Families Are Turning To Cannabis To Cure Their Children’s Cancer – with Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein of Weed The People

weed the people documentary with Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein

While we usually talk about the business realm of cannabis here on CannaInsider, in this episode we’re going to take a deep dive into medical marijuana and how it’s being used to better the lives of an increasing number of patients – specifically children.  

Here to discuss this growing movement are Abby Epstein and Ricki Lake, makers of the 2018 documentary Weed The People in which Abby and Ricki follow a number of families that are turning to cannabis to treat their cancer-stricken children.

In this episode, Abby and Ricki share the ways in which medical marijuana is beginning to save lives and why it’s essential we overcome the political and legislative obstacles inhibiting cannabis from joining commercial healthcare.  

Get 30% Off Weed The People Documentary Here:

Interview Key Takeways:

  • Ricki and Abby’s backgrounds in film and what sparked their desire to create Weed The People
  • Ways in which the traditional medical industry is lacking when it comes to children’s cancer treatment
  • Abby and Ricki’s documentary The Business of Being Born and the parallels they observed between the business aspects of the birth and cancer industries
  • The stigma surrounding cannabis in the medical sphere and how certain doctors are working to overcome it
  • Medical cannabis in other countries versus the U.S.
  • Why many of the families in Weed The People choose to follow a combination of chemo and a formal dosing schedule of cannabis to treat their children’s cancer
  • Abby’s advice to parents interested in exploring medical cannabis to help treat their children and how they can do so right away

Click Here to Read Full Transcript

Matthew: Hi. I'm Matthew Kind. Every Monday, look for a fresh new episode where I'll take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at cannainsider.com. That's cannainsider.com. Now, here's your program. We often talk about the business aspects of cannabis here on the show. But today, we're gonna talk about how medical marijuana is saving and improving the lives of many patients, especially children. I am happy to welcome Abby Epstein and Ricki Lake to talk about their documentary called "Weed the People." Abby and Ricky, welcome to "CannaInsider."

Abby: Thank you for having us. It's great to talk to you.

Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where are you in the world today?

Abby: I'm in overcast rainy Los Angeles.

Matthew: Oh no. We don't hear those words combined very often.

Abby: And I'm sitting in the assemblage nomads in Manhattan.

Matthew: Okay. Okay. Abby, can you describe "Weed the People" at a high level for people that aren't familiar?

Abby: Sure. So "Weed the People" is a documentary that Ricki and I made. We premiered at South by Southwest last year in 2018. And the documentary took six years to make. And we followed five families who all had children suffering from cancer and were looking to use cannabis oil with their traditional cancer treatments. So we follow kind of the human story of these families of how they hear about cannabis, how they access the cannabis, how they use it. And then interwoven with the personal stories, we also give a lot of really hard science. We go to Israel, talk with some of the top cannabis researchers. We share a little bit of the history of cannabis prohibition. You know, it really starts to be kind of an eye-opener for people who either don't know that much about history of cannabis, the current science of cannabis, you know, especially medical cannabis and also for people who have...you know, might be very closed off to that idea because they just don't really understand it.

Matthew: Okay. Wow, good job sticking with it that long. That is real persistence to stick with a documentary that long all the way through that journey, and you can really tell watching it. Ricki, can you share a little bit about how you made your way from actress to talk show host and now cannabis advocate and documentary producer?

Ricki: Sure. Yeah. I mean, my whole career has been much about reinventing myself. You know, I like trying new things. I like showing myself in a different light. And, you know, my shift from talk show to documentaries really was because of 9/11. I was living downtown, the West Village, and I had just had my second baby two months prior. And I was, you know, one of those unfortunate folks that saw it firsthand. And that really kind of shifted my...the way I wanted to live and what I wanted to put out in the world. And I was, you know, grateful to have had the platform of my talk show in my acting career for so many years, but it really wasn't my voice ultimately. And it was through the making of "The Business Being Born" with Abby over three and a half years that really I think I found my voice and I found where I could sort of be of service.

And it's just been really thrilling to kind of put these personal projects out that, you know, we don't really see, you know, the big picture of like, "Will this have an impact," you know. With "The Business Being Born," I mean, when Abby and I started the project, Abby's like, "Oh, it's boring, midwives who cares," you know. It was personal, and so to see the impact it's had 10 years later has been so fulfilling for both of us. And now with "Weed the People," it's making art that's important. It's important. This is important information in "Weed the People." People should know, you know, the history of this plant and how it's really been systematically taken away from people for no good reason. You know, you get behind these personal stories of these families and these children suffering. It's something that everyone should be outraged about.

Matthew: Yeah. Wow, I didn't know the 9/11 impetus there. That's pretty interesting there. Do you feel like there's, like, some PTSD from being down there in southern Manhattan?

Ricki: Oh, my God. You know, I went to three funerals that week. I lost, you know, somebody who worked on my show. It was so traumatizing for everyone. Everyone had their own experience. But for me, in a lot of ways, it was a gift, you know. It was a real gift. When you think you're gonna die and you have an opportunity to really shift things in your life. And I ended up leaving New York. I left my talk show and I left my marriage and kind of started over. And ultimately, it was a blessing because I really truly found my calling.

I love these projects we get to do. I mean, they're not easy to make. I mean, Abby busts our ass. I mean, we are doing everything we can to get the word out about this film because one of the issues with this beautiful film is that we are flagged by Facebook and all those platforms because of having weed in the title, because it's a Schedule 1 drug and it's federally illegal. We can't get the word out in the normal ways that other films can. You know, by talking to you, you know, a year after the movie premiered, we're still trying to kind of raise awareness about this information that needs to get these...to people who are sick.

Matthew: Okay. Abby, in the documentary, the audience follows along kids going through cancer treatments. What patterns did you notice in terms of how the traditional medical industry treated these patients and what was lacking? But also, was there any support there as well?

Abby: I would say generally, like, traditional allopathic medicine. Most of the oncologists were absolutely not interested. And most of them continued to be completely uninterested in prescribing cannabis and learning about cannabis. In the film, you know, what we saw were some of the physicians that work with these children, you know, were kind of like, "Yeah. Yeah. Don't ask, don't tell. Okay. Yeah. You wanna do some cannabis. Sure. Go ahead. You know, do whatever makes you feel good." But then once they started to see the result in these children, then they perked up, then they became really interested.

So, you know, you can see the trajectory of, like, one of the oncologists in the film who's treating one of the children. And, you know, he was pretty dubious or didn't know much about it. And then at the end of the film, you know, he basically ends up telling them that, you know, he had learned so much and now using this for other patients. And he's joined the board of cannabis collective. So I think it's really a lot of times the physicians who really see things firsthand with their patient. But unfortunately, I think within the medical community...you know, there's been some movement with epilepsy. I think there's definitely been, you know, more action in the pediatric neurology community. But in general, you know, I would say they kind of range from being open but not really that interested.

Matthew: Okay. Ricki, you partnered with Abby on another documentary called "The Business of Being Born." What parallels did you notice between the business aspect of the birth industry and the business aspect of the cancer industry?

Ricki: I mean, it's all...you know, it's such a hard thing to navigate. You know, this is about choice. This is about the information, you know, being available to these families. It's the same kind of issue I think, you know, the parallels that came up both with when, you know, women try to fight to have the birth that they want and to be respected. And I think, you know, these parents try to navigate all the issues that come up with using, you know, this, alternative medicine, which shouldn't be alternative at all.

Matthew: Okay. Abby, in the film...I wanna circle back to the doctor thing and the medical industry because I'm curious. How much of the doctors...You know, they're not totally open to cannabis. But how much of that do you think it's from their colleagues and kind of the medical associations and the peer pressure that kind of pushes them into this acceptable window of what's considered normal treatment?

Abby: I mean, look, I think cannabis has a really deep stigma and taboo. And I think most doctors don't wanna be affiliated with it. You know, they don't wanna have that reputation. It kind of lessens their stature to be like, "Oh, I work with cannabis." At the moment, you know, it's sort of like, "You know, I work with naturopathic herb." I mean, the same way that, you know, medicine just is not integrated enough with, you know, naturopathic methods is kind of same thing with those. Look, I mean, I do think it's changing. I do think science is changing. I mean, I think there are more studies being done. But I mean, I think doctors are used to looking at studies that are done a certain way and cost millions of dollars and are funded by pharmaceutical companies and go through clinical trials and they get very specific information on how to dose and what the side effects are. You give, you know, five milligrams for this and cannabis is not that medicine, you know, yet. Cannabis right now, it functions much more as a botanical and it works differently on everybody's endocannabinoid system. And there's a lot of experimentation needed to find the right dose and the right strain. And I think all of that is just really like [inaudible [00:10:00] for traditionally trained physicians.

Matthew: Yeah. Ricki, in the documentary, we go through conversations with researchers in both Spain and Israel. One of the researchers, Dr. Christina Sanchez, we actually had on the show a few years back. But can you talk about what they're doing in other countries versus what's happening in the U.S. and, you know, how you see the contrast there?

Ricki: It's, you know, federally illegal here, as I said. And so they're unable to do the research. You know, the research they're doing is basically studies that show that cannabis is bad, you know. And, you know, places like Israel where they're free to test, they're able to...you know, Deddy Mary [SP] is the scientist that we follow who's doing incredible work. And, in fact, you know, we've shot with him I think over three years ago. And the advances he's made since we filmed with him, he said is like night and day. But they're able to pinpoint the different strain of the plants that work for the specific type of cancer. You know, then we showed it in the film a little bit. But it's really exciting that they're able to really be that specific with narrowing down what works for each type of cancer. You know, obviously places like Canada where it's now legal both recreational and medicinally, they're now gonna be able to do more of the testing and research, which we really need. So hopefully, the U.S. will follow these countries. They don't wanna look bad, I don't think. So I'm hoping that the U.S. is gonna do something about the scheduling so that we can actually get in the game of the science of this plant.

Matthew: Yeah, for sure. It seems like Israel's really leading the pack with a lot of the technological discoveries there. It doesn't seem like there's as much as a stigma going on over there. Abby, the movie shows cannabis and chemo being used together in concert, not one or the other. Can you talk a little bit about the decision there by families to use them together as opposed to one or the other?

Abby: Sure. Why? I mean, I think a lot of the studies that have been done are mostly studies that show the use of cannabis with chemotherapy. And I think that, you know, there seems to be a synergistic effect in some cases, which isn't clearly understood, but there have been some theories around it. You know, for us, I mean, we were definitely looking for families in the film who were following traditional cancer treatments. And we did not wanna follow any families who were kind of going rogue or, you know, turning down allopathic medicine, you know, just to do cannabis. Like that wasn't the kind of film we were making. Although there is one character, one family in the film where they actually do stop the chemo and just do the cannabis. But that was basically because they didn't think their child was gonna survive the chemo. And so they have, you know, the doctor's permission to stop. You know, one thing is the choice. Like we were only looking for families that were doing that. But I also think that, you know, in the research, that is really how the research is being conducted in, you know, a chemotherapy agent in combination with cannabis.

Matthew: It also helps the nausea quite a bit too, in appetite. So there's kind of synergistic benefits there.

Abby: Yeah. I mean, there's all the palliative benefits, exactly. That's what I think most doctors are familiar with and even most people. They're like, "Oh, yeah, you know, cannabis for cancer because it helps you with the side-effects from chemo." But they don't really understand the anti-cancer agents and the anti-tumoral properties of the cannabinoids. And that's what we, you know, try to illustrate in the film and give back up for that.

Matthew: Okay. Ricki, as you step back and take a 10,000 foot view of what you want the takeaways to be here for the audience that watches this documentary, what do you want those to be and how can people talk with their families, doctors and community in a way that kind of opens this up, you know, gently but gets the conversation moving forward?

Ricki: My hope is that what happened with "The Business of Being Born" happens with this film. You know, it's about education. And I don't even think people really understand, you know, the smear campaign that took place both with home birth and with cannabis. So it really starts with, like, when your child is sick, when your loved one is suffering, you will do anything to find, you know, something to alleviate the pain and the suffering. So my hope is that this film is an educational tool that people will use to, you know, fight for their right to having access to anything that works to help their loved ones.

Matthew: Abby, I don't wanna give the impression that it's just have cannabis and your cancer goes away. Can you talk a little bit about Dr. Goldstein from the documentary and, you know, how she dives in and creates kind of a dosing schedule and a formal treatment plan and kind of follows up to make sure everything's going just right, because I think sometimes there is that perception like, "I just don't need to take more" or if there's not talk about dosaging and things like this.

Abby: Yeah. That's right. I mean, one of the researchers that Ricki mentioned, Deddy Mary in Israel. You know, one of the things that his lab is doing is isolating which strains or patterns of cannabinoids work on which cancers. So he would find in the lab that, you know, a certain strain would work for prostate cancer. But then they would put it in the test tube with the breast cancer cells and it wouldn't have any effect on the breast cancer. You know, the first thing is you need to have some guidance in doing this. And I think any cancer patient, pediatric, you know, or adult if possible, you know, you really need to have some physician guidance in this. And so, Dr. Goldstein, who is a pediatrician by training who's now practicing solely cannabis medicine, she's featured in the film, she treats a lot of the children. She has a protocol and she has kind of the best thing that we can really hope to have right now, which is patient experience.

And you see that with Mara Gordon of Aunt Zelda's in the film as well who's not a physician but also has a lot of patient experience. You know, that's really all we have right now is to kind of look at what other people are doing, what's working for other patients, you know. So I think Dr. Goldstein draws a lot of her protocols from the science that she's constantly reading but also from her own patients and what she's seeing work for other people. But you know, there's definitely a lot of nuance to this. And it's not just THC and CBD anymore. There's a lot of other cannabinoids in the plant. It's really important to understand how to take this medicine in a way that it can be tolerated.

Children actually have developing endocannabinoid systems. So they actually have much better tolerance for cannabis, which is unusual, than adults do. So sometimes children are actually able to take pretty high amounts where with an adult, you know, you just might feel too high to function. So that's one of the challenges right now with the medicine is, you know, finding different preparations that really mitigate that high because, for the most part, you know, nobody wants to feel that. Nobody is, you know, taking this recreationally or to have the psychoactive effect. People are taking this to fight their cancer. It is hard right now to find those practitioners. There aren't that many, but most of them are in our film, so it's a good place to start.

Matthew: Okay. Ricki, you and Abby have focused on the birth industrial complex now letting go of the stigma around cannabis. Are there any other areas of our daily life that you think, "Hey, we accept something that's really not optimal or even destructive"? Is there anything else that you wanna focus on next that you think is kind of the same opportunity?

Rick: Well, I'm glad you mentioned it, Matt. We have our new film that's coming up really in the next few months. It's about hormonal birth control. So, yes. I mean, it just feels like a natural progression from birth to birth control. Yeah. I mean, there's a lot of, you know, things that...issues that are important to us that we wanna explore. You know, it's about being curious and asking questions. Yeah. I think, you know, the pill and all these other drugs that are given to women for reasons outside of...you know, in many times outside of controlling our reproduction need to be really questioned. And you know, are they good for us? Are they not? You know, should there be other options available at this...You know, with all technology and all the advances we're making in medical science, you know, why are we still using our grandmother's birth control? Yeah. That's our next topic at hand.

Matthew: Oh, okay, great. Great. I didn't know you had one right in your back pocket there. Great. Okay. So I like to ask a few personal development questions to help listeners get a better sense of who you are. With that, Abby, is there a book that's had a big impact on your life or way of thinking that you'd like to share?

Abby: You know, I don't really think there's so much a book, but I think there's a play. And I actually come to documentaries from, like, pretty long history in directing theater. And that's actually how I met Ricki. I was directing her in an off-Broadway production of "The Vagina Monologues." So I would kind of maybe go to that play and that experience of doing that play because I think what that play accomplished was really giving women a voice around subjects that have been completely silent and repressed forever. You know, I think the experience of like the...you know, really I think the humor and the bravery of that play and seeing hundreds of actresses be able to, you know, really, like, free themselves on some level just by performing it was really profound. So I think that going forward, you know, it really showed me, like, how movements can be created, you know, and how art can transform, not only people on a personal level but how art can really transform consciousness. And I think it's one of the only things that can.

Matthew: That's great.

Ricki: That is great, Abby. That's a good answer.

Matthew: So, Ricki, speaking of transforming consciousness, can you tell us about your experience with using ayahuasca medicinally for self-reflection and what those experience have been like for you?

Ricki: I mean, it's major. I mean, it's major. Again, I have to thank my beloved husband who passed away, Christian Evans, for bringing me on that path. I was so closed-minded. If you had talked to me back when I was hosting my show, you would think I was this open-minded person, but I was so judgmental about drugs and plant medicine and psychedelics. You know, I've come a long way. You know, I found incredible benefit from my ayahuasca experiences. I've done it about, I think 11 or 12 times over a period of about five years.

Matthew: Wow, you go deep, Ricki. That's a lot.

Ricki: There's a lot more to me than people think. I mean, it's hard to sum up in, like, a soundbite. But basically, what they say is you do 10 years of therapy in one night of drinking ayahuasca. And it's not for the faint of heart. It's really, like, it takes a warrior to really go there. But I found it to be incredibly beneficial for my mental health, for my dealing with past trauma. It's a powerful medicine.

Matthew: And then, you know, weeks later you say you have trauma come up, you kind of work through it. And then weeks later, does it feel lighter then?

Ricki: Oh, you feel lighter...for me. I can only speak for myself. But I felt lighter after every ayahuasca experience. It's a hard journey to go...I mean, you go through the dark to get to the light, but yeah and then it percolates. You know, just stays in your system and you integrate, you know, the messages you get or...I've had visuals. I've had voices. I've had stuff be super abstract. I've had it be super clear. It's different every time. And they say that Mother Ayahuasca gives you only what you need.

Matthew: Yeah. Well, before we close, I wanna let the listeners know how they can get a discount on this documentary, "Weed the People." And it's riveting. I watched the whole thing. And it will make you cry, just a disclosure there. You can get a discount on this documentary at www.cannainsider.com/wtp for "Weed the People." That's www.cannainsider.com/wtp. Abby and Ricki, thanks so much for coming on the show and educating us and thanks so much for doing this. I mean, this is really profound documentary. It took a long time to make and a lot of effort and a lot of persistence. So, thank you so much for doing this, putting it out there. I've already forwarded it to my parents, you know, trying to melt some resistance in that department. I think it's just a great thing to watch and a great talking point for people that have resistance areas in their lives. They can use this as a tool.

Abby: It's our pleasure. Thank you for taking your time.

Ricki: Thank you so much, Matt.

Matthew: If you enjoyed the show today, please consider leaving us a review on iTunes, Stitcher, or whatever app you might be using to listen to the show. Every five-star review helps us to bring the best guests to you. Learn more at cannainsider.com/iTunes. What are the five disruptive trends that will impact the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at cannainsider.com/trends. Have a suggestion for an awesome guest on "CannaInsider?" Simply send us an email at feedback@cannainsider.com. We'd love to hear from you. Please do not take any information from "CannaInsider" or its guests as medical advice. Contact your licensed physician before taking cannabis or using it for medical treatments. Promotional consideration may be provided by select guests, advertisers, or companies featured in "CannaInsider."

Lastly, the host or guests on "CannaInsider" may or may not invest in the companies or entrepreneurs profiled on the show. Please consult your licensed financial adviser before making any investment decisions. Final disclosure to see if you're still paying attention. This little whistle jingle you're listing to will get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Thanks for listening and look for another "CannaInsider" episode soon. Take care. Bye-bye.