On December 1st 2015 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, which means that I have a degenerative autoimmune disease affecting the nerve endings in my brain and spinal cord.

My first prominent thought (which, I can assure you, was not blasé) was that there’s no point of crying over spilt milk: I’ve always been an ‘everything-happens-for-a-reason’ kind of person and so I will find a natural way to manage my symptoms and get on with it.

I wasn’t able to accept any of the ‘disease modifying’ pharmaceutical drugs I had been offered, so, through extensive research and reading I discovered cannabidiol (also known as CBD). CBD oil has changed my life – easing a lot of the painful and frustrating symptoms of MS.

The more I researched the diversities of the cannabis plant and its medicinal extracts, the more excited and grateful I felt. This knowledge is invaluable and has changed my life. Through having MS I have discovered something that I could become wholly passionate about and have found, in medical cannabis, an industry where I really feel I can be my authentic self and truly help others.

A lot of my time and focus has been on finding and offering products to patients which can be separated from the most common way of consumption (smoking) or experiencing the typical high that is associated with cannabis but offers the same benefits.

I am now developing a Topicals range that would offer skincare products infused with CBD which can be used to treat many skin ailments. I’m really excited about diversifying the products available in the UK and being able to offer good quality natural and organic infused skin care.

I was recently fortunate enough to interview the great Maya Elisabeth, who co-founded Whoopi and Maya – a company that manufactures medical cannabis products for women, including tinctures and balms.

Over the course of our conversation, Maya shared her wisdom, inspiration and journey as a female through the cannabis industry, and told me how she feels about paving the way in what could be the first billion dollar industry to not be dominated by men.

Whoopi Goldberg (left) and Maya Elisabeth (right). (Photo: Forbes)
Whoopi Goldberg (left) and Maya Elisabeth (right). (Photo: Forbes)

Jasmin Thomas: How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?

Maya Elisabeth: As a direct result of my love for cannabis. I didn’t realise until I became a ‘bud tender’ that it was an option to make a career out of cannabis. I feel really blessed being in the right place at the right time, four years earlier or in a different state this wouldn’t have been possible.

I have been on my own journey and have always grown cannabis, so topicals and edibles were just a byproduct of that and, slowly but surely, I have discovered that this is the path for me. One time I was shut down by the Feds and the IRS (when I only had one product on the shelf) but I nonetheless persevered. I have always known that there is about one thing I’m sure of in my life and it’s this work.

You launched in manufacturing edibles in 2008, how has the industry changed since then?

In the beginning we were all terrified to do branding in case we got caught. Once you start branding you create something that actually exists and people can target. So it went from trying to make it look as anonymous as possible with homemade labels, to 5/6 years ago going BRAND! BRAND! BRAND! and everyone starting all these cannabis-based brands.

The money is there and there are also lots of people who want to be involved in the industry for the right reasons, but there are also a lot of people who want to be involved for other reasons. Pot culture is just so big right now.

What were the key lessons you’ve learned from launching Whoopi & Maya?

Whoopi & Maya has been a mind-blowing opportunity. I knew this work was important, but I wasn’t prepared for how much of a difference it was going to make in women’s lives. The personal testimonials we get are so detailed and are really personal stories that women are eager to share with us.

It blows my mind that someone can delay their surgery for a hysterectomy because they’re having so much relief from a topical. Something as non-invasive as a topical can have such a big impact, the power of topicals is amazing. Every product we make is an opportunity for someone to have relief and enjoyment and be free from pain and the importance of that is almost impossible to articulate with words.

(Photo: Marijuana.com)
(Photo: Marijuana.com)

Do you think Topicals work internally?

We believe cannabis is a superfood, a healing herb; and when we combine cannabis with other nutrient dense ingredients we can make a superior medicine. For example we use cramp bark, which got its name for its ability to stop women’s cramps. It’s a medley of different plant medicines and as a topical it’s just so powerful.

We have CB1 and CB2 receptors all over our bodies. A lot of these are in the skin epidermis and that’s why these topicals are so powerful. If something has a seat at our ingredients table it has to be bringing something to that table.

Now that I’ve seen how it can help people and really take away women’s cramps I do believe it works internally.

You have 4 products out at the moment, are you planning on expanding the range?

We are we have 4 products in the Whoopi & Maya line and we are definitely planning on expanding. First up it will be some variations on the existing products, like extra strength cacao that will be able to suit the medical needs of patients, and an unscented version of the topical. We have more things in the works but I’m not allowed to talk about them yet.

Will the Whoopi & Maya line continue to be solely focused for women?

We plan to do a lot of other things, although we will always be a women’s company because that’s just what we are. We would love to do some work with seniors and we plan on making a lot more products for everyone.

From the existing Whoopi & Maya line, what would say was your favourite product?

It’s so hard to say. I find it so so difficult to choose but I’m going to have to go with the chocolate. Being a woman I love chocolate. There’s something really special going on with that flavour and it’s so delicious and just melts in your mouth.

It’s organic, fair trade, vegan and gluten free: there’s 6 ingredients and you can pronounce every single one of them. There’s magic going on there: it’s delicious and also one of the only super foods that enters cannabinoid receptors just like cannabis. It releases a whole variety of ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters. Every women loves chocolate and this isn’t bad for you. On the contrary, it’s actually good for you.

What other women in this industry inspire you?

Whoopi inspires me and I guess it’s safe to say she’s now very much a part of this industry. She’s so strong and creative and has a deep connection with social work and morality and just doing the right thing. Truly we didn’t just lease her name, she’s really involved in this vision – it was actually her idea!

The level of care she shows for the environment and our ecological footprint, as well as the way she conducts her work and the way she produces her medicine is truly the foundation of the quality of our products. The way the plant is treated and looked after ultimately translates to the patient. I have a phrase for it: It’s our ‘plant-side manner’. Just like how a doctor has a bed-side manner, we as medicine makers must have a plant-side manner.

The collective of women I work with also inspire me. It’s not a one person thing. We all exist within the same garden and that’s the foundation of our companies.

There are also a couple of small companies that inspire me in particular at the moment, including one called Flour Child.

Is the Cannabis industry in the U.S. still male dominated?

I read something recently that was really interesting actually. It is said that 32% of senior management positions in cannabis are actually held by women. Women are really excelling in the cannabis industry. People are calling it the ‘Grass Ceiling’. This is something that’s only emerging at the moment because it really did feel so male dominated for a long time. That’s now being changed.

Jasmin Thomas is a UK based medical cannabis entrepreneur.

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