Sitting in a little cafe in Syilx territory in downtown Vernon B.C., Jayna Pooley clinks her spoon against her cup as she gingerly stirs her coffee. The sun is out and she’s preparing for a meeting later that day to talk about Cannabis with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
Pooley has been sharing her story, one of personal perseverance, as a way to inspire others to explore the healing properties of cannabis, a medicine she credits for helping her walk again.
Pooley introduces herself by her nations.
“My Dad used to call us, NavajoOpiOkaShwap,” she says. She’s Navajo, Hopi, Okanagan, and Shuswap and she now lives and works in her community in Inkumupulux (Head of Okanagan Lake) on the Okanagan Indian Band, where she owns a cannabis dispensary.
Pooley lost her ability to walk at 32 years-old, after years of working in the forestry and fisheries industries. Her journey to recovery brought her to cannabis, and years later, she’s now the proud owner of Top Hat Cannabis in OKIB.
She just celebrated two years of being open for business.
“I sell medical grade, tested edibles, tinctures, topical salves combined with THC and CBC (Cannabichromene) and our traditional medicines: in teas, and oils,” says Pooley.
Pooley grew up on her lands of the Navajo Nation until she was in her late teens, when she returned home to the northern side of the medicine line, on Secwepemc and Syilx territories. After she graduated high school in Tk’emlúps (Kamloops), she completed a diploma for Natural Resources from Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, and soon after started working in her field.
“I worked alongside all the guys on big ships and boats, and I got to see our whole territory by boat,” Pooley says. “I’m truly really grateful. It was an awesome career. I stayed in the area for about five to six years.”
But as much as she loved it, the physical labour was hard on her body.
“Working on steep hillsides, working on ice, and there were days I was covered in ice in the middle of winter, while I was doing work with fisheries,” she remembers. “We would sometimes have to break ice to get down the river, so I would spend a lot of time in the cold waters right up to my torso.”
Pooley also spent much of her time playing sports and physical activity was a major part of her life, she says. She was about to move to Calgary to take on a new role as a Service Technician when her life changed dramatically.
“I had all my stuff packed, my truck was packed, my family’s freezers were full of fish, the community was full of fish, I was ready to go,” Pooley says.
“I went to jump out of bed and couldn’t walk, I fell to the ground in excruciating pain.”
Her family called the ambulance and Pooley says she spent months in and out of the hospital. She was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and started on a variety of different medications, she says.
“It came to a point where I finally found a comfort zone, but it was with really heavy medications, which I knew would affect my liver and kidney over ten years.”
According to the Arthritis Society, psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is “a type of inflammatory arthritis that usually appears in people with a skin disease called psoriasis” and that “there is no cure for PsA, but when you are diagnosed early and start the right treatment, you can take control of your disease and avoid severe damage to your joints.”
“I had to really make a choice as to what I was going to do, to either continue with these medications, or find some sort of alternative, so the search was on,” says Pooley.
Pooley began to ask around about some alternatives to heavy medications, when she was introduced to a salve. The salve had a specific smell to it that reminded her of her childhood.
“My Tupa used to grow, and she would use the hemp and make a salve for us,” she remembers.
With her grandmother in mind, Pooley was determined to create her own salve. She went to the women in her family and together they found the right recipe, alongside medicine keepers in the territory who shared their secrets with her.
Pooley says her community, in both the mental health support from the OKIB and the medicine keepers who were willing to share their knowledge of the medicinal properties of cannabis, were a support to her in regaining her ability to walk.
“I took a combination of CBD, THC, some western medicines, and traditional medicine,” says Pooley.
“Over the course of over two-and-a-half years, I relearned to walk,” Pooley says. “The disease put me in a wheelchair and walking canes, so after I learned how to rewalk again, it was just trying to regain my focus and my own self-worth as a human being.”
Once her pain was manageable she was then able to focus on the mental aspect of healing and healing her body from the medications.
“I never wanted to be deemed as an addict and that’s exactly what those heavy pharmaceutical medicines made me. I was addicted to them,” she says. “I had to go through some intense cleansing to get that out of my system. It’s a scary thing to start the process but what I can assure you is with this medicine you won’t have those kinds of effects.”
Once her body was cleansed and she was able to focus on her mental health, she reached out to the OKIB Health team for support.
“The mental proportion of it was just trying to understand why. I felt like I wanted to blame something or someone somehow. There wasn’t really anything to blame, it was just how our bodies work sometimes,” she says.
Pooley worked with a counsellor and eventually came to understand the deep teachings associated with her painful experiences.
“I believe having that mental strength, the power behind it, keeps us so strong. We can literally tell ourselves that we’re sick and we will be sick. So we must believe that we have that strength in our spirit and that we have that drive,” she explains.
Cannabis oil helped her relax, regain mobility and strength, Pooley says.
“It’s just like anything, it’s a very personal medicine. At one point I needed a high amount of oil to function, but now I’m down to some drops everyday.”
Prior to her diagnosis, Pooley never used the plant and says she deemed it a “drug.”
“I never took part in any drugs, or any alcohol at that time and marijuana was even still considered a drug to me,” she says.
Now Pooley is looking for a way to spread the word and educate others about the power of the plant. She hopes to begin hosting webinars and answering questions about her experience.
Pooley says she knows how challenging it can feel to move away from pharmaceuticals to plant medicines, but she wants her community to know she’s there to help.
“I was going through withdrawals and the cold truth is, it ruined my relationship with my partner. I would like it to be known that I understand what that can do, I understand the stigma you need to go through, I understand how embarrassing it can be, and if I can help, I would love to,” she says.
Kelsie Kilawna, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse