IT WAS A RAINY SUNDAY when I sat down with Charlene Freedom to talk with her about her journey into the world of cannabis. We had both fought through a crowd of strollers coming from the Santa Claus parade to get to the crowded cafe for tea, but Charlene is used to overcoming obstacles, she’s been a fighter her whole life.
Charlene’s journey into the cannabis industry actually started in a way with being a recovering addict from opiates and pharmaceuticals. Going through years of withdrawal, a friend of hers introduced her to the idea of treating the anxiety it gave her with lavender oil. She discovered that putting a few drops of the essential oil on a cloth and inhaling triggered the brain into calming down. Mixing that with smoking joints helped her come off the drugs, eased the recuperation process and inspired a career into natural healthcare.
During Charlene’s recovery she decided to go to the Institute of Aromatherapy where she became a graduate and certified natural health practitioner. She focused on learning other ways to manage health problems and chronic pain. She was on disability at the time and they paid for her schooling and even bought her first massage bed, making it possible to focus on her learning and health. During her first year of school she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia a disorder characterized by musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, mood, memory and sleep issues. This only emboldened her journey into finding what would help treat her ailments best and then turn that into a way of helping others (the massages didn’t hurt either!).
After being clean for 11 years, in January of 2012, Charlene was hit by a car while crossing the street, breaking her knee and collarbone. The driver fled the scene. She spent three months recovering in the hospital on heavy pain medication, hardly an ideal situation for someone recovering from an opiate addiction. While in recovery she tried to get a prescription for cannabis, as it was the most effective pain reliever she could find, but it took two years of going to referral after referral before finally being able to acquire a prescription. Four months later she reinjured her knee, creating even more pain and leaving her unable to walk. Charlene found smoking cannabis just wasn’t cutting it and wished she could just rub the plant directly on her knee. Her friend went to the CHAMPS Expo in Toronto soon after and ended up buying her a pamphlet on cannacream. After talking to some people she was recommended to just make the cream herself due to the prescription she had and her background in natural healthcare. Charlene then made her first cream, not even knowing how many lives she would change with it in the future. After she applied it for the first time she watched the swelling in her knee go down about 75%, and the pain she was feeling go from an 8/10 to a 2/10, and that’s when she decided this was a subject she needed to study. At this time there was still very little information and outright misinformation out there on topicals. She had to pave the way for herself and discover through trial and error what worked best. Charlene now sells a myriad of different products for pain relief and also teaches classes and workshops on the subject as well, spreading her vast knowledge to anyone willing to learn.
Q&A with Charlene
What is your favorite aspect of the cannabis industry?
My favorite thing is probably seeing the change it brings into people’s lives. I’ve always said cannabis is a plant spirit, plant spirits are teachers, they teach you to be calm, be better people, and essentially show great change. Another thing I really love is how it turns shitty experiences positive. So many people have a story like mine where they’ve been hit by a car or something similar and how cannabis helps them overcome it and become happier people overall. That’s probably the best for me; being a witness to that.
What is your least favorite thing about this industry?
That you have no idea who to trust. There is no shortage of guys that are criminals making a ton of money of the backs of patients. You also don’t know who people really are; coming into this industry I didn’t know anyone. I don’t know sometimes if my clients are cops trying to buy creams from me. I just have no idea. But I’ve been lucky to have such amazing people around me and I would say the positives outweigh the negatives.
What are some of your biggest challenges?
Finding answers to questions I was looking for. There’s so much misinformation out there, and not a lot of people are willing to share their knowledge and I get it now. People don’t want to give up their recipes but I was just looking for information. So I basically had to take everything I’d learned and go out there and experiment based on that. I think another challenge was actually meeting women. The first year I was coming around I wasn’t meeting very many women, just a lot of guys.
And did that change with Women Grow?
Yes, hugely. And it was something I really needed, to see that there were strong women in the industry. I’m a steering committee member with Women Grow Toronto, and it’s helped me to make very valuable connections within the industry.
What is your favorite product?
Baths salts for luxury, the cream for necessity.