In a scene from a new documentary, “Weed the People,” produced by television celebrity Ricki Lake, Sonoma County resident Mara Gordon and her husband, Stewart Smith, are at the stove in their kitchen, simmering ground-up cannabis in organic olive oil.
They discuss what blend of marijuana strains would help a woman named Linda with stage 4 cancer, which had spread to her lungs and abdomen. The woman wanted pain relief but didn’t want a feeling of “stoniness” from the oil they were cooking for her, Gordon said.
“I was thinking of putting her on the Williams Wonder and cutting it with the Cannatonic,” Gordon says, describing two different marijuana strains, in the film.
“That’s a good plan,” Stewart said.
Gordon is featured in the documentary, released on Netflix in May, as a dosing specialist advising families that trying to help their cancer-stricken children survive their illnesses and withstand the effects of chemotherapy with cannabis oils.
The film shows parents, some over the course of about five years, navigating the unregulated world of medical marijuana in their desperate efforts to alleviate their children’s suffering. With no doctors to advise them, they are left to figure it out themselves.
“We’re in unchartered waters — we’re lab rats,” said Tracy Ryan, a mother in the film whose 9-month-old daughter, Sophie Ryan, was diagnosed with optic pathway glioma, a slow-growing brain tumor near the optic nerve.
Enter Gordon, a retired process engineer. Appalled by the lack of consistency of so-called medical marijuana products at dispensaries, Gordon became obsessed with building a body of anecdotal data to help people with serious medical issues decide how much and what types of cannabis to take.
“I’m not practicing medicine,” Gordon said in an interview this week. “I’m making recommendations when there is no doctor to tell them what to do. As soon as there’s a doctor to tell them, let a doctor tell them.”
Gordon said she was asked to take part in the documentary after Lake’s husband, Christian Evans, heard her speak at a cannabis event in Southern California.
“I was willing to do it if it was going to further the discussion that cannabis is real medicine,” Gordon said.
A central thread of the documentary is the U.S. government’s 70-plus year effort to block research into the potential health benefits of marijuana, long described in folk remedy journals. The filmmakers interview scientists, doctors, herbalists and medical marijuana advocates who describe their efforts to combat the stigma and help people avoid addictive and sometimes harmful drugs, including heavy narcotics. The federal government still considers marijuana an illegal, addictive drug without any medical use, alongside heroin.
Director Abby Epstein, who previously teamed up with Lake to make the film “The Business of Being Born,” said they didn’t set out to make a film about drug policy. Inspired by the plight of a girl with cancer, the one-hour, 37-minute film was borne out of an interest in exploring how people were “using this medicine to heal,” Epstein said.
In the film, they interview families of sick children, medical professionals, advocates, herbalists and scientists in Israel and Spain conducting research into marijuana’s cancer-fighting potential.
Gordon said she started using cannabis after getting meningitis in a hospital where she went for minor surgery. Doctors told her she’d have to take fentanyl, a strong synthetic opioid, indefinitely, but she hated the way it made her feel and believed it degraded the quality of her life.