Chelsea Leyland is a British DJ and medical cannabis/epilepsy activist based in Brooklyn, New York. Since her early teens she has been living with a type of epilepsy called ‘Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy’ (JME), using her experiences and her platform to become a leading advocate for the destigmatization of both epilepsy and medical cannabis.
Through her advocacy-led work, she has spoken on multiple medical cannabis panels, conducted informative talks, and has been a guest in educational podcasts to open up the conversation about this topic and the issues surrounding it. Now she is taking a directorial role in the coming documentary Separating the Strains.
We had the chance to connect with Chelsea through our shared feature in The Financial Times, High fashion: The women on the frontline of the cannabis cause. Since then we have kept in touch and were able to ask her a few questions about how she got where she is today.
1. How did you get into cannabis advocacy?
My work as a medical cannabis advocate stems from my family’s journey battling with epilepsy. At fifteen years old, I was diagnosed with a form of epilepsy known as Juvenile Myoclonic epilepsy. Six months later I was put on a cocktail of harsh pharmaceutical drugs. I struggled with debilitating side-effects for years after and, despite taking these drugs, I continued to have seizures.
Three years ago, I was fortunate enough to discover medical cannabis and due to New York city being the place that I call home - I am lucky enough to have access to standardized pharmaceutical grade cannabis medicine.
However, my elder sister Tamsin, who started having seizures as a baby is not as fortunate. Tamsin lives in full time care in the UK and due to the restrictive legislation in the US, does not have access to cannabis-based medicines. The unjust and restrictive laws in the UK, that impact the most vulnerable patients, is the driving force behind my work. I want to give a voice to those who do not have one.
I was introduced to CBD three years ago. The positive effects of CBD were unimaginable immediate for me. So much so, that on using CBD for the second time, I forgot to take my traditional medicine. I woke up the following morning in a panic that I'd missed a dose of my medicine, but this panic was then followed by an inquisitive spark as I asked myself why my epileptic brain had not reminded to take my regular drugs. 'Did I forget because I felt well medicated by the small amount of CBD oil I had tried?'
This was the start of my journey unlocking the power of medical cannabis…
2. How has your life evolved since using CBD?
My ability to travel on long haul flights without the fear of having a seizure has been transformative. Generally being able to operate from a more secure and stable base line has been life changing. My use of the plant has also occasionally helped me find a much deeper connection with both the music and the audience I am playing for.
3. You have been vocal about cannabis helping to treat your epilepsy symptoms. Can you tell us about some of the other ways you are using CBD?
I also suffer from a condition called endometriosis, which unfortunately landed me in hospital on a few occasions and required me to have laparoscopy surgery. I would often pass out and vomit due to my period pains. Every time I went to the Doctor I was offered either strong painkillers or synthetic hormones. After a year of using cannabis to treat my epilepsy, I noticed my period pain had reduced dramatically.
I am now using CBD suppositories, lubricants, topicals and edibles to manage my monthly cramps. The pain is still there but it is nothing like before.
Though right now finishing this documentary is number one for me, I have a plan to develop my own range of hemp-derived products that focus on sexual wellbeing and intimacy for both men and women. I want to help women like myself who suffer from conditions like endometriosis.
I am extremely lucky and humbled to be working with such an intelligent and fantastic team of women. Working on a project that is so deeply personal can be tough and none of it would be possible if I hadn't teamed up with my director Caroline Sharp. Caroline also has a background in neuroscience and therefore brings an invaluable perspective to the project.
So what’s next for Chelsea Leyland?
Chelsea has previously sat in front of the camera, but she is now moving behind the lens to produce a deeply personal story and inform her audience about what is it to be epileptic. This up and coming documentary Separating The Strains is currently building funding through a crowdfunding campaign, find out more and share your support here.
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