The Real Faces of Cannabis Medicine

Jessica Assaf
5 min readJan 17, 2018


Landon Riddle, Sophie Ryan, Alexis Bortell and Charlotte Figi

A few days ago, I received an email from a woman I profiled on my website, Cannabis Feminist, politely asking me to remove the article. The piece shared this woman’s “cannabis coming out story,” her personal relationship with cannabis and the ways it has positively impacted her health. She wrote:

“I was just recently denied a job I wanted with mentally disabled children because they Googled my name and found the article. It really made me think about how unfair it was for them to judge me for my use of this medicinal plant. I felt silenced. I suppose I’m not all the way out of the closet about my cannabis use because others still view it as a drug rather than a natural healer. I would love to know your thoughts on how to approach this as my career path involves children.”

As a longtime cannabis advocate and entrepreneur, I have spent the past few years studying cannabis medicine from many different angles. While at Harvard Business School, I worked with doctors to aggregate the medical evidence of the health benefits of cannabis for Alzheimer’s, ALS, Crohn’s, Glaucoma, Hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS and muscle spasms. For the past year I have been gathering thousands of survey results on the Cannabis Feminist website to turn personal anecdotes into meaningful statistics about cannabis and health. I have watched people use cannabis to radically transform their health, and I personally use cannabis regularly for a variety of medicinal benefits.

Twenty-nine states and Washington D.C. have implemented medical cannabis programs, acknowledging the plant’s medicinal benefits and granting legal use to sick people who need it most. It is disheartening to hear that people continue to be marginalized for their choice to self-medicate. Cannabis is a medicine and it is time to systematically treat it that way.

The political climate is confusing. California is legalizing recreational cannabis at the exact moment Jeff Sessions is enforcing federal laws more aggressively. The woman who wrote to me feels powerless, especially as someone who works with children.

It seems as though the federal government is missing the point: cannabis really is a medicine, and in some cases, it is the only medicine.

This is the case for Landon Riddle, Sophie Ryan, Alexis Bartell and Charlotte Figi, the children featured in the photo above. These children represent the truth about cannabis medicine. Here are their stories:

Sophie Ryan

Sophie Ryan was diagnosed with an Optic Pathway Glioma brain tumor when she was eight months old. Doctors told her parents that a 13-month protocol of chemotherapy was the only option, and they should only expect minimal shrinkage and no cure. Sophie’s mother, Tracy, was determined to find a solution outside of Western medicine, and she started her daughter on a high-concentrated THC and CBD cannabis oil. The cannabis oil not only shrunk the tumor but saved her vision and kept her weight healthy during chemotherapy. Sophie takes cannabis oil daily as a medicine and maintains a high quality of life. Tracy, inspired by her daughter’s profound experience with cannabis medicine, started organizations Saving Sophie and Cannakids to make sure other families can access cannabis for their sick children.

Landon Riddle

Landon Riddle was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia as a toddler and went through months of grueling chemotherapy before his mother, Sierra, discovered the anti-tumor effects of cannabinoids. Sierra moved her family from Utah to Colorado, where Landon became the youngest patient to receive a medical cannabis recommendation. As soon as Landon stared using cannabis oil, his health drastically improved. Doctors wanted Landon to continue chemotherapy for years, but his mother disagreed. Eventually Sierra stopped giving her son any of the drugs prescribed by the hospital, including chemotherapy, Oxicotin, morphine and Ativan, and she continued a regime of THC and CBD oils. Results from blood tests, a bone marrow biopsy and spinal tap proved Landon no longer had leukemia, and nearly five years later Landon is happy, healthy and cancer-free. Now Landon and Sierra are passionate advocates for cannabis as medicine.

Charlotte Figi

Charlotte Figi was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome when she was three months old and by the time she was three years old she was having hundreds of grand mal seizures a week. Doctors told her family there was nothing more they could do, so Charlotte’s mother, Paige, decided to try medical cannabis. After her first dose, Charlotte’s seizures drastically reduced. Paige heard about the Stanley brothers in Colorado growing high CBD plants, so she contacted them to see if they could make something special for Charlotte and they did. The brothers named their cannabis strain Charlotte’s Web in honor of Charlotte and her success using the oil. They also started the Realm of Caring Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides cannabis to sick people who can’t afford it. Charlotte, now a thriving ten year old, continues to take cannabis oil twice daily and experiences only a few seizures a month, mostly in her sleep.

Alexis Bartell

Like Charlotte, twelve-year-old Alexis Bortell uses cannabis oil twice daily to prevent life-threatening epileptic seizures. Alexis’ parents moved her family from Texas to Colorado so she could access cannabis to treat her epilepsy. “I am now over two years seizure-free because of my cannabis medicine,” Alexis says in a recent Rolling Stone article.

“It’s helped me succeed in school more, since I don’t have to go to the nurse every day because of auras and seizures. There was no medicine in Texas that would stop my seizures, and not only that, but they had horrendous side effects that would be worse than the actual seizure." Alexis says.

Now Alexis is one of five plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the federal government arguing that the Controlled Substance Act infringes upon our constitutional rights. Alexis and the other plaintiffs represent the countless sick children and adults who would benefit from cannabis medicine.

It’s time to socially and systematically reclassify cannabis from a Schedule 1 Drug to a universal medicine. These children’s stories tell us that there is a disconnect between the government’s perception of cannabis as a drug and actual experiences of cannabis as medicine. By sharing the faces and stories of children and their families who have seen the benefits of cannabis firsthand, I hope we can move towards a time when cannabis is fully embraced for what it is: a powerful plant medicine here to help.

P.S. This article is dedicated to Tahnee Shah, who showed me the true meaning of cannabis medicine during her cancer battle. She passed away before she could finish the documentary, but her message stands strong.



Jessica Assaf

Entrepreneur and activist on a mission to use business to transform health and wellbeing. Co-founder + Chief Education Officer of Prima.