Q&A: Melissa Etheridge Calls Canadians Smart, Talks Pain Management, Cannabis and More

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“How can we put more meaning into life?" Melissa Etheridge asks at one point during her interview with Samaritanmag. She’s discussing the domino effect she believes can happen after taking control of our own health and leading more positive lives.

The Grammy and Oscar-winning singer-songwriter — known for such hits as “Bring Me Some Water,” “No Souvenirs,” “Like The Way I Do,” “I’m the Only One” and “Come to My Window” —  has just released her 14th album, The Medicine Show. The songs touch on a range of topics — gun control, kindness, anxiety, plant medicine, #MeToo, activism, the opioid crisis – but as a whole, it boils down to health and wellness.

In this interview,  the 58-year-old musician refers to the way traditional doctors treat pain as “careless.” She is a long-time advocate of plant medicine, dating back to her diagnosis of breast cancer in 2004, which she successfully treated with a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, and began relieving some of the resulting symptoms, like pain and loss of appetite. with medical marijuana.

Marijuana is now legal in California, where she resides, and she has launched Etheridge Farms to develop and sell cannabis-based products from cookies to creams.

While Etheridge says she doesn’t consider herself an expert “on anything,” — she prefers to “inspire” — she has strong views she doesn’t hesitate to share (in the past some of her comments about, for example, diet’s effect on cancer or not recommending genetic testing have come under fire from the medical community). In this chat with Samaritanmag about the new album, The Medicine Show, she is characteristically forthright.

Talking to you from Canada, where cannabis is legal now.  I know some people who won't travel to the United States — not just because of Trump — because they can't cross the border with their CBD oil or marijuana and need it to help manage pain. Certain states have legalized it.  Should it be legal nationwide?

Yeah. We’re in such turmoil down here. We’ve just been turned upside down. It's like they're holding us by our ankle right now [laughs]. We're trying to get a hold of ourselves. We're trying just to stop the hemorrhaging of our immigration rights and all these things that are just flying out the door. A couple of years ago, cannabis [legalization] was really moving along and we were all looking forward to it being federalized during this presidency, thinking that Hillary [Clinton] would definitely move to that because we know we've got support for it. Obviously, states, one after another, are at the very least climbing onboard medicinally, but a couple of years ago when the election came, it just turned us all upside down and put the brakes on.

In the meantime, you smart Canadians have moved so much further with it. Not only did you federalize it — I mean, there's things you're still working out, but you're so far ahead — you are now reaching into the international market. You're coming down into America and you're buying up all our companies here. You are really doing a good job. So it's sad to see America fall behind when we think we're so big in business. It’s really a shame because so many tax dollars, not only business-wise, but health-wise, it’s needed so badly down here. And I do believe that once the political mess gets cleaned up that the next administration will definitely federalize it. I just can't see it not happening.

There are many anecdotal stories on how much cannabis helps various health issues from pain to anxiety and insomnia and there wouldn’t have been such a demand and acceptance for it to be legalized in Canada if it didn’t help. But there are still those that argue there's no clinical proof — many influential medical professionals in America are against the use of marijuana period and still consider it an illegal drug, even a gateway drug.

You're going to find in the medical community, the people that had been taught and trained and raised and put through a system that clearly only allows you to think in symptom and what drug lessens that symptom. It's a allopathic way of practicing medicine. It's the belief that, ‘Oh, something outside of me, some drug I can take, some synthetic drug, can make me better,’ where to understand CBD and plant medicine, it's working homeopathically with the body and it strengthens the immune system. It goes into the body, into our own endo cannabinoid system, and it works with the body. And doctors are not trained to even think about that. In their whole four-year medical schooling, about two weeks is spent on nutrition and health. They have no clue. So this is outside of their wheelhouse. They're not trained for it. They don't understand it.

“Faded By Design” and the title track, “The Medicine Show,” those are both about cannabis and plant-based medicine?

Yeah, those two are definitely speaking right about cannabis. ‘The Medicine Show’ is completely that. It's about Etheridge Farms and coming across the border and getting popped in North Dakota and about our legal system. We need to give amnesty to people that are in the jails. There’s just so much work that needs to be done. That's ‘The Medicine Show. And ‘Faded By Design’ is an answer to those who [ask] ‘Why do you smoke?’ People who still have a big fear of cannabis as medicine.

You also wrote a song about the opioid crisis, “Here Comes The Pain,” a crisis we have here in Canada too. What can be done?

It’s a whole paradigm shift in how we think about our own health. A lot of times this long steep fall into this abyss of opioids starts with ‘Here's something for the pain.’  ‘You're not supposed to feel pain; here's some more.’ The careless way that we treat pain and the thought of what health is and how pain can be a symptom of other things in our body, it's a call for us. This is a time for us to look at how we're numbing ourselves to look at despair and bring more hope and joy — these are fluffy words, but they're truly what we need in everyday life. How can we put more meaning into life? And that's going to bring your alcoholism down. This sense of despair is what, as a musician, as a person who deals with emotions, is where I think we can start to bring that into the health talk.

Your President’s views are infiltrating Canada. They’re coming across our border, the hatred, the division, the ignorance to environmental threats.  We have politicians with similar views. But you look at survivors of the Parkland shooting, which you write about in “Last Hello,” and how quickly the kids rallied their peers to stand up to governments, to adults.  As well as Greta Thunberg, the environmental whiz kid in Europe.  These kids will be our leaders — actually they are the leaders now.

Yeah, I get a lot of hope when I follow a lot of those kids on Twitter and check out the news and what they're saying. I have young adults now and just knowing their outlook on life and how they understand that division gets us nowhere and that division is a political tool. You divide and conquer. It's very simple. It was old-school what happened to us with in this Trump-era. It's easy to blame. ‘It's their fault you don't have a job. It's their fault you're miserable, therefore let's kick them out.’ That's last-century stuff. That's old, and yet it worked so well.  And it is the younger generations who sees straight through this.

I have been in so many cities in the south, just recently, where I have seen such beautiful diversity, people getting along, people building, their little towns back up. There is such a movement going on that the old guard is so afraid of because it's going to take their power away. And, ultimately, it's just all about power. But we are in the midst of a great change. And I believe that the youth — and when I say youth, I mean people up to 30 years old, which is not so young anymore — is a changing force in our world.

So much has happened in the world since your last studio album — what seems to be more frequent mass shootings, the #MeToo movement, and Trump and discrimination against immigrants and gay people in the military. Seems like we're going backwards. And then you see these glimmers, one of which you write about in “The Human Chain.” There's more good people in the world. What are the messages in that song and “Last Hello”?

That it’s really up to us to see these things and how we interpret them. It can be easy to go, ‘Oh my god, the world is divided and it's destroying itself and I'm just going to destroy myself with it.’ It’s easy and these are the times to stand up and go, ‘No, I see the good. I see the good in myself. I see the good in my neighbour and my family and my community.’ That's how change starts. You can't walk up to the White House and change it. You have to start in our communities.  This is what I'm talking about in ‘The Human Chain.’ It was a [true] story of a guy who's drowning and how people come together to save him. It's our nature. Our first nature is to be concerned for human life. And believe in that. All of us believe that we are greater. Look around, see it, speak of it, speak of good stuff, reward good stuff. Each of us, this is the time to do this; it's time to come together.

Tell me about “Love Will Live.”

‘Love Will Live” was my response to the #MeToo movement. I was caught up with how that was changing my industry, the entertainment industry my own experiences and understanding of what it's like being a woman in this world and how as a young woman, it can be very dangerous. And speaking to it, but then again, just saying that this is a moment for #MeToo to grow past this, to not be drawn down in this, to not have it define me, but put it behind me. ‘I'm no longer down/I'm so much stronger now/ My love will live’ and I'm good. That's what that's about.

A doctor the other day asked me if I'd been #MeToo-ed.  Fortunately, I said no, but it struck me that he’s using it as a verb

See what I mean about doctors.

“Shaking” – you sing “everything’s extreme,” “my fear is closing in,” “I just can’t stop shaking” and repeat breathe in, breathe out” over and over like a meditation.

It’s just about anxiety and an anxiety over all of this.

In your travels, is it better for the LGBTQ community now? More acceptance, more resources, more rights or still difficult?

it's still difficult with people’s different religions. Certainly you look out in the world and they’re stoning us and stuff like that. So, yeah, it's still hard. We've come so far, but they would do not have such a violent reaction to try to put us all back in the closet if we hadn't come so far. I have a legal marriage and I have children. Thirty years ago I would not have thought that that was possible. So, yes, we've come very far.

When you put out an album of such topical songs, do you enjoy spreading the messages and talking about them with your fans?

Do I enjoy? I feel it enriches what I do. I do want my songs to be taken in with my fans. I do want them to find a shelter in the songs. And when I see on my Twitter or my social media that [people post] “’Love Will Live’ is my song now. Thank you so much.” And different songs that that means something to them, even if it's not what I meant, that's when I feel the most successful.

You’re a singer-songwriter, but sometimes I'm sure people look to you for advice, which might be uncomfortable. The one thing you can speak about with authority is cannabis and medical marijuana because you’re heavily entrenched in that.

Yeah. I like to think that I inspire. If I can inspire, great.  I'm not an expert at anything, but I can inspire.

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