Tracy Ryan describes Weed the People as “a compelling story about how this little girl has survived and overcome all the odds that have been put in front of her.” The little girl is her three-year-old daughter Sophie, a principle in the forthcoming documentary on cannabis and cancer. Cannabis-derived oils helped Sophie battle a serious brain tumor, and her mother now helps others as the founder of CannaKids and SavingSophie.org. In the first installment of this two-part interview, Ryan recounted Sophie’s story and how it motivated her family to help others. In part two, Ryan dives into the specifics of her organization, parental resources and how cannabis can complement modern cancer treatments.
The website includes a lot of information for parents. Did you see the need from your own experience?
I wanted to do this website for Sophie since a few months after she was diagnosed. My husband and I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours trying to figure out what type of diet she should be on, what supplements she can take, what clinical trials are available, how we can raise money for all this, what charities are out there that can help support us. That is how SavingSophie.org evolved. We wanted to have all the resources in one place that my husband and I took months and months and months to uncover, and we are still uncovering. I wanted to take a lot of the stress and guesswork out of the parents’ hands. We identified a lot of different problems and tried to solve them. We've identified the problem with trying to find good medicine, which we now provide. I invented a dosing calculator that helps calculate a very tricky mathematical equation. Now we are helping people pay for their medicine.
On December 9, we are doing our first fundraiser, a comedy show with Camilla Cleese, John Cleese’s daughter. She's going to bring in all kinds of A-list comedians, and we are going to do a silent auction. All of that money will go to the children. We also partnered with the Red Crow Indian Tribe here in Southern California, and they are going to grow us an acre of CBD to help support our patients. Their crops will be able to service 30,000 patients on a yearly basis. We're going to do more fundraisers in the future so that eventually we can provide free medicine to all of our pediatric patients and vets who really need it. Vets are dying at a rate of 22 people a day. Eventually, instead of just providing free medicine for children and vets that qualify, we would love to be able to provide it to anybody who qualifies. So that is how we started, where we are and where we want to go.
Clinical studies often reach different conclusions, so when aggregating content for the site, how do you decide which to publish?
I often specifically look at who the researcher is. There a lot of researchers that I really admire and respect. [Manuel] Guzmán is one of them. I really look up to Sean McAllister and the work he's been doing. We also look at anecdotal research as well from trusted resources. The website United Patients Group has amazing content.
How do you see cannabis interacting with traditional medicine when it comes to cancer?
In terms of cancer, we are not really seeing any drug interactions. With epilepsy, it’s a different story. We tell our patients, if they are on any type of pharmaceutical or chemotherapy, we want to see [oil use] separated by at least one or two hours. There is an enzyme in the liver that can be blocked, and we don't want anything competing in the liver for processing. Make sure you have separation time that allows one medicine to go through the system and get into the bloodstream before the next one.
What about people who only use cannabis to treat cancer?
I have seen firsthand with my daughter alone how important it is for her to have Western medicine along with the cannabinoid therapy. In some cases, you have patients with no chance of survival, and Western medicine will only make their end of life much more terrible, and the chemo is just there to keep them alive for a little bit longer. I never tell a patient not to do Western medicine, but in those situations, really, mother to mother, mother to father, I try to help them work through what they want for their child or their loved one during these last days. We have seen patients put in hospice and sent on their way, if you will, and we have seen them come back and completely get rid of their cancer, but it is not something that you see typically. By then, their bodies are usually riddled with cancer and destroyed by chemo and radiation, and the lining of the stomach has been completely eaten away. You are not able to absorb nutrients and medicine, and how are you going to treat something if you cannot get [medicine] into the bloodstream? In every other case, if it is someone just diagnosed, I encourage Western medicine because some studies out there show that using cannabis and chemotherapy or radiation together increases the efficacy of the chemo and radiation.
In terms of utilizing cannabis, what are the biggest therapeutic challenges?
We just don't have enough scientific research for us to know what strains with what terpene profiles and at what exact doses work best for which types of cancer. We have a baseline that we have established through anecdotal evidence, but everybody is so different internally with how they absorb and respond to medicine, both in terms of cannabis and Western medicine. You can take two identical patients with two identical disease types and give them two identical treatment plans and one may live and one may die. We need more research.
Your landlords are trying to evict you, correct?
We have a line of oils used to treat serious diseases, specifically pediatric cancer patients. Our landlord was a religious organization making them a 501c3, and because cannabis is federally illegal, they are telling us we are in breach of our lease and putting their 501c3 at risk. Maybe we are and maybe we are not. This is California, and leases are usually regulated under California law, not federal, but it would cost a lot of money to pay a lawyer’s retainer just to ask the question of whether or not we are in breach. We planned on being here for seven or eight years, and I spent tens of thousands of dollars on improvements. But now we have to go. I am happy to avoid the attorney fees and the nasty legal battle that could happen if they want to reimburse the money for the improvements. It's another one of those things that we deal with as a cannabis company. We had a bank account get shut down and had to move to another bank. We are getting evicted from our home of three years now when we are literally saving lives. We are doing this incredible work, but because of the federal regulations, we are looked at as criminals in a lot of situations.
What would you say to families who just found out that their child has a disease, and what type of social support are they going to need.
Social support is invaluable. When Sophie was first diagnosed, everybody comes out to support you, and then they all disappear. The mass majority of them. It is one of those things where, when you are the parent of a sick child, you need to be prepared to lose friends. It is just going to happen. I have yet to meet a parent who still has their same friend base that they had before the child got sick. Some people just can't handle it, or you're not the fun people anymore, and they move on. But you also make a lot of new friends that are even more supportive than the friends you had before. It is absolutely imperative to find some type of community with like-minded people going through the same type of experiences that you are because nobody, and I mean nobody, understands what it is like to be a cancer parent until you are one. You can imagine what it is like, but you absolutely have no idea. I have friends online from all over the world that I probably will never meet and that I talked to almost every day and that support me and love me and understand what I'm going through, and I support them and love them and support what they are going through. Having people who really get what is going on inside of your head is crucial. That is one of the reasons we work so hard to help these people find groups and communities like ours so that they can get the support that they need.
Are your support groups on the site?
We don't have it on the website, but if you connect with us, we automatically add you to our community. We don't have something that is public. We have something that is private in order to protect people all over the country. So we have a separate community that is outside CannaKids the company that we will lead people to so they can find the love and support they need.
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.