We are delighted to introduce you to some new friends set to make a big impact on the medical cannabis advocacy scene… the creators of a new documentary called Separating the Strains; a deeply personal narrative that charts the reality of living with epilepsy, with and without cannabis medication as a treatment option.
We were recently introduced through the CannaTech extended family and were very moved by this story. We believe this is a story that needs to be told, and as a bonus, if you are able and so inclined, there’s an opportunity for you to take a part in the telling of it too.
Here’s a sneak peek, followed by our interview:
We carved out some time for a chat with Chelsea Leyland, activist and lead storyteller and Caroline Sharp director of the film. Here are some highlights.
Tell us a little about yourselves…
Chelsea: Hello. I’m a DJ by night and a Cannabis/Epilepsy activist by day. I’ve been fortunate enough to find my mission and passion in life.
Caroline: I’m either a scientist who loves making films or a film-maker who loves science. This project has become a real obsession so anything about me will always end up with a conversation about cannabis and/or epilepsy.
Chelsea, You’ve been living with epilepsy for many years…what made you decide to try medical cannabis? Was that a big leap for you?
Chelsea: I was curious about medical cannabis since being sent a short video about Charlotte’s web – a strain of CBD rich cannabis that had been shown to effectively treat a young girl’s epileptic seizures. I have a friend in the UK who is a cannabis activist, and he was the first person to give me CBD oil. It wasn’t until the second time that I tried CBD, that I forgot to take my usual pharmaceutical anti-epileptic medication. That was such a huge moment for me because that was the first time I had ever forgotten to take my medicine, and the reason was that I felt so successfully medicated by the CBD oil.
What inspired you to begin documenting and sharing your story?
Chelsea: Through my epilepsy and cannabis advocacy work and understanding the political climate, I became aware of the amount of misinformation and lack of reliable resources. Many epilepsy sufferers began to contact me, asking me to share my experience, and I felt as though I had a responsibility to use my platform and story. Making this film felt like the most effective way to answer these questions and to help influence legislative change.
How is your family handling your journey as a medical cannabis advocate?
Chelsea: My family are extremely proud of me, though it has obviously been frustrating in terms of my sister’s health. We both live with epilepsy, and hers is more severe. Unlike me, she is based in the UK, and therefore we still don’t have access to medical cannabis for her. There has also been an emotional element to me producing this documentary, that has been somewhat challenging for my parents, as epilepsy has been a condition we’ve battled with as a family for a very long time.
Caroline: It’s been interesting to watch my family break down their previous stigma once they were provided with solid scientific evidence of the medical applications of cannabis. They’re the perfect example of parents who were very ‘anti-drugs’ in their stance when I was growing up, and cannabis was included in that category. They were really open to the facts and have done a full U-turn in their views now. It’s really great to see that and they’re hugely supportive of the project and the message.
What is the most important thing you’re working on right now and how are you making it happen?
Chelsea and Caroline: We’ve reached a point in the project where we’re about to finish up a lengthy pre-production stage, and head over to the US to shoot the remainder of the film. We’ve now turned our lens over to head trauma and pain relief. Medical cannabis could play a huge role in treating chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and pain, therefore, reducing the amount of opioids prescribed. The current opioid epidemic in the US is catastrophic, so we are extremely excited to shed more light on this issue.
“She was the first person who ever sat me down and said, “do you understand what happens to your brain when you have a seizure?”
Tell us about the team you’re working with to produce this film; how did you all connect and what drives each of you to tell this story?
Chelsea: My personal battle with epilepsy has been a huge driving force for me. But the main push stems from our fight to gain access to this medicine for my sister Tamsin. Knowing that had she had access to this medicine earlier, she might have a better quality of life then she does today. I met Sophie, our producer, through Caroline. And I brought the idea for this film to Caroline, shortly after we became friendly and I learnt of her background in neuroscience. Caroline not only had a production company and worked in film but she was the first person who ever sat me down and said ” do you understand what happens to your brain when you have a seizure?”
After folks see your documentary, what do they walk away with?
Caroline: For me, the main aim is for people to leave the film feeling like they had an enjoyable and interesting few hours. I want them to feel really well informed, and empowered to have conversations with their doctors about their treatment options regarding medical cannabis. Tackling stigma is also a big thing for us – I hope that people who suffer from epilepsy feel like we have presented their condition with sensitivity and respect and that medical cannabis users feel like they are intelligently supported.
Chelsea: I hope that people will walk away with a better understanding of epilepsy and what it really feels like to live with this condition. My hope is that other epilepsy sufferers out there will feel less stigmatized and more empowered. I want to reduce the stigma around cannabis so that people begin to see this as a viable medicine. That through presenting hard scientific data we will give patients out there the knowledge to feel better informed when it comes to treatment options and in understanding the complexities of this plant.
What do you think is the most important issue that medical cannabis is facing?
Chelsea and Caroline: Stigma. It’s a huge buzzword for us in this project and we can’t stress enough how much progress has been hampered solely due to the negative stigma and misinformation surrounding cannabis. Thanks to the pioneering research of Raphael Mechoulam and his team in the 70’s, science began to turn its head towards the potential of cannabinoids. However, it has taken a long time for legislative change to catch up and there is still a lot of political and social negativity towards cannabis. For example, we are constantly challenging and arguing against the ‘gateway drug’ hypothesis, which is a theory that was entirely based on political rhetoric, not evidence. So the medical cannabis industry really just needs to work on its positive image and keep pushing education.
What is the biggest change in medical cannabis policy that you’d like to see?
Caroline: I’d really like to see future policies driven and dictated by the scientific community and using evidence-based medicine. I don’t see any reason why decisions around health, that rely on science, should be political. Epilepsy is the perfect example of a condition where research into potentially life-changing medicine – cannabis – has been severely restricted as a result of years of negative political rhetoric and stigma. As a result, people like Chelsea have been forced to take pharmaceuticals that are less effective in treating their condition, have more side-effects, and really impact their quality of life when there was a natural solution sitting there all along.
Chelsea: I would like to see safe and effective access to medical cannabis within the UK. To have medical cannabis available on prescription by the NHS, not just as an anti-seizure medicine but also for a wide range of conditions. In order for this to occur successfully, we need the doors to be opened so that the vital research that has been constrained for so long can happen. We need science and patients to lead this revolution, not politics.
What inspires you to get out of bed and get to your work in the morning?
Chelsea: The gratitude that I feel every day having come off my pharmaceutical medicines. There are no words to truly articulate this unless you’ve been on these drugs and you understand how crazy they make you feel. Seeing not only my sister suffer but all the other epileptics and children who deserve access to this medicine. And ultimately understanding how education and anecdotal stories really do have the power to influence legislative change.
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