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CBD World News writer Heather Allman sat down with Realm of Caring Co-Founder and Board President to learn about RoC’s approach, their work in the cannabis space, and what led to Jackson’s passion for normalizing cannabis use.
CBD World News: Before 2012 when your son tried cannabis, what were your personal feelings about cannabis use and your personal experiences with cannabis?
Heather Jackson: Prior to 2012 I did not understand that there were medical benefits of cannabis, I was a byproduct of the 80’s ‘this is your brain on drugs’ the Just Say No campaign and had no idea of the published research in regards to cannabis, the patents, the mechanism of action of cannabis, or that we even had an endocannabinoid system. My first thought when our hospice counselor mentioned it embarrassingly was, We need all the brain cells we can get.
CWN: Why do you love what you do?
HJ: I think it is extremely rare for passion and profession to align so perfectly. I love what I do because we help so many people, we provide hope and a potential natural solution to individuals and families, help educate medical professionals and help the industry serve consumers better, and learn more about their products through our research studies with JHU and others. Selfishly, it is also how I make meaning of almost a decade of suffering for my son.
CWN: Why cannabis? What was your personal intention initially jumping into the medical cannabis space?
HJ: Cannabis chose me. This was not a conscious decision to dedicate my life to this plant and the people who use it. After Zaki transitioned from hospice to health, I felt an obligation to a community out of options. My personal intention was to help as many people as possible as quickly as possible. To track a population using cannabis so that we could better understand health outcomes, quality of life, and more so we could educate ourselves and others about best practices.
CWN: What are your most memorable milestones in cannabis?
HJ: I remember several milestones. I remember when we hit serving 4000 individuals and families and thinking that is 100 times what we used to serve last year. We now serve over 65,000—but that was a strong indicator that the community needed our services. The first time I went to the post office to mail grant checks! It was a thrill and, to this day, may be my favorite thing to do. Publishing this year. Being a published researcher is something I only imagined.
CWN: What three words would you use to describe yourself—or what “triple threat” are you?
HJ: I don’t know about a threat, but I can tell you I am a hardcore researcher who believes in the power of science.
I am emotional but I don’t make emotional decisions and I am selfless, I will be a servant to my community to my own detriment. My values are pioneerism and progress, as well as transformative communication. (My team answered this one:))
CWN: There are two main kinds of cannabis intentions: (1) people-centric (or compassionate), and (2) profit-centric (or capitalistic). How do you reconcile the two in order to maintain a balance at Realm of Caring?
HJ: I do not think that #1 negates #2. In other words, I would maintain that if you focus on #1, then #2 will come, and #2 coming allows us to help more people. This is the very premise of social enterprise, something I am slightly obsessed with.
CWN: What is your foremost current goal for RoC and how do you plan to accomplish this goal?
HJ: Besides the short-term goal, or what I hope is short-term, making it on the other side of a pandemic, I am most excited about working with a team of data scientists to gain better understanding and insights from our data points. 332,627 inquiries into the call center, over 2 million minutes on the phone.
CWN: How does Realm of Caring align with your own personal values and life mission?
HJ: My top values are pioneerism and progress. What I mean by that is: Pioneering new ideas, including technology, for societal change and making possible our realization. Realm of Caring and I share this value for without it, I know my son would not be here, and if the organization didn’t have it there would be thousands without options to improve their health and create community. My life mission is to reimagine the way we think, talk, and respond to plant medicine and the people who use it. To that end, I and we are committed to innovative scientific research, building global communities, and advancing demanded conversations about these life-changing approaches to health.
CWN: What are the top 3 core values or goals or “boxes checked” when counseling others about Cannabis as medicine, on the phone, or otherwise?
HJ: We talk about cannabis as a therapeutic option. As we relay information, we do have values we strive to transmit.
- The first is listening with compassion—one can’t underestimate the healing power of empathic listening.
- Empowering our clients with education based on research as well as our collective data so that they may make informed decisions.
- We guide, suggest, and illuminate the journey of cannabinoid therapy.
CWN: Tell me about your general approach to health and wellness. Why this approach? What results do you see, or how do clients respond to cannabis care?
HJ: At the Realm of Caring we take a holistic approach to the individual, which means understanding that we are composed of a mind, body, and soul. You can’t continue to have a toxic lifestyle and achieve wellness by adopting cannabinoid therapy alone. Cannabis is one tool in a varied toolbox to health.
We have also noticed that individuals being assisted with proper education, and have access to a supportive, knowledgeable team to help answer their questions have better outcomes. In our experience, over 80% of the time clients with these resources feel better and continue therapy.
CWN: Talk to me about anxiety and cannabis, especially during COVID-19.
HJ: CBD is reported to be an antidepressant and anxiolytic. During this pandemic, we are seeing a tremendous increase in anxiety cases and we feel that cannabinoid therapy is a non-addictive, safe, non-toxic way to improve mood, quiet a nervous gut and get a good night’s sleep which seems to help everything!
In our recently published research, we saw anxiety and depression both impressively having a clinically significant reduction in cannabinoid users over controls. It was two of the strongest signals we saw.
CWN: How did you earn a credible cannabis reputation in the beginning (2013)? How do authenticity and trust factor into your current course(s) of action? (“If you build it, they will come.”)
HJ: I started this foundation with radical transparency – to save my son’s life. Authenticity has come through Research, something badly needed for a stigmatized plant. We have the largest research registry in the nation and the second-largest in the world next to Canada, we will soon pass that, and Health Canada administers theirs.
We serve more individuals than the entire country of Israel’s cannabis program. Our second pillar is Education. Freely sharing what we learn is critical. Trust is built over time. Being there day-after-day, year-after-year builds trust. Being true to your word and delivering on your commitments is crucial.
CWN: Generally speaking, what are the biggest challenges for RoC? What are some of the biggest challenges you face in cannabis? What needs immediate attention?
HJ: Legality, as long as cannabis is a Schedule I substance, we will find ourselves limited in our capacity to conduct viable research. We still operate with outdated and antiquated laws and regulations, including inconsistency between local and federal law. Descheduling is really what should happen.
Another ongoing challenge for the Realm of Caring is funding. We are a traditional nonprofit and need aligned industry partners, philanthropic donors, and the community to invest in our impact if we are truly going to make a big difference.
CWN: Give me an early mistake you made in Cannabis, what you learned from it, and how you grew?
HJ: The most embarrassing, expensive, and frustrating was hiring a database company to help us collect our data. This was early on, and our excel spreadsheets and capabilities were definitely not enough. They took our money and our data and did not provide us with a final product to collect continued data.
But this led to one of our greatest accomplishments to date, our research registry with JHU. Character and trust are everything to me and us. So now we only work with the best, establish a high level of trust, and vet thoroughly. Not everyone is out here operating at the same higher vibration.
CWN: What is the most exciting thing in Cannabis right now, or shows the most potential?
HJ: Acceptance! Cannabis is no longer feared and we are seeing this therapy move to the forefront as an option instead of as a last one. We are seeing people having improved sleep, less anxiety, fewer hospital visits, and are overall experiencing improved well-being and quality of life, which is why we do what we do. In 2012, when we “came out,” it was not accepted; people did not understand it and held a very strong bias.
CWN: This is an industry that has grown primarily off demand. What medical cannabis patient demand do you currently see trending? What behaviors or shifts?
HJ: As research continues to provide us with legitimate results on how cannabis is positively impacting the lives of many, the demand will only increase. This misunderstood form of therapy is moving towards a more accepted form of therapy, we know this because we are having more people come to us saying “my doctor recommended I contact you to consult about cannabinoid therapy.”
That mindset shift helps to encourage the demand for medicinal use. We are seeing a growing aging population and chronic pain has now surpassed neurological disorders which used to be the largest population we served.
CWN: Which aspect of your daily job holds the most appeal for you, and why? OR What do you do in your business that you feel makes the most impact, and why?
HJ: Connection and collaboration. Whether that be a client phone call and their participation in the registry or helping a doctor to understand the mechanism of action for one of their patients, or working on a project with a university and industry partner I know that we can go far along. We must come together to move the needle at the pace that is necessary and that the community needs.
CWN: How has your typical daily routine changed since COVID-19?
HJ: We are all working from home, as most still are, and this is wearing on us. One of the great things about the RoC is the culture. We have a button in the hall that plays the song, “We will rock you.” (RoC you!) When we have success, we will go push it.
We could connect over coffee or book club, or a lap that we took hourly around the building. Now we are connecting over the airways through Zoom breathwork classes, all-staff meetings that we call New Day meetings, and check-ins to see how each other is. We have had a major reduction in staff due primarily to Covid which makes everyone passionately busy. I would be remiss to paint a perfect picture here—it has been tough. But I have the most creative and resilient team I know.
And there is always Work from Work Wednesday. We wear masks and elbow bump—at least we can look into each other’s eyes.
CWN: How do your past personal experiences and successes help you today in the modern professional cannabis space?
HJ: I worked managing restaurants for the first decade of my career. This prepared me in customer satisfaction and incredible systems management that has come in handy for what we do now. After that, it was all nonprofit, and in a disruptive way, which definitely prepared me for the cannabis space.
CWN: Briefly tell me, how do we collectively work together to normalize and de-stigmatize cannabis? Give me a specific example or two.
HJ: For one, we talk about it. As humans, we are wired for story. It is how we connect. There was not a single state that we went into to pass legislation (we aided in 22) where we were not met with great resistance, and sometimes anger and hatred—until we told our story.
When we take the time to have open and honest conversations about anything, it becomes more normalized. Take a look at how far we have come as a culture with mental health. We still have a long way to go, but once people started to finally talk about it, recognizing that many individuals suffer from mental health issues, it allowed more to come forth and admit, “I am feeling anxious,” or “I battle with depression,” and actually seek help for it.
CWN: What are a couple of concrete examples of how you as a nonprofit make cannabis accessible to everyone?
HJ: We make cannabis accessible by definition of making cannabis easily understood. Someone could come to us with no knowledge of the plant and leave with an understanding of how it may benefit them for their particular condition.
We spend countless hours navigating through research so that we may make the knowledge more accessible to more individuals. We deliver this information on multiple learning platforms so we can reach different styles of learning. We have a grant program to move families to a medical state.
We have aided in close to 3 million in product giveaways and cash to those who would not be able to afford it. We pass laws to help access in their own zip code. We have not arrived. But we are heading in the right direction.
CWN: What keeps you awake at night?
HJ: Almost always, it is those who do not have the access that they need. It is heartbreaking that we still have medical refugees and people who can access a plant. Additionally, right now I want to reconnect with our community so badly. We are in a space and time that is making this very difficult. We cannot meet up, we cannot have events, their needs are different, and the media is vying for their attention. We want to make sure that we know the needs of our community, medical professionals, and the industry so we can serve them well.
CWN: What helps you sleep at night?
HJ: I go to bed with absolutely not a single bit of potential left in the day, and my cheeks hurt from smiling so much.
I feel very satisfied with the great work and impact we have had and currently have on people who need our programs and services. Our community. There is nothing like it. I am so in love with the community we serve, the open-minded medical professionals we are connected to (over 2000 of them), and the industry partners who I know will always make the best decision for their customer.
Operating with a high level of excellence allows me to slumber well, and a little CBD sure doesn’t hurt either. . . .
CWN: What steps do you take to achieve RoC’s top tier, relatable, verified information for cannabis users?
HJ: We review the available research, and we fund and conduct our own research. We have one-on-one conversations with individuals and pay attention to their stories. Stories are simply data with a soul. ( I love that Brene Brown quote.) We are relatable because every staff member has their own personal connection to the plant. Each one of us at RoC is an educator and a researcher with heart. Every connection with a client requires time and effort to ensure they are receiving substantial, meaningful, and validated information.
CWN: What is the best advice you can offer to other individuals in the space?
HJ: First, spend some time taking a values inventory. Making intentional decisions that align with your values will allow you to live a purposeful and meaningful life. Reduce your ego, and try to never be the smartest person at the table. I have always said that if I look around the table and am the smartest there, we have a problem. Operate with heart, it will lead you in the right direction.
CWN: What future mark do you strive to make in the growing national medical cannabis space that you feel is the very most important, and why?
HJ: We are approaching a decade of service in this space. Our most valuable commodity is time. Try keeping your kid alive for a decade and disagree with me. And the most important thing we can do with our time is to give attention to what is most important. Attention is our most precious asset. We give our attention to a marginalized and vulnerable population that is being overlooked and sometimes given up on. Attention is the mark RoC will make.
Our current goals are to enroll for our Observational Research Registry indefinitely, becoming the largest database in the world, as we continue to publish in peer-reviewed journals on these data. This is important in the medical cannabis space as cannabinoid therapy is not something taught in medical school. Healthcare providers reach out to us as a renowned resource to fill in the gaps by providing data-driven answers.
We recognize the need for more education based on the growing clinical and observational research to help further cement cannabis’ place as a therapy so individuals can enhance their quality of life.
CWN: What are your biggest hopes for the future of cannabis? Tell me about your personal vision for the U.S. cannabis program in the year to come? In 3 years? Thoughts on de/rescheduling? Decriminalization? Legalization?
HJ: The only acceptable path forward to me is descheduling of cannabis altogether. But this will likely not happen in the next 3 years, and we need to continue to make headway.
More than half of our states have marijuana decriminalization laws; over a fifth of our states have legalized marijuana use; and nearly 70% of states have adopted a medical marijuana program. We are on the right track, and there are current bills being prepared for a House vote as we speak. In three years, I hope to see at least a medical marijuana program in every state so that those in need have access. Ultimately, the long game is descheduling.
CWN: And how do we get from here to there?
HJ: We continue the good fight! We continue to educate, normalize, and find ways to help individuals get the most from cannabinoid therapy to enhance their quality of life. This creates demand.
This demand must be listened to. We cannot be ignored. Also, I would like to mention that you eat an elephant one bite at a time. You start with what you will pass. You push and you push and you push, but you compromise and you get a bill that will pass. And then you move the ball forward from there.
CWN: How can we spread the word about your extensive RoC resources and programs, free, and accessible to everyone?
HJ: Getting started with cannabinoid therapy can be such a daunting task, that is what we are here to help with. We have one on one support, administration guidelines, education webinars, a research library, and our own research we are completing alongside John Hopkins University. This is currently the largest observational research registry for cannabinoid therapy in the United States.
If anyone wants to pay forward their experiences to help others, they can easily participate in quarterly surveys. Visit us on our website, share our social media posts, or call and connect with us!
The more people that know about the RoC, the more people we are able to help. Help us help millions.