From being born in virtually subtropical Johannesburg, South Africa, Steve Stern spent his formative years in the temperate climate of Israel and then suddenly uprooted to sub-freezing Wisconsin just after the Yom Kippur War. After that, he landed a suburban life in Great Neck, New York. His NYC inflection is a dead giveaway of where Steven Stern is from, and it guides his direction in life, that entrepreneurial spark that comes from being from New York.
Stern, along with his family, now makes his home in Israel again. Why the move back? Without candy-coating his life, Stern has been afflicted with a particularly virulent form of lung cancer. He's currently stage IV, which means the cancer has spread to other parts of his body, but Stern believes this metric is far from a death sentence. His whole life is stretching out in front of him. He has many plans and many successes to achieve and share with others, including the app Potsmoking.com launched in early October, which he hopes becomes the Instagram of cannabis.
Stern makes his life in a place in the world where cannabis is not treated as a curse or a pariah. There is medical healing in cannabis, and he wants to share his passion for this amazing, health-giving plant with the world. Cancer treatment in Israel includes the use of cannabis, both in the mental and physical treatment of this deceptive disease. In fact, cannabis is part of the tool kit for the treatment of many different afflictions in Israel. There is more medical research being done in Israel pertaining to cannabis than just about anywhere on Earth. For Stern, it made perfect sense to be near the great minds of this burgeoning health treatment, one that is more than 5,000 years in the making.
PRØHBTD spoke with Stern and discovered he loves to talk about his hunger, his appetite for life and his passion for good health and inner happiness.
What are your childhood memories of food and family?
My mom did all the cooking. After all, she was feeding four growing boys. I remember being confused about time and place, partially because I had grown up in Israel. It's quite a warm climate, and I'm suddenly plunged into frozen Wisconsin, ice and snow and months of frozen weather. Food wasn’t just a metaphor, it was life-giving sustenance. I remember eating foods that were uniquely appropriate for ice and cold weather. [We ate] root vegetable stews, really thick ones, stick-to-the-ribs kind of food because it was so darned cold. I was from a desert climate, and this was permafrost!
Do you like to cook?
I learned to love the art of cooking by watching my mom in the kitchen. My Ugandan-born wife is an excellent cook, and there is always cooking going on in our home, partially because the act of preparing a meal together is so cathartic.We love the sense of family that comes out when everyone helps prepare our meals together. It’s really quite amazing the closeness of the act of cooking. It serves as a method of bringing thoughts together, and healing flows from this simple act of coming together to prepare a meal.
What about cancer and cannabis?
Cancer is so prevalent in our society. It’s a disease that strikes all kinds of people, rich and poor. It’s all around us. I’ve learned that cannabis attacks the sickness at the core level, but not everyone has the same outcome. Cannabis helps me in my healing regimen, and it has and continues to work for me at a core level. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to accept treatment with different forms of cannabis or the multitude of strains that seem to have dozens of applications in the pursuit of good health and eventually healing. There is so very little research going on right now globally to support this theory of cannabis being used to cure or even alleviate the ravages of cancer. Cannabis motivates me—depending on the strain I use, of course, either indica or sativa—and guides the patient through the synergy of health. I believe that the cannabis community seeks to make death irrelevant. It’s a remarkable thought and one that makes for a lively conversation. This is ultimately a conversation of life over death, and I believe it is the personification of being alive!
Tell us about your new app.
Potsmoking.com is a web address that my friend Steve Einzig has owned for a long, long time. It’s morphed into an easy-to-use app [that connects] an interactive, micro-community platform and stimulates the visual space. As a media message, Potsmoking.com can be favorably compared with Facebook or Instagram. It's a user-driven, content-rich cannabis community that evolves in real time. It exists in the virtual space, 24/7, based on the overall interactivity of the colorful users. [It's] the exemplification of a global village, actualized by internet visionary Jeff Pulver, founder of the 140 Characters Conference. The anticipation is to normalize the use of cannabis, not as a strictly recreational tool used solely for intoxication, but to unlock ancient forms of healing.
Are you an entrepreneur?
If I’m lucky, I get to follow my dreams, and nothing is going to stop me, not contracting cancer, not the time I have left, not the weather, not nothing. John Lennon spoke about happiness as the key to life. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand what life is. This is my happiness: to share my passion for living a good life, to share my music with others, to share my new app. Perhaps having such an aggressive form of cancer has something to do with understanding the obligation of sharing my passion with as many people as possible. Not forcing my energy upon them, but nurturing it, in a healing and cathartic fashion.
How big is cannabis in Israel right now?
Cannabis is a multi-billion-dollar arena in Israel alone. The depth of research is astounding, and even some of the most traditionally stoic, ultra-religious Jews have embraced the use of cannabis in some of their sacraments. There isactually kosher-certified cannabis for use in high holy days. Some of these Orthodox Jews give permission to use cannabis in the day-to-day experience of overall healing. I believe that cannabis is enlightening and astounding all at the same time.
How Israel has left the United States behind in cannabis research is purely political. In the U.S., there is a social stigma behind cannabis. Cancer healing is all but controlled by Big Pharma, and bigger egos drive the entire business of healing. American doctors are not taught in medical school how to use cannabis in a healing fashion because there is no financial incentive for them to be interested in medications outside the Big Pharma umbrella. They only know the negatives. The cannabis healing business is massive in Israel, and it's not slowing down at all. Just as high-tech drives growth in San Francisco, the intellectuals in the youth movement in Israel are embracing the myriad of medical applications and the use of cannabis in the pursuit good health.
Why does cannabis help some cancer patients and not others?
Take away for a second the attempts to cure cancer, and let's look at the terpenes or aromas. There are aromatics in cured cannabis that not everyone finds appealing. Some of the aromatics are reminiscent of skunks, others of cat urine, still others of fruits, and then an entire litany of natural scents that evoke cheese, earth, cedar, lemon, pine. The list goes on and on. There are more scents that we can detect, and not all of them are going to be appealing, especially when a person is sick. Physically, some people just don’t like the smell of cannabis, either dried, cured or smoked. Sometimes the smell is psychological in a bad way, and the disgust can be quite literal indeed.
May I suggest crushing a bud of cannabis between your hands? If the aroma appeals to you, then smoke a sample of this bud. Put some in a pipe or smoke it in a bong and see if the effect is pleasurable to you. If it does feel appropriate for your affliction, then gently allow the healing properties to do their job. If not, try another strain until you find the one that gives you relief for your specific afflictions.
Not everyone likes the overall feeling, nor will everyone appreciate the meaning of healing with cannabis. There are hundreds of variables, and not all of them are tried and true. Experiment and find your own synergy. Most importantly, everyone’s human chemistry is different. When you get labeled with a disease like cancer, cannabis becomes, to coin a phrase, part of my tool box.
Is there a social stigma in cancer treatments?
We all have our challenges in life and sparks that drive us. When you get sick, things change very quickly. That spark of entrepreneurship in my life pushes me forward. Not every day is going to be perfect, far from it. There are bad ones and good ones. I don’t want to just lie in bed feeling sorry for myself, feeling sick, waiting for the end-game to reveal itself, if only to give me brief enlightenment. I want to experience the now and do it all myself. There is absolutely a social stigma, and I seek to smash it.
Tell me about trying out for America’s Got Talent.
I’ve been a reggae fan since, well, forever. I was given the opportunity to sing the famous Bob Marley and the Wailers' song "Waiting in Vain" for a try out to be on America’s Got Talent. It was always a life-long dream to sing this song and communicate my deep passion for this healing music. After all, this very song guided my life to this point and beyond. The long and short of the event was a very fortuitous meeting with some influential and passionate music industry folks who work in the reggae space. This led to a personal demo tape where my own song was played for the Wailers. My song was well liked with even more to follow in time. This is a dream come true, to be taken seriously as a musician and as a reggae one at that by the venerable Wailers.
You’ve seen quite a few Grateful Dead shows. What would be your dream band?
(Laughs.) I’ve seen quite a few shows. I’d love to see members of the Wailers play with members of The Dead. That would be an amazing thing to experience, and it's something that's still possible!
How do you guide each day?
Nothing gets in my way. I know how I feel, and I want to be known as the cancer warrior. Not many people have survived as long as I have with the form of cancer that I have. I want to always let it be known that to preach about cannabis and cancer is the greatest gift. I’ve said to my family, "Don’t love me quite so much." You can’t protect everyone, and this is so very true. They cannot rescue me. I have to rescue myself, with the help of my doctors, and do the things I have to do to maintain my health. And the use of cannabis as a curative gives me hope. At least I know that I’m working with a team who values the use of cannabis in my own personal treatment. This is a life-giving gift, to say the very least.
Photo credit: Dafna Talmon. Warren Bobrow is author Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails, and Tonics: The Art of Spirited Drinks and Buzz-Worthy Libations.