Abby Epstein and Ricki Lake, the documentarians behind The Business of Being Born, will likely debut their new film Weed the People in late 2016. Described as an “unflinching look at the underground world of herbal medicine,” the movie follows families who turned to cannabis when traditional medicine offered little hope. One of the film’s principles is Sophie Ryan, diagnosed with a brain tumor while only months old, leaving her parents scrambling for any answers they might find. Desperate, the Ryan family said yes when the filmmakers wanted to give Sophie cannabis-based treatments and document the results. The film captures Sophie’s very first dose at just nine months old, and the results inspired Sophie’s mother, Tracy, to found CannaKids and SavingSophie.org to help other parents in similar situations. In the first of a two-part interview, Tracy Ryan tells what happened with Sophie and how her story shows that medicinal cannabis is not a joke.
Let’s start at the beginning with Sophie’s story. What happened?
At eight and a half months, the doctors diagnosed Sophie with an optic pathway glioma brain tumor, and I created a page called Prayers for Sophie on Facebook. I have always been into social media, and I’ve always believed in God and the power of prayer. I believed the more people we could have praying for her, the better success she would have. I really believe in that. I started the page at midnight, and eight hours later, it had more than 900 fans. My mommy groups on Facebook just made the page go viral, and one of the moms shared the post, and a woman from the movie The Business of Being Born saw it. She reached out to my girlfriend and let her know that Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein were doing a new documentary called Weed the People. This documentary is all about how cannabis works with pediatric cancer.
At this point, my husband and I had been contacted by 20 people telling us we should look into cannabis. This is pre-Sanjay Gupta, as I call it. This is way before anyone talked about using cannabis for cancer, especially in pediatrics, and it was the one thing I completely dismissed when people gave us recommendations. Then when I found out that Ricki and Abby were doing this documentary, I was like, “Okay, there has to be more to this.” Literally, within 24 hours, I was talking with Abby. She sent me all this research and these videos, and my husband and I started looking into it. We tried everything that we could to find something negative, and we could not. All we found was positive.
I had this overwhelming feeling when Sophie got sick that she was going to be okay and that she had a message and that we are her messengers and that we needed to figure out what that was. God did this to us for a very specific reason. I just had one of those really strong motherly intuitions, and then here come Ricki and Abby. I looked at my husband and said this has to be it. And we started on the journey.
At what point did you start helping other parents?
We saw shrinkage on every single scan, and a few months in, I created a group on Facebook that other moms could come to and collaborate. I created it with a few other moms whose children also had cancer and were using cannabis. We all just started to collaborate and support each other and learn from each other, and I started to see this wonderful community emerge. I started to see all these children thriving, and I really started to believe in this as something viable to help the human race. It really inspired me to want to do more.
I've always been an entrepreneur. I have had my own media agency for six years, and I know how to run a company. I found an investor who wanted to partner with us and support us in this movement, and we founded a [cannabis farm] grow and started growing our own medicine last March. We harvested last year, and earlier this year in Q1, we rolled out our first line of CannaKids oils. We work with a team of scientists and doctors to formulate what our terpene profile should look like so that the terpenes in our medicine are targeted toward cancer. We have the scientists process these oils in lab settings so we're not cooking stuff in our kitchen or backyards, blowing up our houses. These are done by professionals who have 20 or 30 years of experience in organic chemistry, and they understand how the plant works and how it should be processed.
We then partnered with a few nurses trained in cannabinoid therapy, and now only a few months in, we probably have more than 250 patients all by word of mouth. And we have success stories that would make your skin crawl all because this little baby was born and had a terrible thing happen to her. Now because she lives, other people are living, too, and it is this wonderful silver lining in an otherwise perfectly dark cloud.
How did cannabis help Sophie in terms of increasing the efficacy of chemotherapy and radiation?
When Sophie was diagnosed, they told us the chemo is only meant to arrest the development of her type of tumor. If we saw minimal shrinkage, it would be considered a huge success. Her tumor had a growth spurt, and they said 100 percent her left eye would be completely blind and her right eye would likely be grossly compromised. In her first 13 months of treatment, her brain tumor shrunk by more than 95 percent, and her vision is perfect. She does not have one single deficiency, and the doctor said that was impossible. With chemo, the tumor just gets gobbled up when you add cannabis to it. Off treatment, her tumor can grow. Cannabis is not enough to keep it stable so she really needs both.
How old is Sophie now?
She just turned three, and she is doing fantastic. She is in chemotherapy right now. She did the [original] full 13 months of chemotherapy. With these types of brain tumors, you only getfour to six months of shrinkage, if you see any shrinkage at all, and then the tumor plateaus. Sophie saw 13 solid months of shrinkage. The hospital that treated her at the time had only seen three other patients with this type of tumor before, so they followed the book and gave Sophie exactly what the book told them to give her. Even though she was still responding and the tumor was still shrinking, they sent us home after 13 months. With these types of tumors, if it is still shrinking, you keep going, but they didn't know to do that. Within 30 days, Sophie's tumor started growing again. We moved her to the Children's Hospital in LA under the care of a doctor who has seen hundreds of these cases and knows how to treat them. So she did have a little bit of a growth spurt in her tumor, and we had to put her back on chemo, but it has already started to shrink again substantially only after two and a half months.
You would never know anything is wrong with my child. She originally suffered through nine blood transfusions while she was on chemotherapy the first time. Then her bone marrow just magically repaired itself in the last four months of treatment, and in the first 6 months of this treatment, she has never needed a blood transfusion, which is medically impossible according to her doctor. Once you start needing blood transfusions, you have to keep getting those blood transfusions, but Sophie has just fixed herself. There is just magic in this cannabis that protects her body and her immune system. They said she would definitely be hospitalized for fever at some point, but she has never spiked a fever during treatment. She has never become neutropenic, which is when your white blood count bottoms out. She has never endured hearing loss. She's never had a lot of the problems that you see from children who are on this much medicine. She does get a little nauseous from time to time, but it might be a couple of times per month, so we essentially have a really normal life right now. The doctor says she is going to have a totally normal life and outlive us all.
Click here for Part Two of this interview.
David Jenison (email@example.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.