Musician Melissa Etheridge dodged the bullet of hardcore drug use during the 1970s and 80s. While fellow artists were grappling with addiction, Melissa was coming to terms with her sexuality in an industry dominated by homophobic men.
“I’ve always felt issues with the gay rights movement and the cannabis movements are so similar,” she says from her home in the hills outside of Los Angeles proper. “Both movements are based on stereotyping, fear, and misinformation, and people need to come out from both closets and talk about it.”
The path Melissa took to advocacy may not have always been a choice, but it was paved with inspiration and knowledge from her father who taught constitutional law to high school seniors.
“He really helped me to understand at a very young age what our government is about,” she shared. “Our founding fathers based the constitution on the way the existing tribal nations resolved conflict – how they made peace between the tribes in the new world. The way it’s all set up with checks and balances works, it really does.”
In January of 2014 Melissa released the single, “Uprising of Love,” in response to Russia’s tough anti-gay laws and the LGBT community’s request to boycott the 2014 Olympics in Russia. The song is a call to arms for brothers and sisters around the world still drowning in disrespect, while American gays are gaining ground.
My eyes are wide-open recognizing change
It feeds the fires of the fear
Where human love seems strange
I’m gonna rise above
I believe that love is love
I’m gonna raise my hands
With every woman, child and man
I’m gonna start an uprising of love
Proceeds from the song named after the Russian advocacy group by the same name were donated to the “Russia Freedom Fund,” aiding the cause on Russian soil.
Melissa said she was confident the democratic process in America would allow gay marriage in time. Cannabis, on the other hand, has been the harder stigma to squash.
“Both the gay rights movement and the movements to end cannabis prohibition are based on misinformation and fear,” she said. “Children are being taken away from their parents for being cannabis patients, and children in extreme gender conflict are being thrown out of their homes by their own families.”
The contrasts are startling, with performer Miley Cyrus’ non-profit “Happy Hippie Foundation” sighting 16 million youth are made homeless each year, with 40% identifying as LGBT and family rejection at the top of the list for reasons why (Laganja Estranja, Dope Magazine, Sept. 2015).
With or without Child Protective Services ever getting involved, families continue to discriminate against their pot-smoking, cannabis ingesting family members, with rhetoric rivaling that of a national political campaign.
In 2004 Melissa was diagnosed with breast cancer and began the grueling traditional treatments of surgery and chemotherapy, successfully putting the cancer into remission. As widely reported, she also endured great physical and emotional suffering, causing her to up her cannabis use during the process with great success.
Fellow rock star, friend and surrogate father of two of her children, David Crosby, suggested she smoke cannabis to quell the nasty symptoms from the chemo and the meds that accompany the traditional treatments.
“Medicating with cannabis saved my life,” Melissa explained. “The side effects of chemotherapy are horrible. Going through treatment was the most eye-opening experience I’ve been through. The medications you must take during and after the treatments have awful side effects and really damage your body. I had no energy whatsoever, could not eat – and cannabis helped with all of it.”
Melissa says cannabis made such a huge difference to her wellbeing, both emotionally and physically and that she ended her traditional treatments early. Once the cancer was gone, she didn’t like the way the medications made her feel.
As discovered through work done with AIDS patients in California, the beneficial effects of simply cannabis for pain and nausea while undergoing chemotherapy or radiation has been shown to be widely effective,
Dr. Donald Abrams gained approval and recognition for his clinical trials with AIDS patients in San Francisco between 2003 and 2005, documenting a 30% reduction in pain by combining cannabis with prescribed pain killers.
Other studies show secondary cancers and other serious ailments such as stroke and heart attacks directly linked to the use of chemotherapy, chemo drugs, and radiation (Dope Magazine, Tommy Chong; August 2014).
Due to the damaging side effects of conventional therapies, Melissa says she won’t go the traditional route if or when her cancer comes back.
“I’ll definitely ingest the cannabis oil if I need to,” she shares. “I’m a firm believer in its benefits, and was sorely disappointed when Angelina Jolie made the decision to get a double mastectomy out of fear.”
Melissa said out of all the highly debatable subjects she’s been involved with, from gay rights to enlisting David Crosby as a surrogate father to her babies, her speaking out against surgery as prevention for cancer brought on some of her harshest criticism.
“People can do whatever they want with their bodies – your body is yours,” she offered. “If you fear something so much you decide to cut healthy tissue off, by all means, go ahead. But don’t present it to the public as if it’s a courageous act, when it’s based solely on fear.”
Those in the cannabis community are always shaken when hearing of anyone in a high profile position choosing traditional therapies. It’s seen by many as a change to get educated about cannabis and pass that on to make a difference for many. That said, cannabis activists are also painfully aware they are ahead of their time when it comes to knowledge of the plant – specifically when putting cancer and serious ailments into remission is concerned.
The recipe for making “Rick Simpson Oil” or “RSO” is actually an old recipe re-created by Canadian Rick Simpson more than 15 years ago, after he was told there was nothing more to be done for a terminal case of skin cancer. Since his success, the recipe and protocol has been shared via word of mouth only (helped by social media), and involves ingesting oil orally, or delivery via suppositories. 60 grams of the strong oil in 90 days, with some of the most invasive cancers being reported gone in less time (Rick Simpson, Dope Magazine, July 2015).
While Mellissa admitted she doesn’t enjoy ingesting, she said she’s open to learning more about it – especially where cancer prevention is concerned. She’s working with a former Iron Chef, teaming up with Greenway Compassionate Relief of Santa Cruz in California, creating a variety of infused products, to include a delicious hot, sweet mustard; honey sticks in three varieties, “sunny, funny, and honey” – representing sativa, hybrid, and indica, respectively; “Balmz Away” topical salve; and small batch wine in association with Coup’ Vineyards in Santa Cruz.
Her “Know Label Private Reserve” branded bottle of “tincture” can be compared to a tonic from pre-pharmaceutical days of apothecary (see companion story in this issue), and is literally label-free, with the varietal and her name written in gold ink along the base of the bottle. The word play in the brand is purposeful, alluding to knowing about the good medicine inside the bottle. Each bottle is valued at a humorously denoted $420 each.
“We are infusing wine with cannabis in a cold process with green bud and plant material that doesn’t activate the THC,” she shared. “The feeling is a warm, full body high. People who don’t want to smoke or have issues with the psychoactive properties of THC like this option – especially if they already enjoy wine.”
Markets to distribute products developed include the legal State of Colorado, teaming up with Starbuds dispensaries in Denver, giving her an edge on the Rocky Mountain High state.
“We are still working out the legalities of production with alcohol, distribution across state lines, and testing to be in accordance with each city, county, and state ordinance out there,” she advised. “That’s something I’d really like to get involved with – helping to implement smarter ordinances locally in cities and counties. The main thing is, it’s all truly medicine and California is about to go recreational. We need to keep the state at the forefront of cannabis as medicine, where it’s always been.”
With the Department of Agriculture’s change of heart, giving cannabis products measuring in at less than 0.03% THC a “Hemp” moniker, she may be able to ship the wine across state lines soon. This writer would not mind being in a “bottle of the month club” with that brand, as alcohol infusion is one of my own personal favorite ways to use the plant.
On another note, the artist is currently using her voice and her notoriety on the project of her life, helping to integrate cannabis as medicine with traditional therapies, in negotiations now with a national cancer treatment center chain.
“I’ve joined forces with actual oncologists who know, at the very least, that this plant is good medicine,” says Etheridge. “We will be creating places where cannabis will be integrated into traditional treatments.”
While Medicine Man of Denver hints at a relationship with a pharmaceutical chain, and President Obama’s nod to real research on U.S. soil, the plant just may have a chance helping the masses do away with many of the real illnesses and disorders plaguing our country and world today.
“As I see illnesses are getting worse and the medical community is up against a wall for options on how to treat everything” she surmised. “Then you see documentaries, like Sanjay Gupta’s ‘Weed’ on CNN – because he gets it. Doctors are starting to realize something is not right, that this plant may be a viable option. The future is about health and truly understanding a more holistic approach for each of us. We are responsible for our own bodies. We need to know we have a health system that is poisoned and taking one pill won’t fix it. That’s the next big paradigm shift that needs to happen.”