Katy Micallef sits down with Tracy Ryan – a woman on the journey of a lifetime. Navigating life’s obstacles with grace and determination she has chartered a fresh path of opportunity, not just as CEO of successful company CannaKids but as an advocate for the medical cannabis industry and most importantly, for the people it helps. Tracy will speak at the November Medical Cannabiz World Summit.
Tracy is not the kind of woman who gives up easily, she is a self-professed optimist whose nature has always been to ‘look for the silver linings’, but when her daughter Sophie was diagnosed with a low-grade Optic Pathway Glioma brain tumor in 2013 the news hit her and her husband hard.
A chain of events on social media helped her find her way, leading her to television personalities Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein who had just begun filming their Netflix documentary, now titled Weed the People. There had been promising cannabis research going on for years, but for some reason no one was talking about it.
Tracy explains that while Sophie’s type of tumor has a 90% survival rate it unfortunately has an 85% recurrence rate,which is why you have children with this diagnosis still in chemo many years later. And because it follows the optic tract it also causes a lot of children to go blind. They were able to successfully maintain Sophie’s vision up until this year.
With a future of continual chemotherapy rounds and declining health being the likely outcome for Sophie they threw themselves into looking for clinical studies. They were shocked when they couldn’t find anything.
“Clinical trials are not typically done for these types of tumors because they’re not considered deadly. It was because of that, and because there was a lack of research into medical cannabis, despite the clear results it was showing as a treatment option, that we decided to shut down the media agency that we had at the time. We realised that maybe there’s more to this than just helping our own child.”
Despite support from Sophie’s team of oncologists there was still a fear around using cannabis. The stigma runs so deep that even though they were following the law to the letter they still worried that someone might try and stop them.
“We were afraid that even though we were doing things right and doing things by California law that we would get a knock on the door and have someone try and take our kids away. Many people had that fear. We needed a safe place to talk to each other. It was challenging, back then we couldn’t look things up online, we hadn’t been to medical school – we all just had to figure it out.”
At just nine months old Sophie took her first dose of Cannabis Oil in what was to become an important and memorable scene in the documentary. Alongside the chemotherapy, the medical cannabis treatment has helped to shrink Sophie’s tumors up to 85% to 90%, protocol after protocol – a rate that is generally unheard of.
“Working on this and being able to help other parents is something that fills my heart and brings me joy in what is otherwise a very joyless situation. Maybe there’s a reason that this is all happening to us, perhaps there’s a bigger purpose for it. We all have a purpose, we just have to figure out what it is and maybe mine is to help others,” she says.
The result was that she set up CannaKids, a California-based brand that supplies medical cannabis oil tinctures and cannabis products to patients of all ages, with a focus on pediatrics. The company is unique in that their customer support doesn’t just stop with a sale, the company has a team of medical professionals that patients can book calls with to help them understand what medicines they should be taking and how. For Tracy this is more than a business – it’s personal.
As well as sitting on the board of Cure Pharmaceuticals, Tracy is currently engaged in a research project which looks at the effect of medical cannabis on Natural Killer Cells in 16 cancer patients in varying stages of disease. Along with the renowned scientist who discovered the field over 30 years ago they have already submitted over 100 pages for patent.
“Sophie’s tumor is growing in humanized mice and we have now discovered why she has this tumor. We have multiple scientists who are some of the top animal model surgeons in the world working on her cure as we speak. We also hope to bring non-toxic cancer treatments all the way through clinical trials with the goal of FDA approval so we can get patients the medicines they need that will be covered by insurance.”
As she writes on the CannaKids website: It’s not enough that we believe this is working, we need to know that is it working and the only route to that answer is research.
“We have such a focus on the science, and truly strive to provide protocols based on our patient data we have tracked for years, and published research science from renowned researchers around the world. The research has to happen”
The Medical Cannabiz World Summit will take place from the 4th to 5th November at the Intercontinental, St Julian’s, Malta, to be followed by the inaugural launch of the Medical Cannabiz World Asia Summit which will be held in Bangkok on the 22nd and 23rd of June 2020 at the Centara Grand Hotel.
Read more interviews like this in Cannabiz magazine – out now!