Calling herself “the least active activist there is,” singer-songwriter-guitarist Melissa Etheridge continues finding herself at the forefront of social, political and ecological movements that run the spectrum of gay rights to saving the environment.
Believe me, I only wanted to be a rock star. I just wanted to be rich and famous, I didn’t want to do any of this, but it has become the path.
“Believe me, I only wanted to be a rock star. I just wanted to be rich and famous, I didn’t want to do any of this,” Etheridge says with a laugh, “but it has become the path.”
She continues, “I see myself as just somebody who is living life and making choices and speaking truthfully about them. And because I am on a public stage I answer truthfully about it and it gets magnified out there so it looks like I am quite an activist but I tell people I am the least active activist there is. I just speak truthfully about it and say, look, this is my truth.”
Since rocketing to stardom as a result of her 1993 hit album Yes I Am which produced hit songs “Come to my Window,” “I’m the Only One” and “If I Wanted To,” Etheridge has had 20+ years to become familiar with a rocker’s mantra of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
However, the 54-year-old eschewed the usual rock star perils to find her high in music. So there’s a note of irony that the raspy-voiced singer would now be speaking up for cannabis – making it her latest cause of choice.
But really, it should come as no surprise that once again the anti-activist is on a mission with a personal story to tell — one that begins with a diagnosis of breast cancer in October 2004.
Etheridge turned to cannabis to combat the side effects of chemotherapy with “no hesitation whatsoever,” she explains of her treatment for breast cancer. “It was so clear to me. I wasn’t a regular cannabis user. I definitely enjoyed it. It was probably my choice of relaxation over drinking, but I wasn’t a consistent user.
“Then when I was diagnosed and knew the treatment I was going to go through, my friends, especially David Crosby, said, ‘Melissa, anybody who has gone through this they say cannabis, just do it now.’ The doctor offered me five different kinds of pills for the side effects of the chemo and they would tell me about the side effects that the pills would have, and I was like are you kidding me? I said, ‘No, I will just take this one natural herb that will take care of everything.’”
To combat pain and to stimulate her appetite, Etheridge first started medicating with cannabis by smoking it. “Then in the deepest depths of chemo, it got to the point where that was too harsh for me and I vaped it for a while. At the very end of the chemo, I would just have to ingest it. We would make a cannabutter and I would just put the butter on potatoes and eat that.”
One of the main reasons Etheridge turned to cannabis was for anxiety relief. “There’s so much anxiety and panic in this treatment and it would take that down to where you could kind of start thinking on a different level. It’s hard to explain. It just helps you handle everything differently, it gets you in a calm space.”
It has been over 10 years since Etheridge had her bout with breast cancer but she continues to use cannabis. “It’s my relaxant of choice. At the end of it day, it helps me sleep. It still takes away my anxiety. I have a full career and four children and there’s a little bit of anxiety that comes with that,” she says with a small laugh. “It helps with that. I use different products. I use a rub for muscles. It’s just a big part of my life.”
Such a big part of Etheridge’s life that she was keynote speaker at the 2nd Annual Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo (CWCBExpo) in mid-September, is part owner in a dispensary, and has created her own line of cannabis-infused wine called Know Label.
“I was so moved and changed by my health experience and by cannabis that I actively went out and searched for what I could do,” the singer says of her ownership in a dispensary. “I am very vocal about this and I believe very greatly in it. I believe it’s the next frontier.”
In the attempts to legitimize cannabis, Etheridge sees shades of past social causes she has fought to change.
“I feel it is so similar to the LGBT marriage equality fight because there are so many cannabis users who are in the closet, who are afraid to say they are cannabis users because they will be stereotyped. There’s a stereotype that, ‘Oh you are stoner, you are a pothead,’ and people think you can’t do your job as well or whatever they bring to that thought. I tell people it’s about coming out of the closet, tell people about it, be proud of it, there’s pride in it, you are taking care of yourself, talk about it in your family, talk about it everywhere. Each of us needs to show that they are a cannabis user and their life is fine. That’s the way change comes is to get rid of fear.”
True to her word, Etheridge practices what she preaches. She is very open with her children about her cannabis use. “The way we talk about it in this house, is this is medicine. My little daughter, I remember her asking a couple of years ago, ‘Do you smoke?’ I said, ‘I do not smoke cigarettes. Cigarettes are very different than the medicine that momma smokes.’ And we always refer to it as medicine.”
But educating people about cannabis’ medicinal value, Etheridge acknowledges, is going to have its share of challenges. “As my friend Steven Spielberg always said, ‘That in any movement there are the people who laid down on the barbwire so everything else can go over them.’ That’s kind of what we are. We are the front lines, we are the ones who are pushing this and taking the risks. And we will reap the rewards and we will win. That’s where we are going. That’s society, it’s a freedom, it’s an understanding, it’s a way of life that we had over 100 years ago and we will return to. But it’s not like going back, it’s moving forward with an understanding of this and how good it is for us.”
Etheridge is not only passionate about a person’s right to use cannabis but in her belief of the plant’s natural remedies. “Cannabis is the head bird in the v, it’s the tip of the spear. In the new way, in the new age, in the new paradigm of health, we are finally beginning to understand that we are responsible for our own personal health. That starts with my body and the food I put into it and its maintenance.
“Our circulation, our nervous system, our lymph system, all of the different systems in our body, our gastrointestinal system, they all work together and we give it all the best food and we use plant medicines for calming and lowering stress. You can do all these great things but if you are stressed, forget it you are just going to get sick. Stress is a big thing we just don’t look at in our American problem-solving consciousness life and so cannabis has been a big part of slowing me down to look at that.
“Our diseases are a result of what is going on inside us and cannabis helps us find and maintain that balance. Cannabis is helping us find that understanding that that’s how it works.”
In fact Etheridge’s biggest health revelation has to do with her cancer treatment in 2004. “If I knew what I know now, I wouldn’t have done chemo or radiation. I might not have even done the surgery the way that I understand my body and cancer now.
“I have a deep belief and call me crazy, call me names, whatever you wanna say, I believe very deeply that cancer is a symptom of a body out of balance and you can put that body back in balance and cancer is made to go away. A tumor is when our bodies realize that our cells have gone rogue, they have been in so much acid that they go bad and then our body covers them in a tumor so that we can see it and it says, ‘Hey, you better take care of this.’ If we get our bodies back into balance that tumor will go away and those cells will return. I have a deep belief in that. I have seen it. It takes a great discipline and a belief. But I think if there is someone who believes that says, ‘Yes, I can do this than they absolutely can do it.’
But shifting paradigms, whether health-related or otherwise, is nothing new to Etheridge, the accidental activist.
“I am a gay person, I am married to a woman, and I have four children and we are living our life. I am a cannabis user, as my wife is, and this household is open to that, that’s our medicine, that’s our choice of relaxation in the evening. That’s our way of life. I love this country and that I have the freedom to do that.”