David Jakubovic talks to HeadMagazine.com about the unlikely beginnings and interesting journey that led to one of the most important documentaries of our time on Cannabis and CBD.
Charlotte Parker: Hi David, thank you for joining us for this conversation at HeadMagazine.com.
David Jakubovic: You’re welcome. I’m thrilled to be talking to you.
Charlotte: I loved your movie! I think it’s an important film that everyone should see.
David: Thank you.
Charlotte: Tell me about the movie.
David: When I was originally asked to do this movie, I had a very strong resistance to it. At the time, I was making some videos about quantum physics, and I was very into hardcore journalism. I had all sorts of plans of projects that I wanted to make on all sorts of different things. Cannabis – honestly did not– It not only didn’t interest me, I’m ashamed to say now that I partook in the stigma.
I barely ever experienced using cannabis over the years. It’s something that just never really entered my life for whatever reason. I had it a handful of times over the years and got very high because I had no tolerance to it. It was always enjoyable, but then I didn’t really want to think about it anymore for years. I found people who I deemed to be stoners to maybe be a little bit annoying, and that is the thing that I’m most ashamed of right now. At first, I didn’t want to really spend a year of my life, or whatever it’s going to take, to make a documentary living in a world of “stoners”.
I started looking into it, and I started thinking, what angle can I have on cannabis? Also, I started thinking about why do I have these feelings about cannabis that I do. All right, because maybe some friends of mine behaved in ways that I thought were stupid when they were on it a lot.
Charlotte: Did it happen just that way, or was there something that nudged you and made you more interested in exploring that?
David: Here’s the secret that showed up immediately into my life about cannabis education and it is this: I started researching it because I thought, “All right, there’s a project that I can do here”. It really did not take more than half an hour of honest research, like 20 minutes, five minutes. I don’t know – very quickly to realize, “Holy shit, this is unbelievably fascinating”. There was a very important angle here that has not yet been done, and my views changed so fast.
I think everyone’s views can change so fast, and the reason is that I believe that we think about cannabis in this box of preconceived notions that we have that we grew up with. It takes minutes of reading about science to realize that there’s a lot more to it and that you really don’t know anything about it. One of the first things that I saw was a TED Talk by Dr. Dedi Meiri. Dedi Meiri runs a lab at the Technion University in Haifa in Israel.
He’s doing this TED Talk about where he talks about how they’ve been finding that various combinations of compounds from the cannabis plant are killing different cancer cells from different cancers. They’re creating apoptosis in cancer cells where a combination of three compounds, cannabinoids, is causing prostate cancer cells to die but not liver cancer cells. Different cannabinoid combinations are killing liver cancer cells but not breast cancer cells and so on.
Here is a guy who is just this serious PhD biochemist who has nothing whatsoever to do with what I perceived as or what I deemed to be cannabis culture, pot culture, weed culture. This guy is not a stoner, or at least he does not present as one. I don’t know his personal life, obviously. I saw this, and I’m listening to this science speech. I thought, “Wait a minute, this is amazing”. Because I always thought that people saying stuff like cannabis kills cancer is bullshit.
Trailer for CBD Nation
I always thought that CBD that I’d begun to hear about because it started being in the zeitgeist a little bit, I was thinking that it was some kind of fad, like any other wellness fad that’s just comes in. Some people say a lot of nonsense about how miraculous it is, and then you forget about it a couple of years later. I very quickly realized that it’s not the case. After watching Dedi Meiri’s talk, I started looking at Google Scholar and just putting in CBD and THC and cannabis molecules, and thousands of papers came up from respectable institutions. This was mind-blowing to me.
It was mind-blowing in a way that you really, as a filmmaker, hope to be mind blown when you’re looking into a subject because we all think we know so much about so many things that we don’t know anything about. When you’re honestly challenged and you’re receptive to that challenge, there’s something so beautiful about that. I realized that I should be– I started questioning, why do I have these stigmas? I realized that in all the pop culture that I’ve been consuming throughout my life, every time cannabis is part of that pop culture, it’s usually a joke, like the Brad Pitt character in True Romance, or Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, these movies that I love and I think are very funny. Cannabis can be funny, sure, but that was my experience of it.
I realized that cannabis is either being shown as a punch line, or in documentaries I had seen about it that were more talking about its medical use, they were very focused on anecdotes. They talked very little about the science. It was mentioned always, but it was like a smidgen. Almost like the filmmakers were uncomfortable like, “Okay, we’re going to do science now, so brace yourself for a minute of science”.
Then there would always be some person, often some white dude in a suit in some office, that they would cut to randomly, and this person would say why cannabis is actually bad for you. I realized if this is the filmic literature out there, then something needs to be added this repertoire. I think what needs to be added is a film that focuses very seriously on science and that is not in any way funny.
I actually, in the course of making the movie, would find myself often– there would be really funny things that people would say, funny little moments, sweet little moments that were extraneous to the story, but they were awesome film stuff. I would put them in my edit, and over time, I would just find myself constantly removing them. Or I would write some narration bit and try to be a little clever, and then I realized, no, there’s no need. There’s no need, and I just pulled back.
There was a funny moment where this guy Leonard Leinow, who appears early in the film, he’s a older gentleman who was one of the early pioneers. He made this amazing statement like, “We need to change what we name cannabis strains because I cannot in good faith tell someone I’m working with to treat your cancer, you should try some Alaskan Thunder Fuck”. [laughs] That was so funny to me because I had no cannabis experience really in my life, so I didn’t even know about that. It was hilarious. I eventually cut it out of the movie because it was funny, and I didn’t want funny.
Charlotte: Why don’t you tell us about some of the people who appear in your films and what you found in these people?
David: Documentaries are interesting in how you come to your subjects because each documentary is a very different beast in that way. This one was interesting in that I found that people really loved talking about this and wanted to talk about it and had this very deep need to get their message out. This was scientists and patients and physicians. All of them had a different reason for wanting to get it out, and there was just so much passion in all of them. What this passion led to, I think, was they wanted to introduce me to people. From the very first person I interviewed, which was Leonard Leinow, who I got to because he wrote a book on CBD so I just contacted him, he introduced me to another person who introduced me to a physician in Marin County who introduced me to this person. I somehow got to Andrew DeAngelo who introduced me to Steve (Steve DeAngelo), and Steve introduced me to Mechoulam (Raphael Mechoulam Ph.D.) Everyone I met when they kind of saw that I– When they got the sense that they liked the direction that I was thinking in, they would introduce me to other people. It was kind of nice. That was a very long-winded way to explain that.
Charlotte: Let’s talk about some of the people that appear in the movie, about their stories and what their experience was. I think it would be very interesting to hear about some of these stories and about the people that cannabis helped.
David: One of the first things that I did was– I was in Israel because I go to Israel often because I’m from there -this is before I even started shooting. There was this CannaTech conference in Tel Aviv, and it was advertised as this Cannabis Technology and Science and Business Conference. I went and I thought I’d listen to lectures and learn. I saw a panel there, and a woman named Janie Maedler was speaking in this panel about her story about her daughter who had bone tumors in her face when she was seven- her name is Rylie -and about how cannabis completely transformed her recovery, and how they eventually worked on getting the laws changed in Delaware to allow minors access to medical cannabis.
It was the most breathtaking story. It put tears in my eyes. I ran up to her, to Janie, after the panel was over and asked her if I can have her card. That became one of the most beautiful stories I think in the movie.
Charlotte: It’s a very dramatic story.
David: It’s dramatic, I know. There’s something so simple about it because none of them were seeking drama. They were just doing what they needed to do. That’s something that I found very often in this movie. I met literally hundreds of people who had this exact same story, which was- I’m paraphrasing but, : “I was in the worst physical situation that I’d been in because of whatever condition. Everything was terrible. Nothing was helping. Everything that I was taking that the doctors gave me was making me have dreadful side effects. I discovered cannabis. I was better the next day”. I kept hearing this. What?
Charlotte: Tell us about that little boy who had very bad epileptic seizures.
David: My goodness, yes. This man, Jason David, was near suicide because his son at a few months old, started having these really horrifying seizures that would last for hours. He was shaking. He would shake for hours and hours. This guy was just at end of his rope. Cannabis had occurred to him somehow. He saw it on TV or something, and he went to Harborside and to DeAngelo’s and said, “Listen, my son is dying. I’m suicidal. My son’s never told me that he loves me because he can’t speak”. They gave him CBD because they thought that maybe they can try giving– They were afraid to give a child cannabis because they’d never done it before. That was before Charlotte Figi.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_Figi )
They ended up giving him CBD thinking, “Let’s try this”, because it won’t get him high. He gave it to him. The same day or the next day, the child had no seizures for the first time in his life. There’s just something so powerful about that because it’s just so real. It’s a story that recurs again and again and again. Dr. Raphael Mechoulam says, “we knew this 30 or 35 years ago. We’d published this 35 years ago, and no one was listening to us. CBD stops seizures in humans. They knew it”.
There was also something really nice about Jason which was– more about shattering your own preconceived notions and stigmas. I’m Jewish. I’m not religious at all. In America, you associate religiousness with conservative politics, which you associate with being anti-cannabis. Jason David, the father of Jayden, this child with Dravet syndrome, is an extremely religious Christian man.
I met many religious people, both Christian and also Jews, who were very much pro-cannabis. I asked a lot of people about that. There was this doctor named Joseph Morgan, a religious Jewish man, who’s very briefly in the movie. You have to edit some stuff out sometimes. I asked him about it, and he said that there’s a line in the Torah, in Genesis, in the first chapter of Genesis about God saying to Adam and Eve that all the seeds are for people to use, basically. He said, “Why would there be any religious problem with using God’s plant?” I thought that was lovely. That definitely shattered my stigma a little bit about religiousness. It really can bring people together when you start opening your mind to things.
Charlotte: Tell me a little bit about what you learned about the endocannabinoid system in people and animals that you discussed in the film.
David: It’s amazing with cannabis how many things just blow your mind when you don’t know anything about it and you’re learning about it. One of the things that blow your mind so crazily is when you hear that the human body has a massive system of receptors and compounds that respond only to cannabis and to cannabis-like molecules that the body creates, cannabis-like in the sense that they operate on the same receptors. You start realizing that this is why cannabis seems to help so many different conditions because different people have different amounts of receptors and of endocannabinoids. It’s a shocking thing to learn that this is a huge system in the human body and in the bodies of animals and that is not taught in medical school or veterinary school.
Charlotte: It’s actually a system that exists in people’s and animals” bodies already that is created to receive the assistance from this plant?
David: Yes. The way it works is, says the non-scientist, but from what I gleaned, the way it works is that we have a lot of receptors in our body that respond to compounds that our body makes and to compounds from cannabis. Our body makes these compounds in different numbers. Some of us may have more or less of them, and some of us may also have more or less of the receptors. They have started finding that various illnesses are associated with having lower amounts of these endocannabinoids. There’s a receptor called CB1, which is what THC operates on.
There’s also a compound in the body that I think the brain makes that was called anandamide. It’s got a more technical term, but it was called anandamide. Anandamide, if you don’t have enough of it, you can supplement it from the plant. This is why some people have different tolerance levels to this plant because for many people, they’re getting something from it that they’re not getting internally that they need. They found, for instance, that people with PTSD are associated with having less anandamide. They’re finding that women with endometriosis is associated with a lower count of endocannabinoids. There’s just so much about this that we need to learn, and it’s beautiful. I showed the film to a doctor at some point early on in the edit and to a friend, and this doctor when the movie ended said that, “I feel embarrassed because I don’t know this. I did not learn this, and I’m not allowed to offer this to patients. I feel embarrassed by that”.
Charlotte: The MORE Act is going in front of Congress soon. They are voting to have cannabis unscheduled. Right now it’s a Schedule I drug like heroin. The vote is to have it unscheduled so that doctors can prescribe it because right now, doctors are at risk when they prescribe it. It’s really a shame because what you’re saying here from what I understand, is that some people have less or more of these things in their bodies in terms of the receptors or the endocannabinoids or the anandamide, and if they get the right kind of strain of CBD or other compound from cannabis, then that can help balance out what they have and can sometimes keep these diseases or these emotional problems at bay. Is that what you’re saying?
David: It seems like it. It seems like that’s part of the story of why cannabis affects so many different illnesses because this endocannabinoid system seems to help regulate how different systems in the body work together. It seems like if you are deficient in various compounds in the system, you can supplement them from the plant. The plant seems to be very close to us in ways that are deep, and by keeping it as a Schedule I drug, keeping this stigmatized and illegalized, we’re just doing damage.
As for the Schedule I issue, one of the things I learned also that blew my mind is that the United States government has put so much money into research of this plant in secret but not really in secret. It’s always been findable. For example, there’s a patent from about 20 years ago or 19 years ago. There’s a patent by the health department, and the lead scientist on this patent is a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist. It’s completely serious legitimate stuff, and it’s a patent for the medical efficacy of cannabinoids. Very largely of CBD.
Charlotte: Let’s talk about some of these studies.
David: Yes. Why is the health department of the United States government having a patent like this and at the same time saying cannabis is not useful medically at all? It’s like heroin. It’s the Schedule I stuff. In addition, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, who’s been studying cannabis since the ’60s in another country in Israel, he has been funded every year for decades by the NIH, by the National Institute of Health. He’s getting American government money, taxpayer money every year to study cannabis while it’s illegal here, and it’s illegal to study here.
Charlotte: What are some of the most surprising things you learned from looking at these studies?
David: Just the breadth of the medical efficacy that is already recognized. The amount of indications for which cannabis seems to be useful and that is already recognized for decades by the US government and by scientists.
Interviewer: What in your opinion is the reason that this is not widely known?
David: I make no assumptions about that. I don’t want to speculate about that. The speculations are obvious, right? The suppression of information seems obvious, but I choose to not go there because it’s– I choose to keep that out of my scope because I didn’t study it deeply and because I didn’t want my movie to focus on that. I did not want to create with this movie any discomfort for– I wanted this film to– Let me start this over. I wanted the film to speak to people who are uncomfortable with cannabis, and I wanted to not preach to the choir only.
I wanted someone who is maybe politically conservative, who grew up with Reefer Madness mentality to be able to see this and not feel attacked with a political challenge. I wanted to really just show facts. That the US government has a patent is a fact. These scientific papers exist are facts. If I would start going into suppression of information in some kind of deep way, I don’t want someone to tune off. I want them to receive the information so that they can learn from it.
Charlotte: By the way, there’s a wonderful story in HeadMagazine.com about Reefer Madness and the beginnings of why and of how it became to be. It’s a very surprising story. It’s in there.
David: Is this in the older Head Magazine, or is it something new?
Interviewer: No, it’s in the current Head Magazine.( https://headmagazine.com/reefer-madness-the-story-behind-an-anti-cannabis-classic/ )
David: Oh, brilliant. I will read that.
Charlotte: There were some thoughts about pharmaceuticals and cannabis in there about how this might help people who are on pharmaceuticals. What are your thoughts about that?
David: Again, in the same spirit of not judging and attacking those who are uncomfortable with cannabis, I tried to discuss pharmaceuticals in terms of either simple facts like statistics or from people’s point of views that are telling their own stories and their own experiences with pharmaceuticals. Obviously, pharmaceutical drugs are very, very, very useful for many people for many things, but it is pretty obvious that they’re often being overprescribed.
When I have a veteran of the US Marines who was in Afghanistan saying, “They put me on all these drugs, and they made me want to kill myself. I felt just terrible all the time, and this is what’s happening to many of my friends”, this this guy says, “and cannabis completely changed my life and made me want to live”, then that’s something that we need to be aware of and looking into. Because if someone’s parent is suffering from severe pain but this parent is in their 70s and they have very deeply rooted preconceived notions about cannabis, you want to be able to tell your parent listen, you should look into this. Like I said, I really believe that it takes minutes to have your mind changed about cannabis if you watch the right things, if you read the right things.
Charlotte: Just like all drugs, it’s probably not the same for everyone. Some things work better, but it’s just that this is another possible thing that could help a lot of conditions. Some people might need pharmaceuticals, but this was another possibility of something that if it’s more widely known could help a lot more people.
David: Right. Dr. Dedi Meiri actually says in my movie, he says cannabis is not going to cure everything for everyone. It’s going to be another tool in the physician’s toolbox to treat their patients. Dr. Lumír Hanuš, who discovered anandamide among other things, he said this should not be thought of as a panacea, but that the same strain will affect different people with the same condition differently because different people have different amounts of receptors and endocannabinoids.
Often, when people say it doesn’t work for me, then one must think about what is that it that’s not working for them? Can they keep looking? Can they keep looking for a different strain? That’s why doctors need to be aware of this, and they need to have some knowledge of it because otherwise, people have nowhere to go for information. Not to be ageist, but you’re not going to be 70 years old and not used to looking through the internet for stuff, and you’re not going to start going and researching possible cannabis strains that are going to help your pain. You should, but most won’t. I don’t see my parents doing that.
Charlotte: I think that the film explains a lot of these things in great detail and very clearly in a way that makes it very interesting. I found the film very illuminating, many things that I didn’t know myself. I think the film should be viewed by everyone that can possibly get their hands on it. How can people see the film?
David: Right now, it’s on Amazon Prime Video, and it’s on iTunes/Apple TV. You can get it on Google Play and YouTube. It’s also on a bunch of cable VOD, video on demand places.( https://www.amazon.com/CBD-Nation-David-Jakubovic/dp/B089LYN46N )
Charlotte: They look for the film called CBD Nation?
David: Yes. Right now, it’s only US and Canada.Hopefully, it will be distributed internationally at some point.It will. Yes, it’s coming. We just don’t have a date yet and our distributors work at whatever method they use.
Notes and Links:
Dedi Meiri TED Talk : https://www.ted.com/talks/dedi_meiri_behind_the_smokescreen_of_medical_cannabis
Charlotte Figi Story: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_Figi
Link to Order CBD Nation : https://www.amazon.com/CBD-Nation-David-Jakubovic/dp/B089LYN46N
Reefer Madness: The Real Story Behind the Anti-Cannabis Classic https://headmagazine.com/reefer-madness-the-story-behind-an-anti-cannabis-classic