Spotlight Interview with Nikki Lawley of Nikki and the Plant
The team at KookiJar love getting a chance to sit down with amazing people that advocate for cannabis. Nikki Lawley is no exception. Her story is one of trauma and rebirth – you'll understand what we mean when you see how far she has come. Trauma brought her to the plant and has helped her with her regain control of her life. Now she spends her days helping everyone else learn and explore how cannabis can help them too.
KookiMike: You’re rather well known for saying “cannabis saved my life”. Tell us a little bit about that, what lead you to this amazing plant, and how it has changed your daily life.
Nikki: So, I was a pediatric nurse working, doing my job like any other day and I got hurt at work. A kid headbutted me and threw me into a wall and it changed my life forever. That was 10-11-2016. That day, everything changed from my cognitive function to my pain level. I have a headache that is still with me today. It has never gone away due to a significant blow to my frontal lobe of my brain and what they call ‘cervical instability’ which is just a fancy way of saying ‘your neck is messed up’
I found the plant by accident. I had been on over 60 different pharmaceuticals and had seen over 60 different providers over a 3-year period. No one had offered cannabis, or holistic therapies, or had talked about nutrition, or about any other things than just giving me a new pill for a new symptom, rather than addressing the root of the problem.
I was a Nurse; I obeyed the Doctors and what they said because that was my job. Going from health care provider to patient was a HUGE wake up call for me. I learned what it was to be a patient. I learned what it was to have those who had once been your colleagues, and had considered you a respected team member, now view you as the crazy woman who had ‘nothing wrong with her’ and was trying to milk a system. Because I was injured at work, Workers Compensation became my health insurance. The system is designed for doctors to do everything they can to get you back to work. No one wanted to go back to work more than myself. I truly could not believe how I was treated as a patient. The answer was ‘there’s nothing on your MRI, so it’s all in your head. You have headaches because you are depressed, and you aren’t working anymore.’
I found the plant during a trip to Las Vegas. You’re thinking ‘Why would you be in Las Vegas when you have a head injury, and you can’t think, and you can’t function?’. **Chuckles** My husband thought it would be a good idea to surprise me for Christmas with a trip to Las Vegas. I had actually been contemplating my death while standing on the balcony of that Las Vegas hotel when a mobile billboard came driving by saying 'Get your medical marijuana card in Nevada, today!' I laughed at that sign, at that whole experience. Why? Because I thought it was preposterous for someone with a head injury, such as myself, to consider cannabis 'medical'. So, when this billboard came by it was almost like 'are you serious right now?'. Nevertheless, I ended up going and getting my medical card that day. That’s how I discover this amazing plant.
My experience that day gave me a glimmer of hope after I had lost all hope. People talk about being suicidal at times, but it's hard to understand the darkness unless you are really there, and you’re ready to do it, and the burden you feel on people is a horrific, emotional and devastating.
KookiMike: In 2017, you received your Medical Cannabis Card for California (thanks to Nevada). Can you describe what the application process was like for you?
Nikki: That day I was really struggling with memory, with cognitive function, and the form they give me was just like a normal medical form. What is your past history, what medications you are taking, tell us about this, that and the other thing. Name, address, you know. The doctor will see you now.
For the average person, it would be super painless, super easy to fill out that form. However, I could not complete that form, and since since I had been a nurse, but couldn't fill out a simple form, for me, that experience was especially traumatic. So, for me, that experience was very traumatic.
They ask you what you’re using, make sure there are no contra-indications, and they give you a card. There’s a lot of telemedicine providers that work in multiple states, for example, Leafwell is one I work with very closely. They will offer medical cards in pretty much every state that has medical cannabis. So, it's a telemedicine appointment where you login your information and you can talk to a physician, and they’ll give you a card for many things. Now, not a stubbed toe - that’s not a qualifying condition, but if you're experiencing chronic pain, if you have anxiety, if you have depression they can help. Different states have different conditions that are approved, so there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer for that one, but you can go online to leafwell.com and see if you qualify and go ahead and get a medical card.
KookiMike: We have been following your rise to prominence in the medical community. We also have seen that you do a lot of work in Canada. As an American, can you speak to why you visit the Great White North so frequently?
Nikki: Canada has it right! You guys have had a medical program for a long time and recognized its benefits. Not only have you recognized its benefits, but you encourage veterans to use it. Veterans get their cannabis paid for by the government. Do you have any idea how much less gun violence we would have? How many fewer suicides we would have? If the government provided cannabis to our veterans, that would be an amazing thing.
When I returned to New York and didn’t have access to cannabis, I became as hopeless as I had been pre-Vegas. I became as hopeless and had no answer, and I became suicidal again. Around that time, I posted a pretty sad message on Facebook. Friends from Canada reached out and said ‘Why don’t you come here? We have our medical cards. We can get you medical cannabis.’
Now, I’m like 15 minutes from the border. My friends are about 4.5 hours away, but it didn’t matter. They were kind enough to let me experiment and try different products. That’s when I started to realize that there’s something to this medical cannabis and I didn’t understand why I felt this way when I smoked Strain A and that way when I smoked Strain B. I had no idea, no understanding of how to differentiate.
When I told my doctors in the States that I smoked cannabis, they called me a 'Drug Seeker'. They said I’m 'smoking it, so it’s not medicinal'. They said that if I’m using THC, then all I’m doing is getting high. I have to tell you, none of that is true. I will go head-to-head with any physician who feels that way, because they are wrong, and people don’t know what they don’t know until their life is on the line and they have found absolutely no relief from anything, year after year. Then all of a sudden there’s this plant, this innocent little plant that’s been weaponized and demonized and racially impacted, and it's now your saving grace?! I can’t be quiet about that. You have to share the beauty of the plant.
KookiMike: As a long-time advocate of medical cannabis, you undoubtedly have some unique insights into the industry. What sort of challenges have you encountered?
Nikki: That’s kind of an easy one! Challenges of physicians and others who are still under the 'Devil’s lettuce' concept. The stigma surrounding cannabis is huge. When I travel anywhere and I’m outside the venue or hotel, and I’m smoking a joint, I can’t tell you the amount of looks I get that are almost ‘horrified’. So, the stigma surrounding the plant is real whether it's doctors or people passing by because they don’t understand it. Public education is also one of my missions. That’s why I share so much about the plant.
There’s another big one. In the States, each State has different rules and different regulations. Some are legal, some are not. There’s the illicit or legacy market that’s going on, but people don’t understand that it's just another way of getting your medicine sometimes; it may even be more economical. But there are risks of going through the legacy market. The risk is that it's not always tested, so you don’t always know what you’re consuming. Another issue with the States is reciprocity. A State with reciprocity recognizes patients with a medical card from a different state. If I go to Idaho, where there is no legal medical program, they will put you in jail if you are caught with cannabis. I mean, its frightening. I’m still a patient whether I’m in New York, or I’m in Idaho. It doesn’t matter. It’s a real problem in the States. You know, the cool thing about Canada is your whole country is legal!
You guys [Canadians] have not noticed this huge uptick of “too high” drivers that are killing people. You don’t have an increase in gun violence. If the Unites States could look at what Canada’s done right, and apply that over here, it would be incredible.
KookiMike: Cannabis is abuzz in US politics as the legalization debate continues. If you had a podium and a few moments with the decision makers, what would you say to them?
Nikki: Cannabis is Medicine. By denying people the right to understand it and consume, and to lock people up for a plant, we are doing it wrong. A regulated, tested, research-driven cannabis system would not only help our bottom line as a country, but it would also eliminate some of the useless policing and potential violent outcomes of what is happening. During the ‘Search and Frisk’ era people were going to jail for a joint. How is that valuable use of resources, time, energy? Ultimately, they pay a fine, but that’s on their record forever. We need to do better as a country. We need to recognize this plant needs to come off Schedule I. It needs to be off the Schedule completely, or at least moved down so that research can be conducted.
My personal feeling is that ‘we control the House and the Senate as Democrats’. Our economy is suffering right now. Why the in the hell would we not de-Schedule it and start to bring in revenue at the federal level? A lot of people don’t understand that in the United States there’s this tax code called 280E for Schedule I drugs that hurts the industry. 280E means that any cannabis business is considered to be Schedule I, they are operating illegally, at the federal level. They cannot write-off any business expenses or get a bank in many cases. There are huge, huge problems with cannabis being Schedule I. With us controlling the House and the Senate, why we have not made a change in that is beyond my understanding. I understand change is hard, but at the end of the day, you are killing people by not allowing them access to this plant.
KookiMike: As a medical professional and medical cannabis patient, what information or resources can you recommend for people who are considering cannabis as an alternative to traditional medicine?
Nikki: The first thing is to sign up with different support groups in your area. I’m on Facebook and part of 786 groups, all over the US, Canada, and the UK. They talk about real patients consuming cannabis. One of the best organizations in the United States is call Americans for Safe Access. Americans for Safe Access is just what it says it is. It’s a patient-driven organization focused on changing policies in the US that looks to level the playing field. They have a report called State of the States and it's literally everything about each State from a cannabis perspective. They focus on medical, but they do report on adult-use. Americans for Safe Access is doing everything they can to give patients safe access. They have an event coming up in December called the Unity Conference. What that does is brings patients together to go to their federal representative, they have a lobbying day, and we can talk about it in a way that may help changes the heart and minds and lives.
The Leafwell site is a great resource for how to get a card. It is great too.
The very first book on cannabis that I was able to understand and read is called “The Medical Cannabis Primer”. Doctor Ruth Fisher is the author, and she does an outstanding job of breaking down the plant in a way that I was able to understand. As a medical professional, we weren’t taught about cannabis. We didn’t know there was an Endocannabinoid System (ECS) in our body. We didn’t know we have receptors that are designed to be filled by cannabis. What’s so cool is that she explains things in a way that make it really easy to understand. Google is great, but it's really hard to find reliable and credible information. Hence why I am sharing these resources, ones that I feel comfortable recommending.
NikkiandthePlant.org is trying to build up the website and web presence to be a resource with these great links. We aren’t quite there yet, but feel free to follow us there.
KookiMike: Individuals consuming cannabis for medical purposes often need to track their dosage, frequency, and types of medications. As cannabis is such a widely varied plant with thousands of different cultivars/strains, how do you keep track?
Nikki: Great question. So, in Canada, because that’s where I began to learn about the plant, I found this app on my phone called Strainprint. I had heard about them at one of the tradeshows. What was so cool is that I started logging my experience of each product, and unlike a calendar app or something like that, Strainprint has Certificates of Analysis (COA) or testing reports of the chemical constituents of the plant. This is important because there are multiple versions of each strain. There are multiple sources of Blue Dream, there are multiple people replicating this plant, and each one has a slightly different or significantly different profile and that changes how it affects me. Their app was able to educate me. I would log that dosage and later I would be able to find out how it affected me. You log your symptom, and you use this batch of product, and you can see how it affected you immediately, and later.
Because I smoke my cannabis, it was a great app for me because it was easy to tell how I felt. And it really helped me understand. There are several journaling apps but finding one that has access to that backend chemical profile (COA) is what is going to make your journey significantly easier. Strainprint actually white-labelled their app for me, but you can download it from the App Store. Go to Strainprint, then register and add code “Plants” and you’ll get my database that is with products I’ve recommended or have access to COAs.
KookiMike: You are clearly connected to the greater cannabis community, having unique insights and experiences with medical cannabis and its’ healing power. With all this in mind, and your knowledge of Canada’s legalization (and its' imperfections), you must have some observations and hopes for federal legalization in the US. What recommendations would you make for the US as they consider federal legalization of recreational and medicinal cannabis?
Nikki: That’s a tough one. Tested cannabis and standardization. I mean, there’s good and bad that come with legalization, right? We get a new federal agency that’s now got their fingers in our medicine, just like the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) here in the States. So, to have a political semblance of actual people who use the plant is critically important. People who have never consumed cannabis don’t understand it. To me, I believe that Police Officers should try cannabis. I believe they need to understand what it does to people. It doesn’t make you crazy. Now, you combine it with alcohol or cocaine or something like that, you’re going to have a whole different experience. For the average policeman, he’s not going to get really high. Again, in controlled environments and teaching educators and having a standardized education platform is so important. That would be one thing that I hope they consider. And social equity and health equity. The black and brown community has been harmed far more than anyone else because of cannabis prohibition. There needs to be a big seat at the table for them. There needs to be a seat at the table for medical patients. There needs to be a seat at the table for regulators and researchers, not just political figureheads that don’t understand cannabis as a medicine, nor do they want to. That would be the biggest thing. Affordable medicine, letting people grow their own, like tomatoes. I mean, grocery stores aren’t running out of tomatoes, or having a surplus because people are growing their own.
Once someone tries to grow cannabis, such as myself – five times failed, I’m pretty sure the store is not going to go out of business because of the home-grow situation and patients really need affordable medicine. The Multi-State Operators (MSOs), the large corporations are not going to lose their main base, but there needs to be standardized labelling and understanding. In California, for instance, they put THC percentage second. In other words, a 20:1 composition in California means 20 parts CBD to 1 part THC. Whereas in New York State it is the opposite, 20 parts THC to 1 part CBD. That needs to change. Instead of worrying about silly things on labelling, like ‘your logo is too big’, how about we standardize the packaging, and standardize having access to the terpenes on that packaging. Yes, THC and CBD are important, but there are so many more cannabinoids. That should be part of every test report and the public should have access to that.
We are incredibly grateful to Nikki Lawley for taking the time to speak with the KookiJar team and for sharing her experiences and insights into the US cannabis market, and cannabis in general.
Be sure to check her out at Nikkiandtheplant.org or at a local cannabis expo near you.