Kayla Gerber boasts a number of talents beyond “expert-level cannabis connoisseur” — she’s also a singer, dancer, actor, model, and dance teacher. When Kayla was chosen by Toronto-based company AHLOT — from a pool of 25,000 applicants — to get paid to consume and evaluate weed, she could barely believe it. Kayla is now part of their pioneering committee of cannabis curators whose primary role is to develop a universal system in which cannabis can be evaluated and described, similar to a sommelier’s approach to tasting wine.
I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia at 10 years old. That was 17 years ago, which feels surreal. Because I was diagnosed at such a young age, it’s hard to recall how I was able to deal with the level of pain I was experiencing at the time. I was using whatever pharmaceuticals would work for some relief. As I got older, a lot of doctors disregarded my symptoms as laziness. As is clear from my current day-today, I am not a lazy person, I’m always on the go. But my illness was holding me back from living to my full potential.
When you’re not believed in that way you start to feel really down. You lose momentum to want to live your life because you feel almost as if, you know, your sickness is in the driver’s seat. One day I remember thinking, this cannot be the rest of my life. I said, “You know what Kayla? Your Fibromyalgia is not gonna be the main thing about you anymore, and we’re going to change the story people tell about you.” And for me the change started with cannabis.
Even with treatment there are a lot of days where I still feel so down and struggling because my fibro is killing me — it affects my muscles, nerves, joint system, and gastrointestinal system. A lot of the times fibro patients will suffer from leaky gut, IBS, anxiety, on top of the chronic pain that’s a common symptom.
To treat my symptoms and live a more active life I have consistently been using cannabis for 10 years without any pharmaceuticals. No pills at all. I use dried cannabis or oils. And a game changer in the industry and for me personally has been CBD oil. When I introduced CBD oil into my treatment regime, it seemed like my whole life became clearer. I could see my future.
When I introduced CBD oil into my treatment regime, it seemed like my whole life became clearer. I could see my future. ”
I come from an adopted family. I’m very lucky — I grew up and was adopted into an Italian, Irish family which was different from my biological Jamaican-Caribbean roots. My adopted family has always taught me that it’s okay to be in my own skin even if people don’t like me and so I’ve never judged myself or felt shame about my skin colour. But, it’s interesting, because within the cannabis space it kind of became something that really differentiated people, and I would, you know, see myself get stopped by a cop, but then, you know, my girl Danielle, with blonde hair, blue eyes, she can walk down the street no problem with her cannabis and never have any issues. I think we’re seeing some positive change in that department when it comes to cannabis and legalization.
This is no small feat, especially because we’re still seeing a high number of hate crimes, due to intolerance and ignorance. Cannabis is like this little go-getter that amongst all the craziness that is happening in our world, managed to achieve legalization. And for me, that’s just a huge step forward in culture, and although things are not perfect, we’re moving in the right direction. I’ve been given this tremendous career opportunity, and I’m seeing my face blasted all over the internet from the UK to the US to Canada, and I don’t have to worry about like repercussions that I would have faced only a few years ago. I love that I can speak out on the issues that matter to me. I am proud to be that voice for some of my Caribbean and African community.
The opportunity to join the curation committee at AHLOT has been really big for me. Even a handful of years ago I would have likely been criminalized for openly using cannabis as a black woman, and now I have the ability to consume without hiding, and to advocate for others like me.
So far it’s been a really interesting job! Maybe people think we’re just smoking weed for money — and yes, although that’s kind of true, there’s a lot more to it. I’m not really necessarily a strain reviewer, because a strain reviewer will tell you something about every strain they try. As an evaluator, I might try three strains, and depending on my evaluation, customers might never know I tried them if they don’t make the cut so to speak. My job is really about assessing that overall quality and suitability with the customer in mind. Similar to a wine reviewer, we’re evaluating the visual appeal, the bud density — you know, is it squishier and drier, is it fluffy? We look at the product on a microscopic level, too — we’re going as deep as the visible trichomes within the plants, the pistils, what colours those pistils and trichomes are. It’s our goal to come up with universal aroma descriptors, and that’s probably one of my favourite things about the job – like, I’m not sure I thought too much about the variety of smell when I was working within the dispensary space. I mean, it was important that the cannabis smelt great or had a certain smell to it, but I never went as deep as like coming up with descriptions to describe that cannabis aroma. The training and the learning has been truly mind-opening. It’s unbelievable what’s happening with cannabis plants at a microscopic level
I’m very blessed that in the last five years, I’ve been doing work that I’m incredibly passionate about in so many different categories — everything from dance to dispensaries! My biggest dream now is to own a cannabis lounge. I’m not a drinker so for me going out has always been fun, but I don’t love dealing with drunk people, and it would be great to have a place where I can chill out, smoke some weed, maybe there’s dancing, maybe there’s stand-up comedy. I’d love to open a lounge like this out here in Guelph I’d like to be involved within the cannabis space on a more political level in my own city and then the surrounding cities where there’s an need for education and advocacy, like Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge. I want to find a way to bring my passions together, that’s what I picture for my 30s.
Start by educating yourself. That could be through reading articles online, it could be through talking to people like me, or a mix of both. Out of all your facebook friends, there has to be at least one person that knows a lot about cannabis and probably won’t mind talking to you about their experience. Or you can visit a dispensary and talk to someone whose job it is to answer your questions!
Take your time. It’s not like legalization is going to get ripped away. You don’t need to try 10 strains in one day to figure out what’s best for you.
Be aware of your body, and be curious. You need to find what works best for you. Every body is different, and that’s a beautiful thing!