Chelsea Leyland is a cannabis and epilepsy activist, DJ, and the co-founder of Looni, a new venture focused on womxns health launching this spring. For our Founder Feature series, Chelsea tells us more about the early influences that prepared her for activism, the challenges of promoting cannabis for wellness, and what's in store for Looni in 2022.
Can you talk a little bit about your early life and influences? We see that you went to a very forward-thinking boarding school that has been co-ed since 1898, ahead of its time in that regard. How did that influence you as a thinker and do you think that had an impact on you as an activist?
I was brought up by two bohemian parents who always embraced eccentricity, they worked hard to establish an open and honest environment, always allowing me to be myself and encouraging me to be a shepherd rather than a sheep. My mother was a garden designer, florist, medium and animal healer, and lover of the natural world. My father ran the playboy club in London in the mid ‘70s and then went on to become a restaurateur. The forward-thinking school I attended was really just a continuation of the way I was brought up with an ethos rooted in its willingness to buck convention. The education I had definitely influenced my thinking and approach to life, it was a very creative school rooted in independence and individualism -- encouraging its students to establish their own unique perspectives, debate when necessary, initiate petitions when you wanted to see change, and even protest and march if needed...culminating in the perfect environment to breed passionate activists.
You are a crusader for epilepsy awareness and promote medical cannabis and CBD therapy. Can you talk about how you became involved and your personal experiences with epilepsy?
Medical cannabis allowed me to wean off of all my pharmaceutical drugs and I'm now going on 5 years seizure free; so to say this medicine has changed my life would almost feel like an understatement. However, it's important to note that cannabis isn't a one size fits all, or panacea, it might work one way for someone with epilepsy and differently for another – as all drugs do. I have an incredibly sensitive system and suffered with horrific side effects from the anti-seizure medicine I took for over ten years and cannabis not only treats my seizures but has also helped my sleep and anxiety which in turn helps my condition.
Much of my advocacy work is rooted in the de-stigmatization of epilepsy and fighting for fair and safe patient access to medical cannabis. My older sister Tamsin, who sadly lives in full time care in the UK, suffers from a more severe form of epilepsy, which is known as intractable epilepsy aka drug resistant epilepsy; experiencing seizures daily. Due to the restrictive regulations in the UK she still hasn't had the opportunity to try CBD or any other cannabis-based treatments, my family and I are fighting for access not because we believe that this will reverse the brain damage she has unfortunately endured, but because we believe she deserves the chance to try it, in case it does improve the quality of her life in some form.
You made a documentary film called Sisters Interrupted about your efforts to advocate for the wider acceptance of medical cannabis and its status in both the US and the UK. What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced promoting these therapies?
There have obviously been challenges along the way with how outspoken I've been about my use and approach to this medicine, which has ultimately impacted some of my work, but in my mind these are small sacrifices that it takes to break down stigma and generate a new rhetoric around this plant.
Your newest project promotes awareness of endometriosis and talks about “illuminating the menstrual cycle.” Tell us more about what that means.
Based on my own struggles with endometriosis and menstrual cycle, I have co-founded Looni with Tatiana Steel, a new womxns health company launching early in 2022. While Looni was born from my experiences with endometriosis–a condition that 1 in 9 womxn are estimated to suffer from – we are looking to help all people with menstrual cycles. My co-founder has also experienced years of discomfort with her cycle and although she hasnt been diagnosed with a chronic condition, like me, she spent years of her youth lying on her bathroom floor in pain.
The menstrual cycle is a valuable guide to our overall health and wellbeing. By illuminating the menstrual cycle, we want to provide people with the tools and knowledge to become intimate with their own rhythms and live more in sync with their bodies. At Looni, we’re illuminating the menstrual cycle with innovative, medically-formulated products and a holistic approach to your care. We believe in menstrual literacy and autonomy.
What does the name “Looni” refer to?
It was an endearing term used in my family growing up and when we took a deeper look into the origin of the word lunatic, we found that it actually meant moon struck, which given the perception of the connection between the moon and the menstrual cycle we felt it very apt; particularly given we have been working hard to develop an innovative product that tackles mood stabilization.
Have you found medical cannabis to be as helpful with your endometriosis as it was with your epileptic seizures?
Cannabinoids have been a fantastic tool in helping me to manage my menstrual cycle – but there are many other botanically derived ingredients, vitamins, minerals, and lifestyle changes that I've also needed to incorporate; whereas I'd say that the shift in my epilepsy health was more of a dramatic change due to my use of solely cannabis.
In your posts, you talk about the “infradian” rhythm. Can you explain what that means and how it ties into Looni?
The circadian rhythm is the rhythm people are more familiar with – your body’s internal clock of roughly 24 hours. If you’re someone with female internal reproductive organs, you likely have a second internal clock, a monthly infradian rhythm aka the menstrual cycle.
The infradian rhythm influences six different systems of the body: metabolism, microbiome, immune system, brain, the stress response system, and the reproductive system.
So, by living in ways that support your infradian rhythm, you can help improve all sorts of undesirable symptoms associated with menstrual cycles like acne, irregular periods, cramps, the list goes on...
Looni’s purpose is really to help people become intimate with their own (infradian) rhythms so...watch this space!
The official launch of looni.co is coming soon, what are you most excited about and what can we expect to see from Looni in the first year?
We want people suffering with their cycle to feel seen and heard and we couldn't be more excited to share our science-backed, innovative products with the people who need them – targeting issues that we've both personally been crippled with i.e. menstrual and ovulation pain, tender breasts, mood fluctuations etc. We've worked on these formulations alongside our expert team of physicians for over a year now and so we can not wait to share these products with womxn like ourselves who really need them.
All images courtesy of Chelsea Leyland.