Unhidden: Carrying Happy Everywhere – An Interview With Susan Snowden
In this episode of Unhidden, we chat with Susan Snowden, a professional costume designer, horticulturalist, herbalist, and creator of a CBD Salve Stick which won the topicals category in the first Headies, Heady Vermont’s cannabis cup.
Susan created her salve in an effort to heal significant neuropathic pain from a near-total pelvic reconstruction.
Susan has a professional certificate in Cannabis Science and Medicine from The Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at The University of Vermont Department of Pharmacology, and co-founded the Vermont Cannabis Organization, a coalition of professionals committed to outreach and partnership in Vermont’s newly emerging cannabis industry.
Full transcript below.
Kathryn Blume: You have arrived at Unhidden, produced by Heady Vermont, we’re about bringing cannabis in all its forms out of the dark ages of prohibition, and into the light of a world which can definitely use some help from this awesome plant. I’m your host Kathryn Blume.
Last year, the winner of the topical’s category for the inaugural edition of our cannabis cup, The Headies was a woman named Susan Snowden. Susan submitted a pain relieving salve that the judges just adored. You might even “salveavated” over it. Sorry, that was a Dad Pun.
Susan is from the Middlebury, Vermont area and she’s got a long history as a ballet dancer, costume designer, landscaper and herbalist. She’s also a medical cannabis patient with an unbelievably arduous history – and she’s also a bit of a medical miracle given what she’s been able to overcome.
Susan runs the Vermont Cannabis Organization, a coalition of professionals committed to outreach and partnership in Vermont’s newly emerging cannabis industry, as well as her own business Vermont Cannapharm (pharm with a PH) which makes health and wellness products including that lovely salve.
Susan has an incredible depth of medicinal and historical knowledge, and speaking with her was utterly captivating – and long. You’ll be happy to know that this episode which runs an hour and 20 minutes was edited down from a conversation that went on for over three hours. Given the length, there will be breaks where you can cause and grab some tea, or pee, or a spark a joint, or do whatever you need to do. So that said, please enjoy the remarkable Susan Snowden.
Susan Snowden: My name Susan Snowden, and I was born in Burlington, Vermont. And when I was two my father rejoined the army and we moved to Germany. I am the oldest of five. My father did not retire from the military until I was almost done with college. And at that point, my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and we were living in Kentucky at the time.
My father was stationed at Fort Knox. And because I was the oldest and, ostensibly, my parents were going to pay for my education, they didn’t want me to go very far away from home. And although I wanted to go to Juilliard, they wanted me to go to Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green in Kentucky which is where I ended up.
Kathryn Blume: And Juilliard for?
Susan Snowden: Theater.
Kathryn Blume: As a designer?
Susan Snowden: At that time, no as a performer. I didn’t really find out that I wanted to be a costume designer till I ended up in college. And because it was a small state school, the professor there kept his eye out on the freshman class for people who could sew. And it was something I’d done all my life. And he found out that I could sew, so he got me into the costume shop. And by the time I was a senior and they let me design, there was something so different about it from performing.
It’s so hard to know what the truth is really and that bothers me sometimes. I want to know the truth.
The problem with performing for me is it’s so subjective and you never really know in that moment what it was. You have an idea, your idea of your experience, but then with the feedback that you start getting, everybody has an opinion and it might not be what you thought was happening.
And so, it’s so hard to know what the truth is really and that bothers me sometimes. I want to know the truth. And with technical theater, I could step back and remove myself from it and form my own opinion and know the truth; was it good, was it bad, what worked, what didn’t work, what did I do different again, and everybody’s always looking for costume people.
Kathryn Blume: You also, given that training, have a capacity to both have your own vision but also serve the story-
Susan Snowden: Absolutely.
Kathryn Blume: -and that must iterate out in various aspects of your life.
Susan Snowden: Well, I learned a skill set as a result of that kind of collaboration. I learned how to listen to people. And your job as a designer is always to support first the director and then the performers and then the other designers that are contributing to the story, and to realize an idea visually through that language.
I developed Crohn’s Disease which they didn’t diagnose. By the time they figured out what was wrong with me, I was a freshman in college. I had been hemorrhaging internally for six months.
And now that I’m a landscaper, talking to people about their yard and what they want to see, I look for emotional adjectives. Like you want it to be happier or you want it to be cleaner or neater or more formal. So, in that way, I think it helped me as a person, you know, learned to listen to people. I’ve used that everywhere.
We moved to Fort Knox from Montana when I was a junior in high school. Now, this was my path in school. We moved every couple of years. I counted up one time. I think I went to 19 different schools in 18 years. In second grade, I went to four different schools. So, we ended up, when I was a junior in high school, in Fort Knox, Kentucky and I hated it. I went from a school system in Montana that was 8th in the country to a school system that was 48th and I was very involved in school. I was in the drama department, I was on the speech team doing debate, I had been written in by my classmates as vice president of the junior class – which I didn’t get to do because we moved.
So, I was severely depressed, severely severely depressed. And my journals at the time, I wrote, “I feel like I have a big huge cast iron hole in my gut.” and that’s what happened to me. I developed Crohn’s Disease which they didn’t diagnose. By the time they figured out what was wrong with me, I was a freshman in college. I had been hemorrhaging internally for six months. I knew where all the restrooms were because I was going to the bathroom 60 times a day.
Kathryn Blume: And that’s young for Crohn’s?
Susan Snowden: I was really young. At that point time, it’d only been around for about 40 years so it wasn’t something that the doctors, when they would see people with the symptoms… Of course I’m going to Ireland Army Hospital Fort Knox Kentucky because my dad was in the army. So, you’re dealing with Army doctors. And at the time, they didn’t have a gastroenterologist on staff.
He told me that I had a Type A personality, that it was stress and anxiety, that I was suffering from things that corporate executive dudes get, a nervous stomach, and I should jog.
So because of who my father was, they sent me to the Chief of Staff at the hospital there happened to be a cardiologist, so that was the specialist that I was seeing. And he told me that I had a Type A personality, that it was stress and anxiety, that I was suffering from things that corporate executive dudes get, a nervous stomach, and I should jog. That was his solution for what it was that was going on with me.
I ended up coming home. I don’t remember what holiday it was but I was running fevers of like 106. They would start at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and they would go until 8 o’clock and then they would stop. I wasn’t eating anything. Anything I ate went through and came out. I think I weighed 97 pounds at the time. My hair was falling out, my body wasn’t producing white or red blood cells and they finally figured– and they admitted me to the hospital finally. They were like they– and they had a gastroenterologist.
They finally got a gastroenterologist and he saw me and he said, “Susan, I want to admit you to the hospital. I’d like to admit you for 10 days so I can figure out what’s wrong with you.” Which is when they diagnosed the Crohn’s disease. And the sad thing about it was there was evidence – he showed me my X-rays, the first X-rays I ever had. There was evidence of it then. So, he put me on Prednisone, and now this in 1977. There’s a new wonder drug on the market, and treated me for almost two years with what we now know are massive doses. I mean now you get maybe 40 milligrams in the day. I one point was taking 600 milligrams of Prednisone for almost two years.
I just said, “That’s it. I’m either going to get better without this or I’m going to die.”
Kathryn Blume: What kind of side effects were you having?
Susan Snowden: Oh, it was horrible. I mean my face swelled up like it was this moon thing. I wasn’t sleeping. Roid rages, yeah, bouncing off the walls, yeah, huge weight gain. And then because you start having all these side effects, now you’re taking more medications. I was taking a diuretic to help with that. And then that’s depletes your body of iron, so now I’m chronically anemic, and all this other stuff. And I finally, I was taken silvadene, two sulfur drugs. 4 o’clock in the morning in my dorm room one night, I just said, “That’s it. I’m either going to get better without this or I’m going to die.” I didn’t know you’re supposed to wean yourself off. I just stopped. I dumped it down the toilet, I lied to my doctor. I got my prescriptions refilled and I just stopped taking it and I was fine [giggles].
I was fine until my late 20s. I woke up one morning, I got this weird thing in my thing in my hip, what is that? And it lasted a couple days and it went away,. It was okay for about a month, and it started happening. And of course at this time, I’m also taking a ballet class with the Louisville ballet company there because they have adult classes for people that wanted to go. So, I mean I’m also doing some physical things that maybe could have been causing a thing back there.
All the cartilage in my right hip had worn away plus there was a nickel sized spot that he thought was avascular necrosis.
But after about six months, it kind of kept going, I thought I better go get this checked. So, I made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. I went to see him and he took an X-ray, and he was like, “Oh my God!” All the cartilage in my right hip had worn away plus there was a nickel sized spot that he thought was avascular necrosis. And he was like we’re going to have to operate here right away.
Kathryn Blume: So, for those of us who are civilians, avascular necrosis…
Susan Snowden: Basically, it’s like gangrene in the bone. Bone is riddled with blood vessels, blood supply. And if you cut into bone, large chunks of bone, bone bleeds, so it’s getting this blood supply to keep it living. And when the blood supply stops for whatever reason, the bone starts to die, and rot, basically like gangrene on your skin. It’s the same thing happening with bone. And what they do when that’s happening is they go in and they cut it out and they take a plug of good bone from somewhere else in your body and stick it in there.
He walked in with my X-ray and told me that if I was married to a farmer, he’d have to trade me in because I was no longer going to be of use with my bad hip.
And he’s talking like we’ve got to do this– This is you know Thursday. You’ve got to come back next Monday because we need to operate as soon as we can because this thing is huge. It was like nickel size. I was like oh my God, holy crap. I never really had any major thing wrong with me other than that Crohn’s disease thing.
Kathryn Blume: Do you think this is a result of all the medication that you’ve been taking?
Susan Snowden: Well, when those things are happening, they don’t look holistically at what the bigger picture is. He said, “Oh well, you must have rheumatoid arthritis.” End of story. Not why do I have rheumatoid arthritis, or what from my past could have possibly brought me up to this. So, no, it wasn’t until years later when I was in Berkeley that I had a rheumatologist seeing him who said, “You know what Susan you took an awful lot of prednisone, and here’s some other things that happened to you back then probably was a result of the prednisone.”
He was going to fuse my hip, and I could have it either fused sitting or standing.
Kathryn Blume: So, you’re like a classic example of somebody getting caught up in the symptom based Western medicine and having the cure were be almost worse than the disease.
Susan Snowden: Absolutely, there’s a word for it – iatrogenic – which means injury or disease as a result of treatment for an injury or disease.
Kathryn Blume: You could have that written right across your forehead.
Susan Snowden: Absolutely. You know and long story short, what ended up happening with this was, because I was so young, and it occurred to me well the reason why the guy wants to operate on you is because he’s a surgeon and that’s going to be a solution. Maybe I need an opinion from another expert with a different take on my situation. Maynard T. Steton, the orthopedic surgeon in Kentucky. He walked in with my X-ray and told me that if I was married to a farmer, he’d have to trade me in because I was no longer going to be of use with my bad hip. And being an orthopedic surgeon, his solution was to fuse my hip – not do a hip replacement. He was going to fuse my hip, and I could have it either fused sitting or standing.
I’d been on crutches for two years at that point and taking opioids for the pain, and it was have the surgery finally or get a wheelchair and I opted to have the surgery
Kathryn Blume: No!
Susan Snowden: Yes.
Kathryn Blume: So, he basically wanted to cripple you.
Susan Snowden: Yes, yes.
Kathryn Blume: As a solution to this fundamentally minor problem in comparison.
Susan Snowden: I moved to Berkeley, thank God, and thought okay what kind of doctor, if I have rheumatoid arthritis, if that’s my diagnosis from this guy, what kind of doctor treats that, oh rheumatologist. So, I went to see him and he really was a lovely, lovely, lovely man, an incredible doctor. And he said to me said, “Susan, what we’ve got to do because of your age, we’ve got to buy some time here on that hip.
I don’t know why Maynard T. Steton said we’re going to fuse it. And he said that’s 30 or 40 years old. He said we’ve been doing hip replacements for a while now. But the problem with the surgeries is they’re glued in. The problem with the glue is bone flexes and the glue and the prosthesis doesn’t and it loosens up eventually.
The surgery was done and it was probably another two and a half years after the first hip replacement before I got the Crohn’s disease back into remission.
So, by the time 1990-1991 rolled around where my solution or my choice at that point was either a wheelchair – because I’d been on crutches for two years at that point and taking opioids for the pain, and it was have the surgery finally or get a wheelchair and I opted to have the surgery. And at that point, I was one of the first people to have the new procedure, which was to let bone grow into the prosthesis to hold it. It was a titanium mesh in the peg that went into the top of my femur. And then, there’s a plate that goes in your pelvic girdle with mesh behind that and the bone grows in and that’s what holds it.
Now at that time, they thought it would take a year for the bone to grow and form and get hard and hold everything together. So the recovery was long and extended at that point. I mean, I did physical therapy every day. I went and swam but I just turned 30, so I was young and surgery and it took 45 minutes. I barely bled through the whole thing. In a way, it was as perfect as it could have been and that really was a miracle.
Kathryn Blume: And were you taking pain meds through your whole recovery, too?
Susan Snowden: No. Once the surgery was done, the pain was gone so there was no reason to have the pain meds. But the problem here was, brought my Crohn’s disease out of remission, which had been in remission since I stopped taking the prednisone in college. So, that came out of remission and by the time I had the surgery, it gotten pretty bad again. But I had a really, really great gastroenterologist who was helping me and really worked as a partner.
I had to get blood tested like every three weeks because they have to find where your dose is just so your hair doesn’t fall out and you don’t get all the bad things going on.
The surgery was done and it was probably another two and a half years after the first hip replacement before I got the Crohn’s disease back into remission. I mean they gave me every antibiotic known to man, and the way that works is you stay on that as long as you can take. It last about six weeks. Is anybody saying probiotics to me at that time? No. No.
So I took all these antibiotics over a year, I’m taking antibiotics and he got the disease kind of contained. Then he was like, okay can’t take the antibiotics and now we’re going to put you on six Mercaptopurine which is a drug for – chemotherapy drug. So, I had to get blood tested like every three weeks because they have to find where your dose is just so your hair doesn’t fall out and you don’t get all the bad things going on.
Well, I took that for almost a year and it really wasn’t doing anything. He wanted to put me back on Flagyl which was a drug I’d taken several times but that starts to cause neuropathy. And my leg down here, it started to go numb the last time I had taken it and I said to me, like, “This is all I got left in my box here to give you Susan. The Flagyl.” I really don’t want to take it, so he gave me the prescription.
I decided that I was going to use the meditation that I learned to deal with the Crohn’s disease while I was on vacation here in Vermont.
I actually was coming home to Vermont for my vacation at the time and I had a month off from the theatre every year and I had just started to take a meditation class at the Berkeley Psychic Institute, and I decided that I was going to use the meditation that I learned to deal with the Crohn’s disease while I was on vacation here in Vermont.
Came home to my family and my father at his house, he had hammock out in the yard and every morning, I would go out and I’d get in the hammock, and I’d do this meditation. And every evening, I go out and I’d lay in the hammock, and I did this meditation. 30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes in the evening. By the time I went back to Berkeley and had my appointment again with the gastroenterologist, I wasn’t having any symptoms whatsoever.
And he looked me over and he goes, “Wow! Susan, this is fantastic. See, I knew you needed to take the Flagyl.” And I took the prescription out of my purse and I handed it to him and he looked at me and he goes, “What is this?” I said, “That’s the prescription for the Flagyl you gave me.” He said, “You didn’t take it?” I said, “No.”
He said, “What did you do?” And then I told him, “I did a meditation 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening for 30 days and this is what happened.” He said, “Well, Susan, you know that I’m a straight clinician. I don’t believe in any of this stuff, but I have to write “spontaneous remission” in your chart and I hope I never see you again, and that was it.
I self-medicated in high school. I mean I was smoking pot daily my senior year of high school, my freshman year of college, because it was the only thing that could stop the pain enough to be able to get up and go to class.
Kathryn Blume: Wow!
Susan Snowden: I have controlled my Crohn’s disease with meditation.
Kathryn Blume: Because it helps you achieve a level of homeostasis in your system, and peace and relaxation that allows your body to mediate its own challenges.
Susan Snowden: Yep.
Kathryn Blume: How did you get into cannabis?
Susan Snowden: Well! When the Crohn’s disease started in high school, everybody that I know is smoking. I’m having gastro – you know problems, They’re prescribing me diarrhea medicine but tranquilizers basically did nothing. Nothing for my gut, kind of made me not care about some stuff and I didn’t care so much about it but it still hurt really really bad. But when I smoked pot, it went away.
And thank God I had access to it and thank God that there were people around me that said, “Hey Susan, try this.” And I tried it, so I self-medicated in high school. I mean I was smoking pot daily my senior year of high school, my freshman year of college, because it was the only thing that could stop the pain enough to be able to get up and go to class. I mean I was still doing everything I was supposed to do, so that’s how it started with cannabis.
Kathryn Blume: Now coming out of the military family, did you have any resistance to cannabis or did you–? I’m wondering if you probably didn’t tell your family what you were up to.
Susan Snowden: Oh no. My parents didn’t know. Although I have to say my dad being in the army served two tours in Vietnam. I’m sure he knows, knew what cannabis looked like. And there was a weird thing that happened one morning. For whatever reason I have this little round silver canister and I clean some pot and I put some sticks and stems in this little – and it was in the pocket of my jeans.
I had like a blank check to walk into a greenhouse and buy hundreds of dollars’ worth of flowers and color, and fill up these big whiskey barrels.
And he came through on Saturday morning and put up all the laundry and went down to put it in the washing machine, and I get up later on and he pulls me into the bathroom takes this little silver container out of his pocket and he shows it to me. He goes, “Do I need to paint any pictures?” I was like, “Nope.” He goes, “I don’t ever want to see this in my house again”, and I said okay and that was the only conversation I ever had with my parents about cannabis. But, I mean, I was a straight A student, I was a good girl, I was on the debate team, my picture was in the paper all the time so–
Kathryn Blume: So, he couldn’t really complain.
Susan Snowden: [Laughs] Yeah, I wasn’t a hood or hanging out or doing any of that stuff. So, I continued to use cannabis probably through my mid 20s and then I just stopped using it. It just became a non-issue for me.
Now fast forward here, I get my first hip replacement, get the Crohn’s disease back under control, move home to Vermont. My family has had a landscaping business down along Lake Champlain in the Ferrisburgh area for a long long time. And I moved home, and because of my drafting skills, my stepmother said come work for the– We know with drawings that we need done, you can do that, we’ve got all these flowers and planters down on the lake you know at these summer homes and think about maybe doing arrangements.
And so, it was really, really, really artistically fun and cool and I had like a blank check to walk into a greenhouse and buy hundreds of dollars’ worth of flowers and color, and fill up these big whiskey barrels. I was like yeah sure, I’ll do this.
And when I started, I was younger and more fit. I mean, you’ve got to understand I started dance, studying dance when I was three years old. By the time I was in high school, I was going five days a week to a dance studio. And in college, I minored in dance. And I was also captain of the women’s rugby team, and I was playing rugby. So, you know in hindsight I think the only thing that really allowed me to do that was all my dance training.
I had an appointment at 2:00 PM on a Friday at the end of July 2013. He popped my X-ray up and my hip was dislocated.
Kathryn Blume: So, you’re talking about your capacity to do landscaping which is an incredibly physically laborious –
Susan Snowden: Yes, or to survive all the physical things that I’ve been through with my hip. And I didn’t start landscaping until I was in my 40s, you know, and at that time, that’s when people are generally slowing down. But I think because my body is so used to exercising or training, it responds very quickly to any sort of physical activity. So, I get back here, I start landscaping 2008, 2009, 2010, somewhere in there.
Kathryn Blume: Same hip?
Susan Snowden: Yeah same, exactly. Well, there’s nothing at all wrong with the left. I didn’t have any insurance. I knew something was going on, I knew I probably needed to go get an X-ray. And it started to get really bad really quickly in like 2012, 2013. And I had an appointment at 2:00 PM on a Friday at the end of July 2013. He popped my X-ray up and my hip was dislocated.
Kathryn Blume: Had it been dislocated all the whole time you were in pain?
Susan Snowden: Yes. He thought it had probably been dislocated at least six months. And at that this point, it was bad. I mean at this point, it was definitely knew something was wrong because my leg had to be lifted. I think it had been dislocating kind of slowly because what happens is this. You’ve got a plate that sits near pelvic girdles about this big, and then there’s a plastic cup inside that that replaces the cartilage. Then, you’ve got a ball on the peg that gets hammered into the top of your femur, and then the ball rolls around in this plastic cup.
My body started reabsorbing my pelvic girdle, started reabsorbing the bone as a result of it.
Well, what I had done was I had worn all the plastic away. And part of what happens with that wearing down is it makes these microscopic little pieces of probably propylene plastic, and it’s a closed system inside there and your body doesn’t know what to do with it or how to get rid of this dust, and it doesn’t like it.
So, my body started reabsorbing my pelvic girdle, started reabsorbing the bone as a result of it. And so, I wear through the plastic, then the thing gets down to the metal. Then I wear through the metal, and then I punch a hole through the metal plate that’s holding it all together.
And then when that happened, it kind of all just disintegrated and my pelvis, which was dissolving, kind of started to crumble around all of it, and then it really was dislocated. It was just this thing rolling around. And I had to like, lift it up, and it was an incredibly excruciating really painful. I mean once you got it where you wanted it to kind of settle, then it was still painful but not like you’re going to black out from it.
By the time it was totally out, it was bad. So he thought it had been dislocating for maybe about a year before I ended up in his office. He recognized the prosthesis. The guy who had invented the one that was in me at the time, he had been a student of this guy, so he knew the part, he knew what it was that he needed to get. He seemed to think oh no big deal or here Susan we’re going to go in, we’re going to fix it. You’re going to be running around in three months. He probably should have done an MRI. He didn’t know how bad it was.
Why didn’t he put me in the hospital? My hip was dislocated. Well because I have poor people insurance.
Kathryn Blume: An MRI would have just revealed the extent of the degradation?
Susan Snowden: Yes. And he probably would not have opened me up when he did. This was 2 o’clock on Friday, he was getting ready to go on vacation because his wife was pregnant and they had an appointment up at UVM for a C-section to have their twin daughters delivered on Wednesday of the following week. And he was going to be off for six weeks. And he was like, “Susan I’m probably the only person in the state that can do this.” But he said, “But I need to do this quick because I’m getting ready to deliver my twin girls. So come back on Monday and we’re going to open you up.” Why didn’t he put me in the hospital? My hip was dislocated. Well because I have poor people insurance.
Kathryn Blume: So much of your story is an indictment of the medical system.
Susan Snowden: That’s all it is [laughs]. The only thing that’s ever helped me is cannabis. So, I go home, get ready, show up on Monday, he opens me up, he doesn’t know that half my pelvis is dissolved at that point. And he doesn’t have the things to fix me, and I don’t know that he really knew how to fix me. I think I was under for about eight hours. It took him that long to clean it all out. It was like a black goo in there and when they started aspirating out just the bone just went flying up the tube. It was like, “Holy crap half her pelvis is gone.”
So, I come out of the anesthesia, I’m in traction, I’m in the recovery room, he has the parts that he’s taken out so I can see the blown out bits of metal and everything. And he’s like, “I’ve closed you back up because I had to order stuff from Boston to be flown in to try and kind of fix this, and we’re going to take you back in tomorrow morning. And this is changed from hip replacement to a salvage operation. Right now, the current stats on this story as we think what I’m going to attempt maybe will last eight years. So that’s what’s happening and sign here on the dotted line because I need your informed consent before we go do this.”
It was like, “Holy crap half her pelvis is gone.”
Kathryn Blume: Were you afraid that he was taking short cuts or rushing because of the impending birth of his kids?
Susan Snowden: Back then, oh yes, absolutely. Do I think that other choices may have been made if there wasn’t the rush? Maybe but he’s pretty cocky, definitely a rock star, and I was just so messed up that I’ve been waiting for so long. I was just shooting to get to the room so they could fix me, and the first one was so successful. I mean I woke up after the first one was like pains gone, this is fantastic and nobody would have known looking at me. I mean I landscaped.
Kathryn Blume: So, he did the second surgery.
Susan Snowden: Yeah, he did the second surgery, which probably almost killed me. I could tell both he and his assistant were nervous. I was like, “Well what do we think?”
Well, we put the biggest-“ it’s called a cup cage. “We put the biggest prosthesis in your pelvic girdle that we could partly because we don’t want you to wear it out and partly because we had to fill up a bunch of space, and you only had a tiny little spot on the front of your pubic bone to attach the front of it; that’s all that was left, and a tiny little piece on the back of your pelvic girdle to attach the other bit. And we slathered it all with bone marrow,” some from cadavers I think. “And we’re hoping given time that it’s all going to grow in and be okay. And if this works, you should be fine.”
I went home, and I laid on my back in one position for six months.
Well, the second time when I woke up, my leg was numb from the knee down. I couldn’t move my foot. The nerve pain was off the chart. I was put on bed rest for six months, no weight bearing, on a walker. “Am I going to be able walk again?” “We don’t know.” “In a year, what if this doesn’t work, then what?” “Well, then we refer you to a bone cancer specialist and that person will do a pelvic transplant.”
Kathryn Blume: No!
Susan Snowden: Yes, yes.
Kathryn Blume: Get a pelvis out of a cadaver and put it in you.
Susan Snowden: Yes, yes. That would be the next thing we would try if what they did didn’t work.
Susan Snowden: So, I went home, and I laid on my back in one position for six months.
You can go to a place where there is only pain, where there’s only you, and pain, and that is it.
Kathryn Blume: How did you keep from going crazy?
Susan Snowden: Well, you know, given my meditative practice and all of that, you think oh well affirmations for meditate, no there– You can go to a place where there is only pain, where there’s only you, and pain, and that is it. And the idea that you’re going to meditate that away is laughable and that’s what I did.
I sat with pain for six months. I also knew within the first month, this was bad but what was really bad was the nerve pain. What I have is chronic sciatica but the nerve pain, to say numb is not right because it’s anything but numb. And I couldn’t move my foot and they don’t know if I was ever going to move my foot.
So, I would lay in my bed, your legs elevated because it has to be above your heart, and I tried to move that toe. And as soon as I came home, I knew somebody needed to touch my leg. If a masseuse touches me in a certain spot, then I can bring my awareness there, and go, “Oh what’s happening there?” and not ignore it.
“Okay well somebody is going to touch my leg because that’s the only thing that’s really going to save me here.”
They’re worried about blood clots and I’m taking a blood thinner and I say, “Somebody’s gotta rub my leg down there, somebody has got to remind my leg that it’s a leg.” “We can’t touch your leg Susan because like, you know, you could free a blood clot go and it can go to your heart or your brain and you die.” And that freaked Michael out, my husband. He said, “Look, I’m not touching your leg.” And I was like, “Okay well somebody is going to touch my leg because that’s the only thing that’s really going to save me here.”
So, I called our massage therapist, our body worker, and she came out to the house and I told her what was going on. And Michael’s looking at her like, “Don’t touch her leg,” and the visiting nurses are “Don’t touch her leg.”
And Karen looked at me and she said, “Is this what you think you need?” I said, “It’s beyond what I think I need, I know I need it, and I don’t care about the blood clot thing.” And she said, “Okay.” And she started working on me, and she came to my house several times that week and did body work on my leg to help it remember what it was. And that’s part of why I think I can walk now.
They wanted to give me Gabapentin for the nerve pain but it got a black box warning on it, and I just looked at the doctor like, “Don’t you think I have enough problems right now? I’m not going to take this.”
Now, as time went on, they were giving me opioids. They wanted to give me Gabapentin for the nerve pain but it got a black box warning on it, and I just looked at the doctor like, “Don’t you think I have enough problems right now? I’m not going to take this.” And so, there was a bunch of stuff like that that I refused.
And a certain point after the first two years. So was like from like 2013 to 2015, well did I landscape the next season? Yes, on forearm crutches. I had to earn a living, so I hired my niece to be like, my legs, and more people– I dived landscaped with it. It was me and two other people, so it was a crew of three. And when I went back to work, it was me and it took six people.
Kathryn Blume: So, you were doing the work of three people before.
Susan Snowden: Yeah. Yeah, I was. And it just got to a certain point where yes I got movement back, but the pain and the sciatica wasn’t manageable yet. And my brother said to me, “Susan, what about medical cannabis?” And I was like yeah. I started thinking about it and I also further back, once I’m back here in Vermont, I – for a while was producing a line of natural body care products that I was formulating.
When I hit 50ish, I couldn’t find products in the store that worked for my skin. And I started to think, “Well the internet, you can learn all kinds of stuff.”
When I hit 50ish, I couldn’t find products in the store that worked for my skin. And I started to think, “Well the internet, you can learn all kinds of stuff.” So, I started about formulating and making creams and lotions and stuff like that, started playing around with then. And then, I made some stuff that was really fantastic and people were like hey maybe you ought to sell it.
So, I started going to the farmer’s market in Middlebury selling my body care products. And I did that for seven or eight years. And on Saturdays, it was a great way to get out and meet people, extra money coming in, my skin loved it, everybody else’s skin loved it. So then, I started thinking what about a topical for my nerve pain and stuff?
And I started looking up the science. And when I was making the other products, there are lots of recipes, old timey recipes that are available online from old apothecary books and stuff like that, so you know to make a face cream, that’s what I was looking at.
We’ve been using this as a medicine for thousands and thousands of years until 1930-something.
So, then, I started opening up the herbal books on cannabis and looking at well, what were they making at the turn of the century, and why the heck is this illegal now? And we’ve been using this as a medicine for thousands and thousands of years until 1930-something. When politicians had some personal beefs with some certain people, and made it their priority to focus on cannabis as the tool to attack and demonize certain segments of the population. And it was all about race and it was all about sexism, women.
So, I decided I was going to make a topical. I was going to use my formulating skills to make something that was going to help me. Knowing growers and having access to different strains of cannabis that are good for different things. A very, very dear friend of mine who had gone to jail for his cannabis said, “Look, I know how to do this. I’ve got some seeds. I think that this particular strain would be of benefit to you. If what you want to do is make a salve out of it, I would recommend using this particular strain because of what it is.”
Kathryn Blume: I was actually responsible for entering all of the information about the topical entries for The Headies.
Susan Snowden: Oh wow!
Kathryn Blume: And so, I got to read everything that people submitted. And part of the reason why we’re having this conversation is you submitted multiple pages of Xeroxed information with handwritten notes about the lineage of the cannabis that you were using. So, can you describe a little bit about it and its history?
Susan Snowden: Well, the gentleman that’s responsible for the strains lived and grew up in southern Indiana, which was well known in the United States as a hemp producing part of this country back when it was legal.
“If they lied to me about this, what else have I been lied to about?
And as a result of that, there were huge stands of wild hemp in Indiana. Now, he’s 10 years older than me, so his whole experience was shaped by the Vietnam War, the hippie movement. He’s also an overachiever and listened to all of the propaganda around drugs, and didn’t smoke pot until he was in college. And what he experienced was that wow, it expanded his mind, and they lied to me. And, “If they lied to me about this, what else have I been lied to about?
So, he really started investigating and checking out cannabis, and became more interested in those wild stands. And he felt that it was a tool for human enlightenment because he saw how it expanded his mind. And he thought that okay maybe this is a tool that can help humans evolve and be more.
So, he started investigating these wild stands and trying them out. And one of the things about how Indiana at the time with those hemp stands was there were also wild stands of cannabis that had more THC than the hemp did.
And in the folklore of the place at the time, ownership of where those stands came from went to the Native Americans that were there. And it’s possible that it really was a land race back then, and there were people that knew where those stands were in amongst the hemp.
A land race is a strain or a cultivar that is considered endemic to a specific region.
Kathryn Blume: Now, hang on a second. I think not everybody knows the term “land race.” Can you define that?
Susan Snowden: A land race is a strain or a cultivar that is considered endemic to a specific region. Or let’s call it perhaps maybe like an heirloom seed that somebody brings over from Italy; the Roma tomato that the family has made the tomato sauce with for hundreds of years. So, this is the heirloom seed that the Native Americans in this part of Indiana have grown and used for hundreds of years.
There’s strains in Jamaica that are supposedly land race strains. Some of the strains that were used for the medicine that could grow here better, some of those are considered land race strains or at least came from parts of the world, New Zealand – there’s, one of the parents was a New Zealand strain that could be traced back to this idea of the land race strain. Now, people say well how can there really be land races because it’s wind pollinated and it’s constantly happening? But there is that Roma tomato that so and so’s grandfather brought over and you can track it back to that. So that’s this idea of the land race.
What happened was in the 70s and the 80s, there was this move to begin hybridization, so there’s been a lot of crossing and things that have been going on particularly now that we understand scientifically about the constituents, you know the cannabinoids that are in cannabis that we can use medically. What people want now is what I refer to as ditch weed, it’s those wild hemp stands and CBD.
I use emu oil as the solvent to extract the constituents, the medicine from the plant itself. Everything was chosen with a larger purpose to work with the cannabis to begin with.
Kathryn Blume: So, the strain that you used for your topical, would you consider that a more sort of genetically pure?
Susan Snowden: Yes, absolutely and that’s the beauty of the provenance that this breeder has, that he kept those notes. This was all coming from Amsterdam.
Kathryn Blume: So, what we’re looking at is the seed bank of Holland.
Susan Snowden: Yes and this was the catalog at the time, the paper catalog that they produced and sent around.
Kathryn Blume: So, the salve that you made, can you talk about some of the other ingredients along with the cannabis?
Susan Snowden: Well, I use emu oil as the solvent to extract the constituents, the medicine from the plant itself. Everything was chosen with a larger purpose to work with the cannabis to begin with.
Cannabis is a resinous plant and the parts that we are interested in using for medicine are not water soluble. You can’t really get it out of the plant with the water, so you have to have something that’s going to extract it either an oil, ethanol. In this case, emu oil. Now, emu is an animal that is sacred to the Aboriginal people in Australia specifically for their eggs.
However, once an animal becomes old and it’s time to harvest, they take and use everything just like the Native Americans did here with the buffalo. They harvest the oil and that then becomes their medicine. It’s used a lot by older people for all the aches and pains and joint things we get. So, it already has a history of sacredness and reverence and being used as a medicine for the people.
I chose essential oils based on their terpene profiles to augment the cannabis and enhance the medical properties that I was looking for to treat my own specific symptoms, mostly neuropathy nerve pain.
And I used emu in my other body care products. It’s really, really good for old lady skin. It plumps it up, smooths out the wrinkles, and it was an obvious choice to me to use in the salve [laughs] plus it’s really good for joints and bones and those sorts of complaints. They’ve done scientific studies on it. 40 percent efficacy with emu oil and treating arthritic-like symptoms.
Kathryn Blume: I think I heard it’s good for hair loss.
Susan Snowden: Yeah, no, it is. It’s good for all kinds of things. I extract typical herbalist approach; put the herb in the oil, let it sit, it extracts out, strain the plant material from the oil, and then use the oil to make the salve. So that’s the base of it. There are also varying derivatives of coconut oil in it. And then there are the essential oils, and the essential oils were chosen based on their profile.
Cannabis has terpenes in them which what is an essential oil is, a terpenes. Linalool which is in Lavender. It makes lavender smell like lavender. Cannabis has linalool in it. Myrcene which is in lemongrass. That’s an anti-inflammatory. Myrcene is also in cannabis. I chose essential oils based on their terpene profiles to augment the cannabis and enhance the medical properties that I was looking for to treat my own specific symptoms, mostly neuropathy nerve pain.
“Will you make me some, can I try it?”
So, I made the salve. Of course, my bodywork and my massage therapist is heavily involved because she’s been rubbing my leg when they told her don’t do that again, going to release a blood clot and kill her. I make the salve and I take it to her. At this point, I’m going to her office, and immediately, I’m seeing a huge difference in my own internal state and the level of neuropathy that I had, and she starts using it on me. Then, she’s got a couple of things because she’s noticing oh my hands don’t hurt so much because she gets it all over her when she’s put on everywhere; put it everywhere. And she’s like, “Will you make me some, can I try it?”
So, I made her some. So, then I started sharing it with people that I knew. My brother, he gets really bad migraines and he used to work for Burton’s and he wore these boots and all this water and he has some funky foot stuff going on. He started using it on his feet.
The feedback that I got was like…holy shit. I never meant for this to happen, so I started making it and it was like people wanted to buy it. I started making it with CBD, started thinking about could this be something that I’m going to do now as I move into retirement.
Kathryn Blume: What’s its name?
Susan Snowden: CBD Salve Stick by Vermont Cannapharm.
There was an international treaty that was signed, I can remember the year, in 1963 maybe. This was after prohibition in the United States became such a big deal in the early 60s the powers, I think there were 40 different countries that signed this agreement. It was to deal with drug trafficking on a global scale. And it was at that point in time when cannabis is a Schedule One drug kind of became codified on the planet.
It’s eventually going to come down who’s got the money.
What Schedule One means is that there’s absolutely no medical value in the drug, with a high incident of addiction. Because it’s been illegal and controlled for over 40 years, and because of the Schedule One thing, there’s been no medical studies on is it good for anything medically. And in fact, the institutions that exist, their principal mission is to prove that it’s bad for you, that it’s addictive and has no redeeming value. So, anything that they spend any money on or have spent any money on was to prove that it was bad.
Well, there’s a pharmaceutical company in England that doesn’t have as much pressure on it as places here in the United States. It’s called GW Pharmaceuticals and it begun some medical investigation and some studies on how to use cannabis as a drug – which I heard a statistic; 65 percent of the medicines that we have today began as a natural derivative from a plant anyway, so this idea isn’t new. They tried to develop a synthetic version because they can’t patent the plant itself but if we can skew the molecule just a little bit, now it’s something different and we can patent it. So, they developed two different products; Sativex and Marinol.
Now, these are synthetic THC products that didn’t do well in testing; lot of bad side effects, anxiety. They’re not a natural component, and all of these designer drugs that you see where you watch on YouTube and people are doing those weird things, it’s synthetic cannabis. They’ve just, in the lab, rotated the molecule a bit and the body doesn’t like it.
So, what GW Pharmaceuticals did was they came back to this whole plant medicine idea, and that maybe the problem is is that we’ve been trying to do a synthetic, and what we really need to do is take plant and just use the plant and make something out of that and give it to somebody.
So that’s what they did was Epidiolex thing that they’re using to treat children mostly with really, really horrible epilepsy that is– We don’t have anything that even comes close, and these kids are cured, basically, from using it.
GW Pharmaceuticals developed Epidiolex, they needed to bring it to the world to sell it. Well, it’s a Schedule One drug, and that’s kind of a problem. They approached the DEA, the drug enforcement people who control all of that and said we want to bring this to the market. It’s testing really well, but it’s a Schedule One drug so what do we do about that?
Well, everybody wondered what they were going to do about that. And it ended up that they reclassified CBD – not THC – but CBD specifically. Now, it’s an experimental drug so it’s no longer a Schedule One. I think it’s Schedule Five, now maybe.
But, because it’s an experimental drug now and it’s no longer a Schedule One, control of it doesn’t fall to the DEA anymore, it moves over to the FDA, to those people who say it’s generally accepted as safe or it’s not. And right now, according to the laws, and the people who have control over those sorts of things, CBD has not been accepted as safe. There’s so much money and so many people in this game already.
The legal opinions that I’ve read about it say that this is the opinion of the FDA. It’s not a law and that it’s all going to be fought out in the court system. I see a little bit of backtracking a bit from the FDA on it like we’re going to try to help pave the way but it’s eventually going to come down who’s got the money.
What we did here in the states was that we changed the laws on over the counter medicines. If there’s been something that we’ve been using for years and years and years to treat a certain thing and let’s say it’s an herb, that’s okay, it kind of got grandfathered in. But any new thing that comes down the pike, let’s say we find something from the Amazon that treats hair loss, but we have never used it to treat hair loss before. Now, there’s all kinds of tests and studies and fees and money that you have to pay to be able to use whatever this thing is that’s coming from the Amazon now to treat hair loss.
That’s how we kind of dealt with it here in the United States, we made the pathway to using this natural thing much more arduous and difficult and expensive to bring to the marketplace. And the problem right now is hempseed oil, which has been used for years and years and years in food, and in body care products, is GRAS – generally regarded as safe – by the FDA and that’s okay to use. And there are tons of people who are marketing CBD products using hempseed oil, it has no CBD in all, it’s made from hemp seeds but it’s got that word “hemp.”
Currently, this is the best climate for a black or grey market. I mean it’s never going to be this good for the black or grey market.
You know, I saw a full-page ad in the Burlington Free Press for hemp gummies. Full page, someone spent a ton of money on it. It wasn’t a Vermont company, probably from China. I don’t know. What it had in it was hempseed oil and I’m sure they’re making a ton of money. And what’s weird about that is that’s legal and they’re scamming people with the legal thing.
That’s the problem that we have now is that because of the hemp bill and because of GW Pharmaceuticals and their experimental drug, it all got reclassed. And now, somebody with deep pockets that are making these products, are going to have to go through all the new steps now that are in place to prove that it’s safe, and that it does what they’re saying, and until that happens–
Somebody was saying okay, you know, we have supplements now that aren’t approved for certain things and people still sell them and take them, and the FDA seems to kind of turn a blind eye. Part of this, there seems to be money for enforcement. They’re really focusing on this and it’s cause there’s so much money involved.
Kathryn Blume: So, it sounds like given that unfortunate set of circumstances, we’re always going to have a black or grey market for cannabis because there is what the people who truly understand the plant and its capabilities are going to want and be wanting to create, and then there’s what’s going to be happening on a more public-facing, cultural level.
Susan Snowden: Currently, this is the best climate for a black or grey market. I mean it’s never going to be this good for the black or grey market. I think if you look at Colorado, and all those other places, they’re saying the black market is thriving, you know, even with all the legitimate stuff that’s happening. So, I don’t know.
I can’t understand what’s happening here in Vermont. I don’t get Phil Scott. He’s going to veto it unless there’s a roadside test? He’s not a stupid man. That doesn’t exist. And to insist that until there is one – like there is one, like we just haven’t found it yet. Look a little bit harder maybe you’ll dig one up. I mean that’s ludicrous. It doesn’t even make rational sense.
I really don’t have anything left to lose. I don’t know what anybody could take from me now as a result of paying fo army actions.
Kathryn Blume: So part of the challenge is that we have this remarkable plant that can do so much good for people on a physical and psycho-spiritual level, and then we have a very imperfect reality of capitalism and commerce and all the human foibles that go along with that. And greed, power, all that kind of stuff. And there are those people like you who have to kind of exist in the middle of all of that. How do you not give into cynicism in the face of human nature?
Susan Snowden: Well, I think the fact that I’m almost 60, that I’ve got one good thing left in me. On NPR there was an older black actress that they had one. They were interviewing her, But they were talking to her about being 60 and an artist and what did that mean to her. And she said that it had really shifted her perspective on life. Because she was looking at it, you know, statistically at 60, she’s maybe got 20 more summers left in her.
And that really resonated with me. Because I can remember being a kid and looking forward to summer vacation. And being a landscaper now, horticulturalist, that’s what I spend my summers doing. I’m outside playing. Beautiful place to live, my commute’s fantastic. But yeah, I got like, 20 summer vacations left. What am i going to do with that?
And because cannabis has played such a major role in my life in terms of healing, I really don’t have anything left to lose. I don’t know what anybody could take from me now as a result of paying fo army actions. You know, I have a car that’s a truck – 1998. That’s the best thing – the most expensive thing I own. So you know if you’re going to hurt me as a result of my advocacy or my willingness to talk about this even, or to supply somebody with something that’s maybe going to help them.
I got like, 20 summer vacations left. What am i going to do with that?
Ok. I’ve been smacked down. I’ve lost stuff. I’ve struggled. I’m not going to be around. We all die. And you know, depending upon what your belief system is, I think there’s things I’m going to have to account for. When I get up to the pearly gates and St. Peter comes up. You know, I want to be able to go “Hey, I made my stand. I stood up for what I believed in. I told the truth. I did the best I could. Every single morning.” And I think I’m just in a place in my life where fuck it.
Kathryn Blume: So there are people coming up who are younger than you are who are trying to engage this in good faith, and who are, perhaps, getting disillusioned by current reality. What can you say in support to bolster them to hemp them not descent into cynicism.
Ss: Well I don’t think I’d be doing this if I were 40. I think you’ll find that those of us who are out there on the edge, on the fringe who are coming forward and saying “Hey, here’s my story.” There’s a story there or they wouldn’t be doing it.
I think cannabis is what’s going to save the world. In lots of different ways. Financially. But much deeper, on a physical, spiritual, and mental level. But we’re not there yet.
I think younger folks, there’s got to be a lot of excitement around the monetary aspects of this, and there’s an excitement in a new industry a new business, coming up with what are the rules going to be? And yet at the same time it’s rely, really scary. It’s really scary, and if i were looking to build a business – I think cannabis is what’s going to save the world. In lots of different ways. Financially. But much deeper, on a physical, spiritual, and mental level. But we’re not there yet.
And the people who are younger that have families, that have something to lose – you can make money on cannabis without ever touching cannabis. I don’t care what you do, whether you’re an accountant or a lawyer or a teacher or a landscaper, or pot maker. There’s a way to earn money off cannabis. So, I were younger i would probably pick on of the softer areas to support people like me who are out there who are old enough to where – my last hurrah.
Kathryn Blume: So when you say cannabis can help save the world, what do you mean by that? And part 2 of that question, how do then we help cannabis help us,
Susan Snowden: The gentleman that’s responsible for the genetics that I used in the salve that helped me, he believes that cannabis is the 100th monkey. That it can change how you view the world enough. Carlos Castaneda was an author that wrote about an experience that he had with a Yaqui Mexican Native American shaman.
And Don Juan talked about how we have something called an Assemblage Point. An Assemblage Point is a point of view, basically, and you view the world from this Assemblage Point, and by the time we’re adults, that Assemblage Point has become really, really rigid and fixed. And reality is tight and structured and a box and there’s no way out of it.
If we can shift our head space, if we can be less entrenched and find the common ground between us, then maybe there’s a way to solve some more of the problems that are going on here on this planet.
But that’s possible to shift that Assemblage Point. And some spiritual practices have used plants, have used plant medicine, have used master plants or plant allies to assist in this shifting of the assemblage point. And that once if, we can shift that Assemblage Point, and maybe start to see something – maybe not from a bigger perspective but even just slightly to the left or slightly to the right – maybe we’re going to see something that we didn’t see before.
Kathryn Blume: You know that’s amazing, because I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Michael Pollan’s latest, How To Change Your Mind, about his experience with psychedelics, and that’s exactly what he said and why he went about writing this book. He said, “I’m 60, my mindset has gotten ossified a little bit, and maybe this can help open things up for me.”
Susan Snowden: Yeah, well, based on my friend’s experience, you know, when he was in college and tried pot, It was like, “Oh my god this is not what they- what else are they lying about” It’s that idea. And the thing about cannabis is of all the things it treats, and people say well how can it, how can it be -“
I’m a pretty Type A go-go-go person, and I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to do as much as I used to be able to do. And that’s challenging to learn to live with.
Well, we have to look at the system of our body and homeo – how does our body achieve homeostasis? Well, first we found out about the endocrine system – endorphins, the endorphin system. How did we find out about that? Well, we take opium, poppies, and something happens. So scientists started studying, “Well, what does that affect?” Well, that’s was how we learned we have an endorphin system, that the endorphin system exists. It was because they started looking at how does opium affect this, how does heroin cause this.
Same way, that’s how they found the endogenous system in the body with cannabinoids. You know the difference between the two, the endorphin system is for acute pain,. Cannabis is for chronic pain. The thing that it does best is fight inflammation. Does it end seizures? Yes. Does it help with Parkinson’s disease? Yes. But what does it do best of all, it fights inflammation.
Kathryn Blume: And it can do that on a physiological level, but it can also do that on an emotional, psycho-spiritual level.
Susan Snowden: All of it. All of it. And, yo know, to get back to this idea of the 100th Monkey Theory. If we can shift our head space, if we can be less entrenched and find the common ground between us, then maybe there’s a way to solve some more of the problems that are going on here on this planet. And that’s what I mean when I say maybe cannabis can save us mentally, spiritually, physically, politically, economically, globally. That’s why I’m standing up and saying, “Hey, consider this, just consider it.”
Kathryn Blume: So how’s your health now?
Susan Snowden: The most difficult thing for me in the entire journey since 2013 has been getting my resilience back. It took everything out of me. When I went into the hospital, I think I weighed 117 pounds. And four days later, I weighed 111. So it was really rigorous and arduous, just physically that— on my body.
I know that the anesthesia, that much anesthesia, there’s some things in my head that don’t work as well as they used to. And the first time that I was able to cook something, after the surgery, I made some scrambled eggs, it took me three hours to make scrambled eggs. And I didn’t know that I was ever going to get any stamina back.
I never thought I would see this. You know, five years ago, this was an impossibility.
And I’m a pretty Type A go-go-go person, and I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to do as much as I used to be able to do. And that’s challenging to learn to live with. Oh, I used to be able to do 20 things, today I’m going to do one and then explaining that to other people too. Because people have expectations of you, you’re always available, you’re always the yes person, you’re going to go and then you start saying no. So that’s been the hardest thing for me.
But, I mean, I have much less pain daily. I manage it with the medicine that I have. I’m active. I’m out there, and my life in terms of how I’m feeling is as good as it’s been in 15 years. So and I’m really, really, really excited about all the things that are happening with cannabis given all the horrible things that are going— I mean I never thought I would see this. You know, five years ago, this was an impossibility.
Kathryn Blume: It reminds me a lot of the arc of the legalization of same-sex marriage. For a long time it was inconceivable and then all of a sudden, it was starting to trickle in and then there was this momentum that gathered and all of a sudden, you turn around and it’s legal across the country.
Susan Snowden: Right, yeah, it’s true. Now that, you know, I think part of my journey here with it, was going through the AIDS crisis, you know, because I was around when that was happening. What’s my experience with cannabis been? We go back to when I moved to California, the guy who hired me, I don’t think I’d been in Berkeley two months and I go to work, and he takes out this little matchbook and he opens it up and there’s cannabis seeds in it and then I’m like “What is this?” He goes, “You should take these seeds and you should go home and you should put them in a pot and you should plant them and see what happens.” I was like, “Well, I don’t even smoke it.” He was like, just…
I believe that the physical manifestation of symptoms is the body’s way of trying to communicate with us.
So I did. So I planted in these pots and I did it on a deck that had a railing around it because I lived in a very urban spot at that point. And they went gangbusters and they got like started to get up above the railing. I was like, oh my God, so I chopped him back. I didn’t know what I was doing… and I topped em, to like make him level and they just kept growing. And then they started like making flower like with boys, girls, how do I tell they were all girls? I had eight plants and they were all girls, I don’t know how it worked out. Then I kept waiting like, okay, I know I’m supposed to be sexing these, they all look the same. Is it a boy, is it a girl, what is it? And then they all flowered in there, is was like holy crap!
And so I harvested and I did that every year, just because I loved it the plant and I was giving it away, the people. In California at the time, nobody was looking. There were people dying of AIDS, the cannabis clubs were forming.
Kathryn Blume: You were in the theater too, so high population of artists who were stricken.
Susan Snowden: Absolutely, you know. And I knew people that were ill and sick and dying and using cannabis: smoking it, eating it, any way that they could, making butter with it. Because there was whole underground movement, you know, to treat that and that was the thing about the HIV, with gay people. You know, in relationships, the family got involved, were against their child being gay, and so their lover can’t come into the hospital room when their significant other is dying. I mean, that was… I don’t have words for that.
My mentor, he was at Stonewall. And he was the last of his group. He had his address book. I would watch him open it up on his desk at work, and he had black boxes around everybody that had died, all of his peers passed. But nobody knew, I mean he wasn’t out. Nobody knew he had AIDS. Nobody knew that that’s what he was dying from because he didn’t talk about it then. And he was the first one that I lost. But he was much older than me 10-15 years maybe. So it was his generation really that was hit by it. Cannabis, again, was the only medicine that really was helping anybody at that point. So, somehow I just— been around me, it’s been part of— the only thing that ever helped.
It is my belief that we will get what we need, the physical body will get what it needs or it will literally die trying.
Kathryn Blume: One thing that our culture doesn’t really understand is healing. And that it a much more active and laborious process than the word itself might indicate. It’s a very lovely, you know, it conjures sitting in the Sun watching flowers, when in fact healing is incredibly challenging process.
Given that you’ve been through many rounds, for someone who’s being challenged by a medical situation or an emotional situation that requires a great deal of healing, so what advice would you give people and how can cannabis help support that process?
Susan Snowden: I believe that the physical manifestation of symptoms is the body’s way of trying to communicate with us. I believe we are more than one being inhabiting this physical form. There’s a mental body, a spiritual body, a physical body, all kinds of different bodies that come together in this organ— And you can take it down to, you know, the mitochondrial level that really, somehow we have this consciousness that indwells in a biome that’s made of microscopic little organisms and organizations that keep somehow cohesively, homeostatically together and move through space as me.
I think that disease is a communication method of one of those, the physical body, saying, “Hey, Houston, we have a problem here and we need to do something.” It is my belief that we will get what we need, the physical body will get what it needs or it will literally die trying. And that those symptoms, the headache or the neuropathy or the blood or the diarrhea or the vomiting is a message to you from your soul that’s saying, “Something is not working here and you can ignore it all you want. But we really need something here and if we don’t get it, we’re going to die.”
If I have the surgery and fix it, and I don’t deal with this martyrness and not being able to ask for help when I need it, I’ll develop something else that will require me to ask for help.
So this idea in Western medicine that we’re going to treat the symptoms and make them go away is shutting down that messaging system, and the symptom isn’t the problem. The symptom is the message that’s going to help you get to what the problem is. And that there is a psycho-spiritual underpinning to everything that happens to us. And I’ll use myself as an example.
My first hip replacement, it was like what is this about? Well, I was the perfect martyr, I was such an amazingly fantastic martyr, I couldn’t ask for help. I don’t care what it was about, no. I’m going to carry 50 million pounds, you know, and let everybody sit around and watch me do it. That’s what a good martyr that I was.
It got to the point with my hip, I was on crutches, I couldn’t reach my foot, my husband at the time was away. I would have to get up in the morning, take my shower put my shoe and my sock in my bag, ride to work with my foot, my right foot, barefoot because I couldn’t get down there to put my shoe and sock on, and find somebody at work and say to them, “Would you put my shoe and sock on for me?” So I had to learn to ask for help in a really big way.
That happy had to be inside me and that I needed to carry that happy with me everywhere.
Now that was just the tip of the onionskin on what that was. So, once I realized that, I thought, “Okay well, maybe I better work on asking for help a little bit before I actually have the surgery. Because if I have the surgery and fix it, and I don’t deal with this martyrness and not being able to ask for help when I need it, I’ll develop something else that will require me to ask for help.”
I believe that’s how this works, the healing process works and that there are all kinds of things tied into the symptoms that are expressing and the bottom line for me is happiness. The Crohn’s disease when that happened, I mean I was 18 when I saw this. I was unhappy because I wasn’t living where I wanted to live, I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do, the people that I wanted to be around weren’t around me, it was all about this these external circumstances.
And it became clear to me that if I spent the rest of my life, you know, from 17-18 years on basing whether I was happy on what it looked like out here, well that can change in a moment’s notice. Then I’m going to be unhappy like I was. And that the shift had to come from in here. That happy had to be inside me and that I needed to carry that happy with me everywhere.
And I also deduced at the time that the reason I was happening was because what I was saying to myself in my head, that there were these tapes that played. And that in order to be happy or happier, I had to change the self-talk, I had to change I was, you know, about where I was.
And so I endeavored, whenever that started happening and I became aware of it, I’d do something else. I’d do jumping jacks, I’d read, I’d recite something out loud, I’d do math problems just to stop the behavior because it was the behavior really that was shaping my reality.
And it took about six months of really being on it to where, you know, I had to consciously pay attention. And after a year, gone. So that’s what I mean about find what that psycho-spiritual thing is underneath. And I think that that’s what healing is, that paying attention to what’s not working for us, you know. And no blame in that.
Kathryn Blume: It’s part of being human.
Susan Snowden: Exactly.
Kathryn Blume: Susan, thank you so much. You have given me, and anyone who’s listening to this I’m sure, an enormous amount of information and I can’t thank you enough for being willing to share. Because clearly, this is a huge moment, culturally and it’s a huge moment for a lot of people individually. And so your sharing your narrative is an incredible gift, I’m really appreciated.
Susan Snowden: Well, thank you. I am so grateful and humbled by, you know, all of this my experience, what’s happening and state, what’s happening on the planet now. And I’m hopeful, I’m probably more hopeful than I’ve ever been. Because I truly believe that this plant has the possibility, you know, to change people’s lives and ultimately change the world.
Kathryn Blume: That’s it for this episode of Unhidden. Thanks so much to Susan Snowden for sharing her story and knowledge with us. Thanks to West and Blend for the excellent theme song and to Wild Beats for the incidental music. Thanks also to the whole team at Heady Vermont Monica Donovan, Erin Doble, Kelly McDowell, Christina Hall, Karin Santerello and our canine overlords Oso, Potato and Luna. You can visit Heady Vermont on our web site: Headyvermont.com and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. You can find the Unhidden podcast at Soundcloud, iTunes and wherever fine podcasts are sold. We’ll see you next time.