Mental illness is complicated, but not talking about it doesn’t make it less so. Part of our mission is to help people feel better, both physically and mentally, and while CBD can help, there are many tools you can lean on for support. Mental Health Memos is a series that delves into the importance of destigmatizing mental illness and shines a light on those who are using their voice to bring these conversations to front and center.
Chelsea Leyland isn’t your typical DJ. She’s not even your typical CBD advocate. While both are true, it’s her unique storytelling ability, obsession with evidence-based medical cannabis treatments, and her first-person experience with CBD that makes her so compelling.
While Chelsea and her sister Tamsin both live with epilepsy, Chelsea (who resides in NYC) had her life transformed overnight following a chance encounter with the plant. She now treats her condition with cannabinoids and nothing else. Meanwhile, Tamsin (who resides in assisted living in the UK) has been unable to access medical cannabis. Hence Chelsea’s forthcoming documentary, Separating the Strains. It’s a narrative-driven, but science-backed look at the issue of medical access—access that wouldn’t just change the physical health of patients, but crucially, their mental health too.
Chelsea knows all too well how CBD’s benefits go way beyond the purely physical. Having lived with anxiety and depression caused by her condition, she’s now living a more balanced, holistic lifestyle than ever before. And it shows.
So the first encounter I had with CBD felt like the start of a new beginning for me. In terms of how I felt physically, it's funny because I forgot that I had taken it at all. I was given a few drops of a tincture on an evening out, and a few hours later, I remember being in the car riding home and I felt like I was really embodied and very grounded.
I often use the analogy of Humpty Dumpty; living with epilepsy, it feels like you're fragmented in terms of your cognitive abilities at moments. I remember having this sensation, which is very hard to articulate. It was like I was Humpty Dumpty and I’d been put back together. I was clear in my thoughts and all of the sensations of living with epilepsy seemed to dissipate. I actually forgot to take my pharmaceutical epilepsy drugs that evening, my anticonvulsants, which I had never done before. So that was a really strong indication for me that I must be onto something.
I knew very little about cannabinoids and epilepsy. I knew about the Charlotte Figi story, but to wake up and realize that you've forgotten a medication that keeps you alive, it was a big deal. I was quite nervous about it and then I thought, "Well, why did I forget to take my medication last night? It must be because I felt like I was medicated." And that was the beginning of this journey.
Longer term, my mental health is improved. I believe CBD has helped improve my depression day-to-day as well as my social anxiety, which was debilitating for me as a DJ. Even airplane travel used to induce anxiety because sometimes I think I'm going to have a seizure in the air. So for me, CBD has become my warm, cozy security blanket.
It's had such a tremendous impact on my life. It’s been transformative in terms of my health. As soon as it had this impact on my life, allowing me to wean off of my medication, it was clear to me that I wanted to work with the plant, dedicate my life to the plant because it effectively gave me my life back. It also taught me to stand up for what I believe in, which is fair and safe patient access. Ultimately for me, this lack of access is actually a human rights issue. I'm still fighting for my sister, Tamsin, to gain access, which is pretty crazy since I’ve been working on this mission for the past few years, and still to this day, she still doesn't have access to any medical cannabis.
I think it has had a really big impact on me, helping me believe in the power of the individual to make a change. It's easy to feel that we can't have that much of an impact in life. But I really believe that we can. And working on this documentary, Separating the Strains, which is now in post-production, that’s what I hope to do.
I listen to my body each day and I check in with myself and that's how I figure out the best way to take CBD. It's all about listening. That really works for me, but of course, we all respond differently. So it's a bit of trial and error to figure out what's right for you. I use a few different tinctures. Sometimes I'll use a bit of CBD before I meditate, which I do regularly.
Mental health hygiene, for me, starts with sleep hygiene. Meaning, making sure that you get into bed at a decent time, trying to stay off screens at night, trying to read a book at night, daily meditation. I try and meditate every day. Obviously I'm not perfect so there are some days that I don't get it in, but ideally, I do at least 10 minutes in the morning after a hot water lemon and before caffeine.
I’ve also become more focused on breathwork than ever before. I’ll try to do one breathwork session a week and I also try to check in with my breathing throughout the day. I think that for me — for all of us — anchoring ourselves and grounding so we’re bringing ourselves back to a more embodied present moment is so important. We can’t let the mind take over! Yoga is also something I do at least three times a week, which also brings me out of my head.
Trying to balance my blood sugar levels is another one. I think that’s incredibly beneficial for everyone’s mental health, from anxiety to the functioning of your endocrine system. I pay attention to my sugar intake and notice my sugar spikes, which is a newer thing for me. But I have endometriosis as well and so that's something that's really helping me to manage that.
I would tell everyone about the medical applications of CBD in regards to epilepsy and its anticonvulsant properties. But I’d also highlight CBD’s ability to bring balance to our lives. It's so overwhelming for me to remember how I felt before I discovered cannabinoids because they have just had such a fantastic impact on every single area of my life and my health.
When we're sleeping better, we feel better emotionally. When we’re calm and managing our stress, we’re able to live our best lives. I use cannabinoids for everything, even IBS. And obviously using them either more systemically or more localized means you can target certain things as they arise. No matter who you are, CBD brings back balance into our lives. And ultimately, that’s what they mean by homeostasis, isn’t it?
This interview reflects the opinions and experiences of Chelsea Leyland based on her own personal experience. Individual responses can vary greatly.