turley talks about transitioning off prescription meds to cannabis for myriad complications from years of concussions, including advanced Alzheimer's at 34; Legend Willie Nelson chats about his life of music and when he transitioned from alcohol to weed.