From 9/11 First Responder to Cancer Survivor and Cannabis Entrepreneur: How One Man’s Cannabis Journey Is Impacting the Medicinal Field

November 4, 2019

The cannabis industry is brimming with people that have personal stories about how cannabis helped them or a loved one overcome a severe illness, debilitating condition, or simply improve quality of life. Some of those people turn that experience into a passion for cannabis careers, advocacy, and education. Aryn Sieber, the founder and CEO of CBD Essentials and Cannaisseur Brands as well as the founder of CannaCauses Foundation, is one such person in the cannabis industry. Sieber has taken his personal experience and turned into a mission of educating and sharing his products with the public to help the medical community discover the health benefits of cannabis. We recently spoke to Sieber about his experiences as a 9/11 first responder, his battle with stage IV cancer, and how cannabis impacted his life.

How did being a 9/11 first responder influence your work with cannabis?

Aryn Sieber: I was diagnosed with stage IV cancer a month after acquiring health insurance for all of my staff in a previous business. And at the time, I couldn’t quite afford it for myself. Luckily, I shared my diagnosis with a close friend who knew that I had been a first responder at ground zero on 9/11 and had heard that first responders to that event were receiving help from a program dedicated to victims who were getting sick. Unannounced to me, she put out a request to her friends on Facebook, and within a day or two, an MIT colleague of hers responded with a link to the Victims Compensation Fund (VCF).

My first response was gratitude. But then I thought, “I wasn’t an ‘official’ responder, I was a civilian responder. Would I even qualify to receive the support?” Nonetheless, my friend insisted that I look into it. What I discovered was that I was practically a prototype for the program, with all of the medical conditions I had been experiencing for the past 13 years—chronic coughing, sinus infections, bronchitis, and shortness of breath. My illness pattern was identical to the conditions described on the website. However, when I read the application process, I was extremely overwhelmed by the volume of documentation I needed to provide in a short period of time—proof that I was actually at ground zero and 13 years of medical records that I had to obtain and sift through (appointments and x-rays from three different medical systems, down time from work, and so forth)—just to be considered.

My sister then reminded me of “how to eat an elephant,” so to speak, and we began piecing together my application. In hopes of saving time for the review process, we created a three-ring binder—indexed and tabbed by list of requirements. I literally got a response that was dated 9/11 that the package was received and in review.  I had a hearing by phone with a New York judge and an opposing attorney and was eventually told I was approved for the program (again in September), and that my case would be reviewed for settlement.

I received a small settlement nearly three years after applying. It included future coverage for medical treatments if needed, related to the original cancer. I’ve used most of those proceeds to help fund the CannaCauses Foundation (1) and to launch CBD Essentials by Cannaisseur Brands, a therapeutic line of CBD-infused topicals (2).

What type of relief did cannabis offer when you were battling stage IV tonsillar, tongue, jaw and neck cancer? How did that experience influence the next phase of your career in the cannabis industry?

Sieber: I was making cannabis (CBD:THC) oil extracts mixed with tablespoons of honey to soothe and coat my throat from the side-effects of the radiation and was ingesting edibles for nausea, pain, and anxiety (before I temporarily lost the ability to swallow).

When I started treatments, my sister came to visit. At the time, she was against anything related to cannabis for many reasons. One day, I was making a batch of cannabis oil and she said, “Why does the house smell like marijuana?” I told her I was making canna-butter extract to make edibles and explained how the edibles helped me with pain, sleep, anxiety, and nausea. She grimaced and said, “You know coconut oil is really good for your skin.” She didn’t realize how beneficial the plant was to me as I was struggling with my battle with cancer, just as many people today do not realize the relief that cannabis treatment can bring to those with health issues. It was at that time that I began lathering the canna-butter on every day before and after every radiation treatment.

I still get extreme spasms in the left side of my head and neck, from time to time, but my doctors say my neck muscles and skin look much better than most people who have undergone 33 radiation treatments to the head and neck, and I believe this is largely due to my medicinal cannabis use at that time.

As a result of that experience, I took my canna-butter formula to a bio-research firm in Los Angeles and used it as the base for CBD Essentials topical formulations, including our Pain Relief Cream and Body Massage Oil. In 2018, the brand’s Pain Relief Cream was awarded “Best Product” by Les Nouvelles Esthetique. And this year, CBD Essentials’ CBD Salt Soak Concentrate won the award.

You work with 300+ multiple sclerosis (MS) patients—what success stories have come out of using cannabis to relieve symptoms over, or in conjunction with, traditional treatments?

Sieber: Wow, where do I start? I’ve worked with nearly two thousand patients to date, suffering from nearly every type of condition or illness. For the past three-and-a-half years, I’ve been collecting real-world data on every patient, starting by an intake form on day one. That information is checked and verified by staffers and then referred to me for a personal consultation and product recommendations. That process is followed with ongoing product guidance, education, and support, as needed. We then conduct periodic progress surveys, and compile and compare the results.

Our studies are the result of the confidential data collected, and those results are shared for review with the research doctors we work with. The results and the testimonials from the patients we work with are consistently impressive. Based on our process and the feedback of patients, doctors have been interested in continuing to develop this cannabis treatment program with us.

Our data implies that various ratios of CBD:THC can help spasticity, neuropathy, pain, anxiety, sleep disorders, and reduce the use of medications like Baclofen, Gabapentin, opiates, benzodiazepines, and Ambien in MS patients. In some cases, patients have not only reduced but eliminated medications altogether. In every case for those we’ve worked with, the patient reduces their medication intake with their doctor’s knowledge.

(Disclaimer: These statements are based on real-world experiences but have not been reviewed by the FDA, and we are in no way claiming to treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.)

What is your role with the CannaCauses Foundation? Can you tell us more about the foundations efforts to support research and education?

Sieber: I’m the founder of the CannaCauses Foundation. Our founding mission is to educate others on the responsible use of cannabis and its medicinal benefits. And to pay it forward by supporting like-minded nonprofits who seek to help others in need.

The primary functions of the foundation are to provide cannabis therapy consultations, advocate for the responsible use of cannabis and its medicinal benefits, support research whenever possible, and last but certainly not least, to educate.

I believe “our why, our work, and our ethics” are the reasons so many board-certified medical doctors entrust their patients to work with us. As a result of our required intake process, our data, and our results, the Medical Director of the Juan Carlos MS Institute at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Dr. Ben Thrower, has become instrumental in helping us to prepare and share our work with the MS community at large. We are hopeful that we will soon have the opportunity to share our work on the national MS stage.

Can you tell us about your work educating people on the “ABCs of CBD:THC”? What is the biggest misconception that you have to address when teaching?

Sieber: I am blessed beyond belief for surviving inoperable stage IV cancer. I also have more than 40 years of experience with this amazing plant, which includes six awards in the past five years; four for growing it and two for my therapeutic topical formulations. I am both grateful and humbled to be able share these gifts and encourage hope in others.  I am also writing a book that I hope to publish soon on the subject.

The biggest challenge by far is the misinformation and the hype that so many have used to stigmatize the true benefits of the plant or, on the other end of the spectrum, to attract public attention, sales, and demand in a way that I don’t believe is helpful.

What is the next big goal or challenge you want to tackle with cannabis?

Sieber: My biggest goal and challenge is to help grow the business. We are always looking for partners who appreciate growth and support fact-based education and wellness.