The stigma around cannabis often rings much louder than the facts. We spoke with Allia McLeod, a producer at HuffPost Canada, about the car accident that changed her trajectory and her life — and in time, her feelings about including cannabis in her wellness plan. Even in her thirties, with a medical prescription for THC to manage her back pain, Allia jokes, “Well I guess this interview is me coming out to my parents that I use cannabis.” When does it feel okay to talk about your relationship to cannabis at work? With your parents? With your kids? How can we build better communication practices to share our personal choices around what wellness means for us?
In my freshman year of university I was in a car accident that changed everything for me.
I earned a basketball scholarship to play at a major university in Florida, and at that time being an athlete was very much my identity, my whole life. I had a starting position on the team, something that was kind of unheard of for a freshman. It was a time in my life when I was coming into my own not only as a woman but as a player. I felt like I was at top of my game.
The car accident happened during March break of my freshman year. I can still remember it vividly, like a movie, which they say isn’t unusual with a traumatic event. You can play it back for yourself over and over. A friend was driving the car, and her coffee fell to my left side, so I folded forward to pick it up, and that was my position at the moment of impact.
My lower back was completely messed up. My kidney was bruised. And there were complications. I couldn’t finish the season and I was really lucky that my coach was so wonderful, because this scholarship was my ticket to an education. The stakes were high.
The rehabilitation process to get me back on the court was pretty intensive. I played out the rest of my scholarship, but with every passing year my body was sending the message, ‘This is too much on me.’ My body was trying to tell me something, but I didn’t listen.
I now struggle with chronic pain. When I moved to Canada in my early 20s I tried everything else before I tried cannabis. I’m Jamaican, so cannabis has been somewhat normalized for as long as I can remember. But my family was very religious and growing up I was an athlete, so although I dabbled in marijuana recreationally as a teenager, I mostly stayed away from it and focused on my athleticism. For lots of reasons, I was adamant that I was going to ‘fix this’ without the use of cannabis.
I had a chiropractor, a massage therapist, a physiotherapist, but I found that they weren’t working long term relief. I tried muscle relaxers and other pain relievers.
From that day forward I was able to sleep through the night without pain. ”
Finally, I let go of my hang-ups and I got a prescription for THC. From that day forward I was able to sleep through the night without pain, and now cannabis is a part of my nighttime routine.
I’m an adult and I should be able to tell my parents that I use cannabis. And maybe next time they come to visit, I will. I wonder if my family still buys into the stigma and stereotypes of cannabis because they are in Jamaica, and they have this notion of ‘Rastas’ — you know, ‘It’s a lazy man’s drug.’ I hope one day soon that I can flip that switch for them by saying, “I am productive. I am living the best life I can possibly live. And I use cannabis.’
I know things happen for a reason. If the accident never happened, I don’t think I would have found myself in Canada working in media, a career I truly love. I’d probably be in Florida still, coaching a basketball team. And maybe I wouldn’t have been able to fully come to terms with who I am as a queer woman. I wouldn’t have met my wife because I would have never moved to Canada. I can’t imagine a different ‘ending’ because I have a really beautiful life.
Photography by Angela Lewis
Before bed I turn my diffuser on and add whatever aromatherapy scent I need, then I’ll do some stretching. I’ll get my crossword out [laughing], prop my many pillows up under my knees and behind my back like an old woman, and I’ll use my vaporizer to enjoy some cannabis. It has had such a positive impact on my life.
Allia is a producer for the Huffington Post, focusing on documentary style media. She also works as a programmer for Toronto’s LGBT film festival Inside Out.
She is especially proud to have programmed The Same Difference, a documentary about lesbians who discriminate against other lesbians based on gender roles.