Celebrating Women's History in the Making : Conversation 7

This month we completed our CBD Certified class, lead by Anna Symonds, CBD Educator and member of the East Fork Cultivars team. We then had a the pleasure of sitting down with Anna to learn more about her and what drew her to CBD.


WLM:  Tell us about what got you started with CBD?

AS:  I was initially attracted to CBD when I heard about it in 2014 from a friend who was dealing with a bone marrow transplant. He was always on the cutting edge of cannabis products. He brought up CBD to me and told me that he thought as an athlete it would be very helpful to me. I play rugby, which is very physical, and so I am always dealing with lots of different pains. I was fascinated by CBD’s promise and got more and more into it the more research I did. As I played around with CBD, and saw benefits with recovery and healing as well as other benefits, I became a believer. I was lucky enough to be able to merge this into my professional life and become a CBD educator. 

WLM:  Did you use CBD before getting into the industry?

AS:  A little bit, but everything kind of started all at once for me. Until the fall of 2015, the dispensaries in Oregon were all medical-only, and I didn’t have my medical card until around that time anyway. So while I’d used CBD-rich cannabis from medical-grow sources, I didn’t have broad access to finished products until it went adult use - which was right around the time I got into the industry. 

WLM:  How has CBD helped your day-to-day life?

AS:  CBD has not only offered me help with pain, inflammation, and regular sports aches but also has helped me with some chronic issues. I have herniated and bulging discs in my back, and CBD has helped with that. I’ve found that it’s also helped with an autoimmune issue I have, and that it provides me with a general enhancement of mood and wellbeing. It helps me be upbeat, calmer, and less reactive to the stressors around me. It supports me being my best self.

WLM:  What’s your CBD regimen?


AS:  It’s not very strict in that it’s not always the same. Dosage and consumption type varies a lot - particularly as I have the opportunity to try many different products. It also changes based on what my needs are on a given day. But my general daily use often includes having a good amount before bed so that I wake up feeling rejuvenated. I do smoke flower or vape products from my trusted companies. This works well for a spot fix when I feel very stressed or tired and when I want something immediate. I like capsules for ease of use particularly when traveling. I love quality CBD edibles that fit in my diet plan - vegan and gluten-free - and a favorite is quality chocolate.  Our CBD Drops also work really well with beverages, and I like to drop it in my coffee or tea. But I also put it straight under my tongue sometimes, as I think it tastes great. My plan varies based on the day, and I adjust based on what’s happening that day and how I’m feeling.

Anna on the East Fork farm. Follow Anna @exitdrug

Anna on the East Fork farm. Follow Anna @exitdrug

WLM:  Why did you decide to become a CBD educator and what is the best advice you were given?

AS:  My particular role is a bit of an outlier job - there are not a ton of people doing education that is purely science-based. I was fortunate that chance and luck came together with my personal interests. As I got experience in the industry and learned the landscape, East Fork was at the top of the list of companies I admired, for environmental and social values that are truly lived. There is no compromise on the principles that matter. It was my dream company. So when East Fork asked me to take on the role of educator I felt very lucky. To work in cannabis right now, I think you have to have a high tolerance for risk, as this industry is very volatile and nothing is guaranteed. So much is unknown and the laws, rules, and industry are constantly changing. I had experience working in startups, so I was okay with the uncertainties. I believe we’re really making a difference in people’s lives and that keeps me going.

As far as advice, Dr. Uma Dhanablan once gave me great advice about posture when posing for a photo - she said, “Tits out!” Which is hilarious but great advice, because what she was saying is to use posture - stand up straight with your shoulders back and down, and your chest open. This is healthy posture that also embodies confidence and flattering to body shape, regardless of gender. But many women - including me - can be habituated to slump our shoulders forward, physically minimizing ourselves. So you can also understand, “Tits out!” metaphorically, as hiding yourself or holding back, especially with factors related to your gender. Great advice!

Anna with members of the dream-team at East Fork Cultivars  @exitdrug

Anna with members of the dream-team at East Fork Cultivars


WLM:  How do you navigate growing the education platform without support from the medical industry?

AS:  It’s a work in progress. The medical side is coming along and we’ve seen a lot of growth in their interest and open-mindedness. In the past, there wasn’t much willingness to talk about cannabis, where now doctors are now at least referring patients to dispensaries when they don’t want to discuss it or don’t know. Also I now see doctors attending conferences and learning more about what it has to offer. And although they are still cautious they are taking an interest and realizing that cannabis is a medicine. They are also accepting that people are using it one way or another so they have an obligation to understand it. I view it more as an opportunity than a challenge. Medical people will need to learn. Then there is a social movement that goes along with the new knowledge from science. I believe that our industry can work together with the medical profession to help people live better lives.

WLM:  What's your recommendation for using CBD for the first time? What advice would you give new users on how to dose and what to expect?"

AS:  The big overarching principle is to listen to your body.  You are the expert when it comes to your body and what you need. If something doesn’t feel good, back off.  If it does feel good, keep going. The best practice is to “start low and then go slow”. Increase the dosage until you get where you want to be - and if you get effects that you don’t like, dial it back a little. This is a self-titration process that is also used with many pharmaceuticals. For example, with anti-depressants that is how doctors hone in on the right dose and product - by trying different ones and different doses until you find the combination that gives the desired effects. The big difference is that CBD is non-toxic, so it’s a very gentle and low-risk substance to try out.

WLM:  Where do you see the future of the industry in the short-term and long-term?

AS:  The medical side of the industry will go more into the pharmaceutical path. But the craft part and natural remedies will continue to be there. The details are to be seen but I believe there will be two distinct paths.  In the short-term, I think things will stay jumbled for a while. It’s the wild wild west out there. CBD will be put in all sorts of different products and sourced from all sorts of crazy places. Berkley scientists have figured out how to modify yeast to create cannabinoids - yuck. As a consumer, I don’t like that source - but pharmaceutical companies might like it, as it eliminates plants and all the associated variables, and it can be done in a lab. In the meantime we will continue to have random crackdowns and pushback from changing laws and regulations. Hopefully we will soon get FDA guidance on how companies can offer products in a way that explicitly complies with their regulations. I hope we strike a good balance. I believe in consumer product protections, and it’s a good thing to require tests for quality, purity, and lack of toxins. We especially want to regulate sources like foreign industrial hemp to meet high safety standards if they’re coming into our marketplaces. But we also need regulations that are not designed such that only big mega-corporations can compete.

WLM:  This is Woman's Month and the theme is the better the balance, the better the world. #balanceforbetter. What tips would you give fellow women to help them achieve more prominent roles in the industry?

AS:  It’s interesting because as women we face challenges in industry in general. Cannabis is not different. Discrimination, harassment, and so on exist. In the underground cannabis world there are lots of abuses. Professionalizing and bringing the light of day to the industry can help with that. On the flip side, as big business moves into cannabis we’re seeing executives from other industries where there is a “bro” culture, like banking and pharma, entering our world and some of that culture comes with them. As women, we need to stick together, find our allies, grow together, and give each opportunities. At East Fork, we have a very positive, nurturing, and caring environment and some of the most caring men I know are part of our team. We have created a culture that is intentionally very empowering. As women, we have to empower ourselves to some extent, too - mentally and emotionally. Realize that you belong at the table. You are bringing important skills, perspective, and value. Ask for what you are worth - even if you get rebuffed. Don’t give up. Be bold. This industry is wide open now, but it won’t always be that way. Now is the time to go after your opportunities.

WLM:  Have you experienced any barriers as a female in your professional life? If it has affected you, how did you overcome them?

AS:  Yes, definitely. When I was younger, I worked for many years at an environmental engineering firm in administration and marketing. I felt resentful that I was shunted into this admin career track because I was a woman. When I started, the economy wasn’t great, so there weren’t many opportunities in the job market.  But I saw men, who didn’t have any more skills or experience than me, get chances that I didn’t and be given the benefit of the doubt that they could grow into a role. It was infuriating to see that the same opportunities are not always extended to women who are equally qualified and capable. But I found my allies in the local office of my company where the people were great - it was at the corporate level where there was resistance.  For example, the company had a tuition reimbursement program, and I applied for it because I wanted to do my Master’s in communication. But they rejected it, because they said that those skills “didn’t align with company needs” even though I was doing marketing work and was willing to relocate to a location with a bigger marketing department. So I ended up doing an MA program with classes mostly in the evenings, while still working full time at the company, and paying for my degree myself with loans. But my local manager gave me the flexibility to leave early for class as needed, and work on papers when things were slow. So finding allies that support you is key, and not giving up on what you want to accomplish even though you might face unfair double standards.

Elvy Musikka one of Anna’s role models.

Elvy Musikka one of Anna’s role models.

WLM:  Who are your female role models?

AS:  A lot. So many. Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Elvy Musikka. Elvy is one of last remaining patients from the 70s that won the right to get cannabis for compassionate care from the federal government. She won’t stop participating in the program, even with their crappy cannabis, and makes the federal government keep it going. She is fiery and bright and has done so much for what I see as a human right to use the medicine and for patients’ rights. Women who lead resistance movements at great personal risk to themselves inspire me to no end. Awe-inspiring titans of humanity like Harriet Tubman. Someone who put her life, safety, and freedom on the line again and again to care for and save other people. Women fighting for others and protecting others inspire me the most. Warriors.

WLM:  What keeps you up at night? What concerns do you have for the future?

AS:  Climate change keeps me up.  It is an acutely painful situation. We are in really bad shape and we are in denial. We are not taking the steps, the drastic steps, to keep our planet habitable for human beings and other forms of life. It’s not hopeless but it’s dire. We’ve passed the point where we can avoid any changes or problems. But technical innovation along with a huge push for change, social change, gives us hope for the future.  Cannabis and hemp can play a big role. It draws carbon from the atmosphere, and hemp can be used for building materials and biofuels. I’m excited about what the industry can do. Everyone in the industry has a responsibility to be environmentally sustainable. Not only being net zero but actively regenerative. Using methods that actually improve the air and the soil.  This is all possible.

WLM:  Anna, thank you for everything you are doing for our industry. Your leadership is so important and inspirational. Before you go, would you strike the #balanceforbetter pose?