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Sick of It

A peek into Alice Moon's controversial cannabis advocacy in the face of rare illness

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A few years ago, Alice Moon vomited on the regular, often at unexpected times, seemingly for no reason. Each time she responded by doing what many do: she smoked some weed, unknowingly adding insult to injury.

GONE TO POT: Alice Moon loves cannabis, but had to break things off two years ago due to an unusual illness. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ALICE MOON
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF ALICE MOON
  • GONE TO POT: Alice Moon loves cannabis, but had to break things off two years ago due to an unusual illness.

Moon had good reason to think the weed would help her. The science behind medical marijuana varies widely from malady to malady, but some of the most solid research indicates it can help relieve nausea. However, it didn't help Moon, who works in the cannabis industry as a Los Angeles–based independent publicist.

Eventually, she learned the grim truth: Not only was pot not helping her, it was actually causing her nausea. Moon suffers from cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS), a disease that was only discovered in 2004 and is still largely a mystery.

All anyone knows for sure about the disease is that a small, but imprecise, subset of pot users—particularly heavy users—suffers from it, and the cause seems to be cannabis use itself. Sufferers, like Moon, might endure nausea, vomiting and severe abdominal cramps.

Two years ago last week, Moon stopped using cannabis. She tried CBD-only products, which don't contain THC, the component of the plant that gets you high. CBD is thought to be the source of many of the medicinal qualities exhibited by cannabis. But those products made her sick, too.

For a few months, she dealt with the relatively mild symptoms of cannabis withdrawal: insomnia, nightmares, loss of appetite. She's fine now, except for the fact that cannabis, which she said relieved her depression and anxiety, is no longer an option. "I miss it so much," Moon says. She now treats those symptoms with prescription medication.

There's also one other lingering problem, though: Whenever Moon mentions her CHS on social media, she faces a barrage of abuse.

Trolls come in all forms, but some of the most vicious, tenacious and conspiracy-minded are from the ranks of militant pot advocates who promote any pro-cannabis sentiment, even if it's obvious bullshit (e.g. pot cures cancer, or Thomas Jefferson smoked weed).

These advocates jump on anyone perceived to be anti-cannabis, including Moon, though she's about as pro-cannabis as can be.

Some believe her illness is made up, others say she's seeking publicity and the conspiracy-minded accuse her of being a prohibitionist in disguise (admittedly, working full-time for years as a publicist for cannabis companies would be a pretty great disguise for a prohibitionist).

"One person said I deserved to be beaten up," Moon says. A few detractors are well-known figures in the cannabis community who "think I'm hurting their wallets."

Last month, Moon obliquely complained on Twitter that someone who works in "infused wine" accused her of seeking publicity for herself. Cynthia Salarizadeh, president of cannabis-infused winemaker House of Saka, responded to the tweet, making clear she was who Moon had referenced.

A long, rather vicious Twitter fight—mostly launched by Salarizadeh—ensued.

"Alice, try to get some attention for something other than throwing up," Salarizadeh tweeted. She questioned the timing of recent media stories about Moon, claiming Moon was trying to "hurt the industry" while staring down an election and a slew of bills and initiatives to loosen restrictions on cannabis.

Moon, of course, denies this. "I love the plant," she says. "I'm a cannabis advocate." Reached for comment, Salarizadeh softened her stance considerably, saying the exchange took place during a "bad moment" for her, and "it never should have played out on social media. ... I am confident that [Moon's] motivation is awareness."

Steve DeAngelo, owner of the Oakland-based Harborside dispensaries and a major cannabis figure, also took to Twitter in June 2019 to express skepticism about Moon's claims. He was less confrontational, and in the end was convinced. "CHS is real," DeAngelo wrote. "I try my best 2 approach cannabis w/ humility & engage [our] sisters & brothers with compassion."

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