Van der Pop

VdP Voice | November 4, 2017

VdP VOICEKieryn Wang
Keira Fae Sumimoto (right) and Melodie Ling (left) at Van der Pop's SESSION in LA. Photo by Morgan English.

Keira Fae Sumimoto (right) and Melodie Ling (left) at Van der Pop's SESSION in LA. Photo by Morgan English.

POT + PREGNANCY

As cannabis becomes more widely discussed, previously taboo topics are getting the attention they deserve. And unsurprisingly, women are at the forefront of these conversations.

Meet Keira Fae Sumimoto, the young woman whose incredible cannabis journey has led her to research the effects of flower when it comes to pregnancy, and post-pregnancy for new mothers.

How would you describe yourself and what you’re doing in the cannabis space?

I like to try and say educator. There’s not really a word for it because it’s such a new topic to talk about openly. What I advocate is access to the alternative, which is what we’re denied, especially as women. There’s a lot of health issues related to women, and cannabis is a fantastic alternative.

Tell us about your journey with cannabis.

I moved to California two years ago from Tokyo. I had lived there for seven years, I was modeling for a couple of years, and I was an English teacher for a few years.

When I came here, I became extraordinarily sick. In Japan, I was healthy and I had no issues. I thought it was the food or the culture shock.

My lowest weight was about 85 pounds, and I’m 5’6”. I developed asthma, I kept getting pneumonia; I would just pick up any bug that was around. I was losing my hair and my nails.

I went to a doctor’s office, and they didn’t know what was wrong. There wasn’t something to diagnose me with. As doctors do, they just gave me medication – pills – and said, this will help with this, and this will help with this. This medication with help with this other medication because it’s very harsh. So at one point, I had around 10 medications, two inhalers and one emergency inhaler on me at all times.

Eventually I gave up, in a sense. The pills weren’t working, the inhalers – they were all temporary fixes. They didn’t solve the problem. I was doing that for about two months straight – taking the pills – and I had to use the inhalers daily. I did my last check up, and the doctor put an expiration date on me. He said you know, if you continue like this….

I was young, I was 25. I said ok, what can I do? He said, we’d like to admit you to the hospital. When someone tells you that, you feel like it’s a death sentence on you. You think, well they don’t know what to do. I’m just going to lay there until it’s over.

My husband gave me a 2:1 Cannatonic joint, saying that he read on LinkedIn that it would help with appetite, it helps people get better – he didn’t really know how it works. At the time, I was super against smoking because I had just given up cigarettes. So I didn’t want to smoke. I thought, why would smoking help? Little did I know…

I ended up smoking the whole joint myself, and I got really hungry for the first time in months. With the cannabis came good food, and with that came good health. I was eating and smoking, eating and smoking. My doctor was like, what are you doing? I said I was smoking weed. And he was really upset. He said, you shouldn’t be doing that – it’s illegal. I said, it’s helping me. Look at me – I gained five pounds in two weeks. It’s amazing.

He was super against it, so I decided not to see him anymore and just continue eating and smoking. Now I’m pregnant and healthy, with no issues anymore.

When I first got into the cannabis space and realized it was medicine and not so much a recreational drug, my husband had a friend who worked at Weed Maps. We went over there with little mini-gluten free doughnuts. I shared them with everyone, saying look what I made – they’re micro-dosed, so you can still function. They decided they wanted to do a cooking show with me, called Cooking with Keira.

I taught patients how to infuse oil, infuse butter, teaching them about decarboxylation, about terpenes, about cannabinoids. Really the science side of cannabis. That was really fun – I’ve never really done anything like that before.

Tell us about the work you’re doing now in relation to cannabis and pregnancy.

I’m openly saying I don’t know everything – but I want to. Before, I didn’t even think about it. If you can’t relate to something or something doesn’t relate to you personally, you can’t put yourself in that perspective.

I decided not to smoke cannabis while pregnant. The reason for that is, I’m conducting interviews with doctors, moms and doulas who’ve experienced pregnancy and cannabis, breastfeeding and post-partum. I’m trying to get all of that anecdotal evidence as well.

I also want to interview the opposing side – I think their side is also on a need-to-know basis. Why are you against it? Let’s talk about this.

I feel that if I were to smoke, I would be on a side. I wanted to remain neutral.

In terms of talking to the opposing side, what are the reasons against cannabis use while pregnant, or post-pregnancy for new mothers?

This is the point – there isn’t a good reason for their opposition that I’ve been able to discover so far. I say they because I’m generalizing. A lot of people I speak to aren't comfortable being interviewed; that is really putting yourself out there, so I understand why they'd be nervous to do that.

When I talk to these people, it’s like, please explain why you don’t think a breastfeeding mother and child wouldn’t benefit by stimulating the endocannabinoid system, if the mother had an endocannabinoid system deficiency, for example. Why don’t you think that would be an advantage? Typically, they don’t know what I’m talking about. When I use scientific terms, they ask what an endocannabinoid system is. I explain what it is, and they say, well I didn't know that. Now you do – so research that and let's get back in touch after you've read all that information, and let's talk.

Do people reach out to you with questions?

It happens on a daily basis. I get DMs, private messages constantly – it’s people asking me questions. I think the most recent ones that I’ve gotten that I’m still trying to figure out are, “Does the placenta regulate cannabinoid absorption?” So, does the foetus get the same amount of THC, for example, as the mother? Or, is it somehow partitioned or regulated in a way? And apparently, studies have shown that the placenta does regulate THC absorption. It’s fascinating. This is the only “drug” that apparently does this. Take Zofran, for example – the foetus would also absorb that synthetic drug. But the THC is regulated somehow. And I don’t know why.

How many people are actively studying this?

Quite a few; most of them are private studies – they’re not public. Mainly what’s being focused on now is collecting data.

What was your relationship to cannabis before you got sick?

In college, all of my friends smoked. I was the only one that did not. Which was interesting. I wasn’t against it, I just wasn’t in the mood. I smoked cigarettes at the time. But I never showed an interest in cannabis. Once it affects you in a way, especially medically, you develop this passion for it. After it cured me – or healed me – I completely immersed myself in the industry and learning everything I can about the plant.

If you’re in L.A. on November 30th, Keira will be speaking at the Women’s Health Summit. Click here for details.

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