Cannabis saved her. Now, she’s a powerful advocate for plant-based medicine
Sailene Ossman was just 19 when she was involved in a near-fatal car accident. Her injuries included a spinal fracture at C2, a fractured sternum, five broken ribs, a compound fracture of her right leg that almost resulted in a foot amputation, a crushed kneecap, and more. Today, at age 54, she lives with chronic pain, arthritis, and neck degeneration—but cannabis, she says, has saved her life.
His “walking miracle baby”
Recovery from her injuries was a many months-long journey for Sailene; she faced numerous obstacles, and when she was finally able to come home, her father called her his “walking miracle baby.”
For a time during her recovery, Sailene had a tracheotomy and was in traction—stuck on her back in intensive care. To prevent pneumonia, respiratory therapists would visit her regularly to perform a procedure that included pumping medicine into her lungs to force her to cough out phlegm. During one of these visits, Sailene and the therapist talked about how the medicine worked, and she learned that other substances can also work as bronchodilators—including cannabis.
“It dawned on me that he was saying weed was medicine, and I decided to incorporate it into my healing process,” says Sailene. She didn’t take any over-the-counter or prescription pain medicines once she went home to recuperate. Instead, she used cannabis. “I didn’t inform my doctors; you didn’t talk about that in the ’80s,” she says. “But it worked miracles for me.”
Cannabis helps her thrive
Today, Sailene uses medical cannabis to minimize her pain and boost her wellness. She often experiences stiff neck, achy knee, tingling sensations up and down her arm and into her fingers, numbness, and other pain. But cannabis reduces those sensations. (She takes no prescription pills, which she says have not worked for her in the past, anyway.)
“I use cannabis every day,” she explains. “I usually begin my day with a CBD suppository, and from there I may use a vape pen, or have a low-dose edible. I also dab every day, and I use a topical application on my knee and other joints.
“I incorporated cannabis early on, so I do not let pain get in the way of my lifestyle,” Sailene says. “I feel balanced, the pain is alleviated, I have less stress, and I generally don’t worry a lot about my pain.”
She also meditates, does yoga, takes long walks, and eats clean. It’s all part of a lifestyle that balances work, play, and an emphasis on joy. “It’s difficult to focus on the pain. I prefer to focus on all the beauty in my life, and that’s with the help of cannabis. It talks to our brain, telling the pain receptors that ‘hey, you may have that pain, but you don’t really care about it… it may be a little vibration over there, but you don’t have to concentrate on it.’ That’s the glorious part of cannabis.”
Almost 20 years of advocacy
“All humans are born with an endocannabinoid system, with receptors throughout our bodies,” says Sailene. Those receptors process cannabinoids, which are typically found in our body and help regulate processes like appetite, moods, and pain sensation. Illness and injury can impact the natural production of cannabinoids. “When our bodies are not producing those cannabinoids, we can get them through the cannabis plant instead.”
Sailene is so passionate about the benefits of cannabis that she started her own business 18 years ago: a woman-owned and -operated medical cannabis delivery service in Los Angeles. She also operated a catering and event planning business, and would sometimes combine her interests into events that included cannabis/food pairings and health education. Since then, she has been an advocate for the legalization of cannabis.
Having to be somewhat quiet about her work was, in some ways, difficult. “It is so stigmatized, and we have been unable to talk about it—so being a cannabis advocate is my greatest mission in life,” says Sailene. “Western doctors cannot talk about cannabis, so I usually just be my most authentic self and let them know I’m into alternative health care. This is medicine, folks—we’re not here just getting high or silly. This plant adds to the quality of our lives.”
Sailene says that today, our society is learning more and more about homeopathic, plant-based medicine—and cannabis is the same thing. “The plant’s reputation has been blown out of proportion, because we focus on the THC component—the psychoactive part. But cannabis is much more than that; it also has CBD compounds and terpenes.”
The CBD compounds have incredible anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties; the terpenes act like aromatherapy, creating a chemical attraction through the sense of smell.
“Isolated, each of them have beautiful benefits. In full plant extraction medicine, when all three components work together, they work more magically, synergistically, for real optimal healing,” says Sailene. “It’s clean, good medicine.”
She adds that while CBD is non-psychoactive, it is still a Schedule 1 drug, making it unattainable for the majority of people in the U.S. Yet, there have been no known fatalities attributed to cannabis. The old stigma, based on a lack of real information and research, is a large part of what keeps it illegal in many states.
Debunking the hemp “substitute”
“There is a beautiful cousin plant to cannabis, called the hemp plant, which has beautiful properties—but it is an industrial strength plant,” says Sailene.
Because medical cannabis is still illegal in many states in the U.S., many people turn to hemp, which can be a legal source of CBD. But the CBD in hemp is not nearly as powerful as that of cannabis, she says. Unfortunately, many people—including parents of children who are impacted by disease and pain—are desperate for relief, and end up purchasing hemp CBD oil because they can’t get cannabis-derived CBD medicines.
This becomes a real problem for people who believe that CBD medicine will help alleviate their pain and other ailments. Because the concentration of CBD in hemp oil is often ineffective, they then believe that all CBD medicines are ineffective.
“People hear about hemp and think that it’s going to help their children, and it’s really not going to,” says Sailene. “It’s going to feel like snake oil; they’ll think we’re lying about the benefits of cannabis, but we’re not.”
When people learn the truth, she says, they sometimes uproot their families to move to a state where cannabis is legal, leaving behind their support systems. That’s the level of desperation, of deep need for relief and healing—and that’s why Sailene is so passionate about the cannabis cause.
Becoming “Mama Sailene”
In 2015, Sailene’s reputation as a medical cannabis expert and foodie led to an incredible partnership: Merry Jane, an online magazine, paired Sailene with Snoop Dogg for a TV series called “Smoke in the Kitchen.” (It’s now available on YouTube.)
“It was an educational platform to teach people about the different strains of cannabis, and how they can add to our creativity and inspire us to get into the kitchen and pair it with good foods,” she says. On the show, they dubbed her “Mama Sailene,” and she now has a thriving social media presence under the same name.
She felt a little hesitation at first, because she says that even after almost two decades of being part of the medical cannabis industry, people never really talked about what they did. It was still a very gray area.
“But I’m a California girl through and through!” says Sailene. “This state is full of third and fourth generation farmers. We own the industry; it’s been in my life forever. The miracles I’ve seen daily in the lives of my patients are too numerous to detail. I thought, I just have to step up to the plate and be willing to do as much as I can for this beautiful plant that adds so much to my life.”
Through the show, events tied to its production, and partnerships with many other people, Sailene threw herself into broad advocacy efforts. “The universe was asking me to come out and be proud of what I was doing, and I couldn’t say no.”
At the same time, Sailene partnered with her attorney to create Elevate LA, a nonprofit with the goal of passing California Proposition 64 to legalize the personal growing and use of marijuana. (It passed in November 2016.)
“We need to share our stories. People need to see our faces, because we’re changing the landscape,” says Sailene. “We’ve got to come out of that green closet,” she jokes.
I am a warrior for this plant. I always feel so honored to show up for her.
Project CBD: projectcbd.org
California Cannabis Advocates: californiacannabisadvocates.org
Merry Jane: merryjane.com