“Each and every person who has found relief in cannabis has a part to play in this movement,” says Bianca, a 33-year-old single mom living in North Vancouver. “It can be as simple and as powerful as just sharing your story.”
Bianca is sitting on a couch in her local dispensary, Weeds (on Marine Drive), to talk about how she became one of the faces of Move the Movement (MTM)—a Vancouver-based nonprofit society building a digital database of patient experiences with cannabis.
She credits this dispensary, and the people who run it, with restoring her quality of life while she was in “a very dark place”. She intends to pay that forward by breaking her silence about her struggle with physical and mental health through MTM.
“I had never talked about my cannabis use, but something felt right about what this organization was doing. Everyone involved is coming from a genuine desire to help,” she says.
Bianca’s story has been published as both a video diary and written testimony on the organization’s website. She also attends events and conferences with the MTM team to connect with people looking to understand the medical and therapeutic effects of cannabis. (Because of her personal circumstances, the Georgia Straight, after verification of her identity, has agreed to withhold Bianca’s surname.)
A Straight reporter first met Bianca at her home while she was filming her video diary for the organization in May. Balanced on a rock in her backyard, against a backdrop of the Capilano River, she explained her journey. At first, it was jarring to try to comprehend how a woman who radiates such infectious positivity has withstood so much suffering. She says the credit is owed to cannabis.
From an early age, Bianca says, she has battled a handful of debilitating conditions, including anxiety-induced nausea, posttraumatic stress disorder, chronic pain caused by scoliosis, and unrelenting flares of eczema—to name just a few.
“I’ve been on OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, morphine, Demerol, methadone—pick a narcotic, I’ve been on it,” she says, laughing. “Nothing comes close to cannabis.”
Bianca began exploring more holistic treatments in 2009, when her pain specialist recommended joining the B.C. Compassion Club, the country’s first medical-cannabis dispensary.
Since then, she has created an entire treatment plan based on the plant—but not without difficulty.
“Cannabis is one of the hardest medicines to use properly. If you’re treating mental illness, it can be even more difficult,” she says.
“You need to figure out your body’s rhythms, your brain chemistry, your sleep schedule—there is a lot to it. And you’re doing it, for the most part, on your own.”
MTM hopes to rewrite that lengthy and isolating experience for current and prospective cannabis patients.
What started as a passion project for Kelsey Yee, the movement’s cofounder and an industry entrepreneur, is now a growing database of patient testimonies.
“It’s my experience, after I started using cannabis, that the people who have been helped or healed using it want to tell everyone, but there’s nowhere to tell that story,” Yee says in her video testimony. She says prohibition has resulted in the loss of decades’ worth of data that prospective consumers need to craft their own treatment.
“It’s our job to rebuild the database on cannabis.”
She teamed up with industry leaders and community advocates, including vice president and project coordinator Daryl Fontana, to create a database that allows patients to share healing plans and pull information from an expanding database of self-care.
“With legalization coming into effect, everybody has the opportunity to break away from the fear and share the truth about this plant,” Fontana says.
He says that when he started in the industry in 1997, he knew there were voices that needed to be heard, but the plant’s illegality shrouded the conversation with secrecy and fear. With legalization coming into effect in October, he says he believes it’s the right time for people to break their silence.
“It’s time for all of us to speak up. Everybody who has seen the benefits needs to speak the truth about what this plant is all about, and we can do so together.”
The site, which is now live, allows consumers to create a profile and read curated testimonies from people living with similar conditions. Much as on a basic doctor’s intake form, users can also anonymously answer a series of questions exploring frequency of use, consumption methods, and additional lifestyle changes that contributed to finding success with cannabis.
Bianca says that it took years of trial-and-error experimentation with vaporizers, dried flower, topicals, and edibles until she found a reliable and consistent source of information. In 2016, she found a “home away from home” at Weeds and—alongside manager and former nurse Robynne Edwards—was able to craft a treatment plan that allows her to live a balanced life.
“Because of prohibition, there has really never been an open conversation in society about cannabis and its impacts, and because of that people are forced to have those conversations inside cannabis-friendly places only, which is wonderful…if you have a safe space,” she says.
“Move the Movement is offering that safe space to everyone.”