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Weed the People, Abby Epstein, Ricki Lake, SXSW FF screening & Q and A
'Weed the People,' SXSW FF screening and Q & A, Directed by Abby Epstein, Produced by Ricki Lake (courtesy of the film)

SXSW Film World Premiere: ‘Weed the People’ Abby Epstein, Ricki Lake

The documentary Weed the People, directed by Abby Epstein and produced by Ricki Lake, had its world premiere screening at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival. The film, about cannabis treatment for cancer, took years to make. First, Epstein selected parents and children who supported the tenor of her documentary and agreed to be in the film. Then, she shadowed a group of child cancer patients, carefully over a period of time, recording their trials and their parents’ miseries.

Epstein chronicled the families’ tense, emotional journey after the children’s cancer diagnoses and dire prognoses of misery until cancer consumed the children’s bodies and they died, or lives of incalculable desperation.

With clips of commentary by doctors like Bonnie Goldstein, Mara Gordon, Raphael Mechoulam, Ph.D. and others, Epstein lays out the fascinating realities that many already know. Compounds from the cannabis leaf (CBDV, CBD, CBG, CBD, CBC, THC) have incredible healing properties. And when the whole plant, grown organically in pristine soil without chemical fertilizers, is used, amazing results can occur.

In addition to laying out the science through interviews with doctors and researchers, Epstein relates how federal law has banned cannabis since President Franklin Roosevelt signed the law in 1937 over the objections of the American Medical Association. I was shocked to learn that the AMA said, even back then, that cannabis healed some ailments, and that there was no substitute for it.

Chico Ryder, Weed the People, SXSW FF, Abby Epstein
Chico Ryder, ‘Weed the People,’ SXSW Film Festival screening and Q&A (courtesy of the film)

As she shows the children undergoing treatment Epstein touches briefly and interestingly upon the history of cancer treatment. Pharmaceutical companies and the medical profession push their mainstream protocols for cancer. Only recently, since medical marijuana laws in many states, have they begun to prescribe its use. Sadly, since the banning the medical profession doctors had eschewed such effective remedies, forgetting the AMA’s history of cannabis acceptance.

SXSW FF screening and Q & A, Weed the People, Abby Epstein, Tracy Ryan, Sophie Ryan, Mr. Ryan
(L to R): Abby Epstein, Tracy Ryan, Sophie Ryan, Mr. Ryan, SXSW Film Festival screening and Q&A, ‘Weed the People’ (Carole Di Tosti)

Even with medical cannabis being made legal and more and more evidence of its curative properties, cancer doctors still generally do not discuss alternative therapies like cannabis, or offer any choices other than their protocols – radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery. As we note, the children in the film suffer painful, debilitating side effects from those standard treatments. Without amelioration from the the cannabis oil that we see delivered to the children, the results become dire. The immune system becomes compromised. The children’s quality of life deteriorates.

So many of us have lost loved ones to cancer, so we know the drill these children face. For their immune systems to kick in, the cancer must be “caught early enough.” Then their immune system, not completely overcome, can eliminate the toxins and radiation or heal from the surgery. Usually people die not of the cancer per se but of the poisoned liver and kidneys, organ failure, weakened heart, or from surgery complications, infections, etc. Indeed, the standard therapies pressure and burden the immune system. Cannabis oil, as Epstein underscores as she records the children’s progress, strengthens the immune system.

SXSW FF screening and Q & A, Weed the People, Abby Epstein, Ricki Lake
(L to R): Abby Epstein, Ricki Lake (Carole Di Tosti)

Patients die after mainstream treatments, as doctors predict would happen with a child named Sophie. Diagnosed as an infant with an inoperable brain tumor, she is given two years to live. But all that changes when her desperate mother tries cannabis oil in conjunction with the doctor’s treatment. We see clips of Sophie’s progress, with the dosing of cannabis oil right up to the present. Happily convinced of the oil’s effectiveness and with the doctor’s acknowledgement of its effectiveness, Sophie’s mother Tracy Ryan began her own advocacy for cannabis oil to be used in treating cancer in children.

Likewise Chico, who had 23 tumors all over his body, received mainstream treatment. The pain became so great that doctors further poisoned him with opioid pain killers. When he became utterly addicted, they took him off one toxic chemical and put him on another, methadone.

Chico’s desperate mother heard about the ameliorating effects of cannabis oil. And she found Mara Gordon. Epstein shows clips of Gordon making her pristine oil in her kitchen from scratch using organic cannabis. Gordon charts the amounts given, prodigiously monitors its effects, and keeps detailed records. She states unequivocally that cannabis oil is a medicine to be prescribed and regulated. As in the wild, wild West, she says, people cut corners, making ineffective oils. One she researched for Chico’s mom contained rubbing alcohol, which could actually have harmed him.

Mara Gordon, Chico Ryder, Abby Epstein, Tracy Ryan, Sophie Ryan, Ricki Lake, Mr. Gordon, Mr. Ryan
(L to R): Ricki Lake, Mara Gordon, Mr. Gordon, Mrs. Ryder, Chico Ryder, Abby Epstein, Tracy Ryan, Sophie Ryan, Mr. Ryan at SXSW Film Festival screening Q&A, ‘Weed the People’ (Carole Di Tosti)

Unless the product is regulated so that its contents must be disclosed, the oil may be ineffective, even dangerous. Gordon conducts careful research to determine the right combination and amounts of oils to give, as every patient had different needs. When one dose didn’t seem effective enough, Gordon tweaked the dose for Chico. And that worked. Doctors had told Chico, who was bedridden and in continual pain, that he wouldn’t walk or ride his bike again. With the cannabis oil treatments, his quality of life “miraculously” improved. Today, Chico rides his bike and advocates for cannabis online.

Researcher advocates fill in details about the history, chemistry, and science of why cannabis oil works with the cancers that Chico, Sophie and others had. Cannabis oil, and the whole plant, have been used in tinctures for hundreds of years to effectively treat many ailments – even memory problems. China and India have used it for thousands of years.

Weed the People, Abby Epstein, Ricki Lake, SXSW FF
Abby Epstein, Ricki Lake (courtesy of the film)

Chico’s mother testifies that the substance that restored her son’s life, concocted in a kitchen, worked wonders. Pharmaceutical companies engineering toxic drugs in a lab concoct poisons with side effects. And they create addiction and death in a pill. Citizens become guinea pigs and over their bodies the companies and medical industry make tremendous profits. The profits on opioids since their creation in the 1990s number in the billions of dollars. And they addict and kill. Meanwhile, cannabis has no deleterious side effects. The “forbidden” herb does no harm.

Importantly, Epstein emphasizes the reasons why the federal government has tried patenting cannabinoids yet will not legalize it. Politics, money, corruption, lobbying, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies swirl through the picture. Many states, on the other hand, have legalized it and receive tax revenue from it. If parents become desperate enough, they will go to states with legalized cannabis to treat and sometimes heal their children.

Constitutional rights advocates comment in the film that citizens should have the right to decide on treatment for their own and their children’s bodies. When opioids have destructive side effects and cannabis none, one wonders why an opioid remains a prescription drug that doctors deal out to patients.  Opioids like oxycontin jeopardize the immune system and addict the patient. Cannabis alleviates pain and inflammation and promotes healing. Why can’t citizens choose life and healing with a nontoxic herbal over chemical toxins which addict the user and destroy the liver and kidneys? This becomes one of the film’s main themes. The desperate parents chose life for their children. Cannabis oil was there for them. What if it wasn’t?

Lake and Epstein have done a wonderful service to families whose children have cancer. Indeed, they have given them hope. And they have inspired all of us to advocate for the de-scheduling of marijuana. They have provided not only valuable scientific information, but a memorable chronicle of parents and their brave children who have not given up hope. Finally, the documentary is a tear-jerker. And you will appreciate its power and the force of its message. You can stream it online. For more information visit the film’s website.

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