The least expected battlefield in the ongoing war over the legalization of marijuana is the pediatric oncology ward. Giving even medical marijuana to children sounds extreme, but it can often provide them with relief in the very same ways it provides adults with relief. This is why the retail operation Cannakids has been able to put down roots California and begin to grown by offering medicinal cannabis products specifically for children. The for-profit company was founded, along with the non-profit organization Saving Sophie, by Tracy Ryan, who watched her own daughter improve from a rare pediatric brain cancer after being treated with medical marijuana.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Weed
Ryan’s company has vocal critics and some powerful supporters, chief among them former Overstock.com president Stormy Simon, who now serves as an advisor to the company. Simon left the $2 Billion online shopping juggernaut in 2016 to dive into the cannabis industry — a move she jokingly links to a midlife crisis. She now lives in Utah, where she admits it’s tough to be a marijuana advocate. But she thinks that the work CannaKids is doing is important.
Fatherly spoke to the 48-year-old e-commerce veteran and grandmother about how marijuana might help kids.
Obviously you were inspired in part by Sophie’s story. What about her experience stood out to you as someone working in the marijuana field?
Sophie is the little girl whose illness created this team of people who wanted to try to really scientifically combine cannabis and regular medicine. At about 8 months old she was diagnosed with a brain optic glioma tumor. Tracy was inspired to try something different. She and her doctor worked together and started creating tinctures that work for Sophie. Miraculous things happened. The brain tumor has shrunk. Her particular story is phenomenal when it comes to this plant.
Sure. But medicine isn’t built on miracles, right?
Even if that was the only story in America, it would be worthy enough to say that this plant should be available to every human. But it’s not the only story in America. There are hundreds and thousands and probably millions of people, whose illnesses range from mild to extreme, who may be able to benefit from this.
There are seriously ill, dying children that the CannaKids team has helped and maybe even saved. That’s different. There are also stories where it didn’t work, because it doesn’t work for everyone.
What do you say to people who push back and say miraculous stories aren’t solid enough evidence to justify giving cannabis to children?
One question: What are you so afraid of? Are you afraid that a child will get high? Would you give them opiates? It’s true that there’s not enough research. Scientists can’t get their hands on marijuana in amounts we’re going to need to prove this stuff out. I would just encourage every person to educate themselves in the meantime.
There’s never a moment where I would say forgo western medicine for this plant for a child or anyone. But to say it’s not an option? That you don’t get to consider this? For me it’s against my civil rights.
Marijuana is a drug and it gets kids high. That’s an uncomfortable thought for many people. How do you answer people who look at CannaKids and say, ‘This is a company that’s trying to get kids high?’
Think about these kids that go to the dentist and have their wisdom teeth pulled. Everybody posts online videos of their kid waking up completely high from this medicine and it’s the funniest thing ever, right? Some of them that I’ve seen are on a trip — more of a trip than I’ve ever seen anyone be on with marijuana, ever. If that’s not a form of getting high as an aftereffect of a medicine I don’t know what is. But it takes the FDA to say they approve of something you can get high off of and give your children. They’ll knock your kid right out. They’ll do that. But for goodness sake do not give them a drop of THC. It’s so imbalanced.
Do you think there should be an age limit for medical marijuana?
Sophie was 8 months old when she got a brain tumor. They went the traditional route. And then they added cannabis and it helped. So if that wasn’t available for Sophie at 8 months old, she would be blind.
What are the possible ramifications for parents who go this route? Are they putting themselves at risk from state agencies?
There aren’t protections in marijuana laws that protect parents using medical cannabis. If it’s legal at the state, they probably wouldn’t be at risk, but it isn’t outlined. Those things haven’t really been specifically addressed so I’d understand moving with caution. But there are many parents publicly out there in different states saying that this is what they’re doing. I think the bigger fear would be a government agency coming in and stopping the well-being of that child and causing them harm.
How does CannaKids navigate parental safety?
They operate under HIPPA laws. They consider the conversations they have on the phone, and otherwise, to be completely protected. It’s just nobody’s business. They do operate outside of traditional medicine. If you go to their website, you can schedule a call with a nurse. So patients are not walking alone. The nurses are really trying to hand-hold and create a medicine that people feel comfortable with giving their children.
The stigma of marijuana has smothered the truth of the plant.