The premiere episode of Stories of Healing is here and joining us is Aaron Newsom, United States Marine Corps OEF Veteran and Co-Owner of the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance. SCVA’s core mission is to promote and provide safe-access cannabis to Veterans with service connected ailments. Aaron owns and operates 3 (three) California compliant cannabis companies, vertically integrated from cultivation to distribution and retail.
Inside of this episode:
↣ Aarons military career and the recollection of his time serving in Afghanistan
↣ Why plant based medicine works for his anxiety and hyper-vigilance post combat.
↣ Alternative Therapies That Are Helping Him Cope & Heal
↣ The importance of Safe Access and Options
↣ The body and mind connection and how you can heal yourself.
Connect with Guest:
Calla: What made you decide to enlist?
I enlisted, like two days after 911. I think that was my main purpose. But, I was also looking for a purpose. I didn’t really have one. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was looking for direction. It seemed like something to be a part of, and a way to be of service.
Calla: How old were you?
Aaron Newsom: I was 18. I went in when I was 19. I broke my thumb right before I was supposed to go into boot camp. So that delayed it a little bit, three or four months. I ended up going in when I was 19.
Leanne: What was your experience?
I worked a lot on the runway, on aircraft and working on airfields and things like that. It was great,The camaraderie of all the people, the friends, the diversity was all really cool. Being able to make friends like that, and being in a community that is just so vastly diverse, you know? With so many different kinds of people. It was great. It wasn’t something that I was eager to reenlist for and I was ready to get out for sure. But, don’t regret it. It was a great experience that made me who I am and helped me create the mission that we have today.
How long were you in for?
Aaron Newsom: Six years. I originally joined as a Reservist, I went to my duty station, maybe three months in a row before we got activated.I was activated on and off pretty much for the remainder of my enlistment.
Calla: Did you deploy anywhere? Where were you stationed?
Aaron Newsom : Mostly at Miramar in San Diego and I did work at Camp Pendleton. I also did some time in Yuma Arizona, really helping with the workup for a lot of new pilots to be trained to go out to Iraq. And then right after that, deployed to Afghanistan for 10 months
Calla : Wow.
Leanne: What was your experience like in Afghanistan?
Aaron Newsom: Pretty crazy. I mean there was a lot going on. I was there in 2004 through 2005. And there was definitely a lot going on. I was lucky enough to be a part of an air wing where I worked with mostly an Attack Helicopter Squadron on multiple Ford operating bases. But I was lucky enough to be inside the wire for the majority of the time. We still took a lot of mortar rounds constantly and there were constant missions going on. It definitely created a vigilance in myself that was really good for, for being in war, but didn’t serve me too well, when I got back.
Leanne: That’s kind of what we wanted to talk about, too. What was your experience after you were discharged? Did you have any PTSD symptoms from your experience in Afghanistan?
Aaron Newsom : Yeah, definitely. It was definitely hard for me to get my life back together. When I got back, you know, the vigilance that I was talking about the hyper vigilance that was just constant while I was over, that was really, really hard to get rid of.
Calla: What did that hyper-vigilance look like?
Aaron Newsom: There’s a lot of just being on guard all the time . That feeling that you’re always on call. That you always have to be first to notice something or, always having to analyze the situation, not really feeling like you can ever let your guard down. When I had kids, for the first few years of their lives, I would constantly tell them that they needed to be aware of their surroundings, and not let me sneak up behind them and things like that. And I thought that I was starting to train them to be aware. But, I realized through a lot of work on myself that I was really building that hyper-vigilance that I had in myself into them. I realized how unhealthy that was. I’ve been trying to turn that around these last couple years and slow down and not be so , [short pause]. I don’t want to say aggressive because I was never aggressive, but [I was] loud, and very active, and constantly on the move and never able to slow down. I’m really learning to try and get away from that as much as I can because that contributed to so many factors regarding being able to work and being able to learn new things in life. Friendships, relationships, it doesn’t make for the ability to, be in the moment. You’re never listening. You’re always one step ahead of that.
Leanne: Did you come to that realization on your own about how the way you were trying to teach your kids might have been?
Aaron Newsom: It was with the help of a lot of therapy, and then diving into plant medicine, and being able to experience that. A lot of the knowledge that comes from that, and realizing how much baggage I had been carrying around, that was one big thing that I realized I was carrying around. Just this feeling of always being on call.
Calla: It brings it to the surface for sure.
Leanne: Did you feel physically and mentally exhausted? Or was that just your normal?
Aaron Newsom: Oh, I definitely realized it that the hyper-vigilance became anxiety. Just constant anxiety. At night, it actually manifested itself as a big knot in my stomach. I had that knot for almost 10 years. I came to the understanding and realization that that was just going to be a part of me from now on, and there’s nothing I can do about that. I just had to live with it. I wasn’t very happy. Cannabis opened up a whole new world of being in a movement and fighting for safe access. It made me realize that we need to have the right and the freedom to heal ourselves in any way we deem fit. So I started exploring other medicines and modalities and that really allowed me to move into therapy and accepting therapy. I found a therapist that really helped and was able to walk me through a lot of the traumas that I experienced as a kid, not that I had a bad childhood at all. But a childhood that did build on the anxiety that I brought into the military.That just trained me to be even more vigilant about it, and anxiety ridden. I think being in this movement, knowing that having safe access to whether it be cannabis or any other modality of healing, that’s something to fight for.
Leanne: Before you found those, were you being prescribed any medications to try and help you cope after you were discharged?
Aaron Newsom: Yeah, I tried a few different SSRIs, and things that helped calm me down. I always personally had a lot of side effects from them. I always felt like the side effects hit me pretty hard.The medicines definitely helped some of the direct issues that I was having, but I could always feel that it blurred my connection to everything else in life.I just start going a little bit more numb,and not being able to feel the good and the bad.
Leanne: how long were you on those for?
Aaron Newsom: Just a couple years. There were a couple of years where I was having a lot of trouble when I got back.The first two years of being back were really, really hard. I think my main issue was finding purpose, again.It was a really hard going to Afghanistan, really believing in the mission, and then, within two months of being over there, starting to, not only, figure out exactly what was going on in our surrounding area with the intelligence reports. But also trying to educate myself on the news, because I was young then and didn’t really know where to look or what to do. But when I got over there,I had time to research. I kind of lost purpose over there, and really didn’t understand what we were doing over there. When I came home, they tried to send me back to Iraq and with another unit. I only had like three months left on my contract, and they were sending me off for a 10 month deployment. I fought that pretty hard. I did not want to go back. Just because I knew that it was breaking me. I mean, it opened my eyes to a lot of stuff. And, it opened my eyes to a culture that I couldn’t believe existed. Communities that I couldn’t believe existed.
Calla: What made them so shocking?
Aaron Newsom:The poverty was very drastic and the work environment, the conditions that they had to work in, the conditions that they were willing to work in, the things that they were willing to do. At times, at least when I was there in the area that I was in, they were so desperate that they were really willing to do anything.They put mourning of their family deaths to the side to let work happen and it was that kind of stuff that was shocking to me. When I saw these people getting paid $2 a day for some of the hardest labor you’ve ever seen. [short pause] That kind of stuff, getting to know some of the locals, I mean, that’s kind of where I lost my mission. I was now understanding that payroll urges people and they’re all just trying to survive,This system that’s just so broken. It’s tough. I don’t know much or did know much regarding the actual circumstances and all the intelligence So, I’m just following orders.
But now that I’m back, you know, I’m trying to only follow my own orders, you know?
Calla: I love that.
Leanne: Did you feel like you’re researching and as you’re seeing the conditions these people are in, did you feel comfortable talking with that to the guys you’re out there with or is that something you just kind of keep to yourself?
Aaron Newsom: Um, I think people’s real morals and their real personalities, and the people who they really are come out no matter what, when you spend enough time with people. There’s a chain of command, there’s rank structure, there’s things you don’t say. But, you’re in a really tight knit community over there. So, you all kind of talk. We all have our own understandings. And again, going back to the diversity of the military, I’ve said it a million times, I honestly believe that a military could be the most diverse population in the world. A lot of American military aren’t even American citizens yet. So there was just such a really cool diversity of people and thoughts and where they came from, and their education and different sides of the country. That was a big learning opportunity as well, being able to learn all this kind of stuff, especially being a young kid, mostly from California, who really didn’t get to travel and explore much. It was really cool. We all were able to do the mission, and no matter what orders we were following, the mission was to stay alive and to keep each other alive. It all came down to that one fundamental thing. What we were all learning over there was very powerful. And we definitely all talked about it a lot.
Calla: I know you said when you came back, you lost your purpose. Did the military prescribe that medicine when you were discharged, just to get you acclimated back to real life? Or was that something that you went and sought out because you didn’t know what to do?
Aaron Newsom: The VA itself, the benefits that you get when you get out, you have to seek them out individually. You have to go and say, “Can I qualify for this? Do I qualify? Can I get a VA card? Can I come into the system? Can I get a doctor?” Nobody comes to you and says, “Now that you’re out here’s your here’s your VA card”, nobody does that. It’s super unfortunate. They say, “Bye. Here’s your paperwork” and you’re begging to get that signature and run as fast as you can. I had to go seek that out and ask for help and beg for help. Months went by, and I would call multiple times. Finally, they got you a therapist. And by this time, you know, you’ve already spun out of control. This is how it goes for most of us. But, we know how to fight. I tell people, you’ve gotta fight for your own health care. With the VA, it’s definitely a fight. But if you’re willing to put in the time and the effort and the energy, there’s definitely a lot of benefits that we can qualify for. So it’s good.
Leanne: That’s infuriating that there’s not even a notebook or a textbook that they give you.
Aaron Newsom: There probably is, but I didn’t get one. I don’t know anybody who did.
Calla: I think that would be really hard to navigate. Where did you even start to pick yourself back up to live amongst everybody else again?
Aaron Newsom: I went to personal doctors at first. I didn’t want to go back to the military. I didn’t want to go to the VA. I thought it was gonna be a bunch of military people. I didn’t want anything to do that anymore. I was willing to completely walk away from all my benefits. I did for a couple years. I went to family and friends doctors and got a lot of help. I still went through the racket and had to pay for stuff. It was during that time, I couldn’t find work and I was having problems with the work that I did have with the leadership that was there because I just came from some of the best leadership you ever saw. You go from the best leadership that exists to some of the worst that working at a restaurant or whatever. I couldn’t even find work. I figured when I got back as a combat veteran, I’d be able to get any job I applied for. I couldn’t really find anything. Plus I didn’t really have a purpose. I didn’t know what to do. I was going to all these doctors trying to figure out myself because I was just depressed all the time.
Calla: Did you have kids and a wife to take care of at this time?
Aaron Newsom: I didn’t have kids at the time and my wife is super strong and super awesome. So she was definitely able to help me get through a lot of this. It was during all this time that one of my buddies said, “I’m moving up to Santa Cruz, I know you were from there, you should come check it out.” So I came up here and read that cannabis had been decriminalized up here. And then it was on the last priority of the local Sheriff’s Department. So I convinced my wife to pack up and move up here. We didn’t have too much going on. We had all of our family down in Orange County, but you know, five, six hour drive north, it’s not, too bad. And it’s so beautiful up here that when we came and visited, it was life changing.It’s so calm and mellow. There’s forests and open space and quiet space out here. And it was a place I felt like I could take a deep breath. We ended up moving up here, and I had the opportunity to learn from an old friend by teaching me how to grow a couple plants and, he pretty much taught me all the wrong ways to do it, you know, so I found out that if I was going to continue to grow cannabis, then I really needed to learn. I had a couple lights and like a little basement and when we first moved out here tried to learn, failed multiple times with the help of multiple friends, and almost lost everything. I was in debt, I had my car repossessed, I couldn’t pay my rent. I ended up having to move into my friend’s house with my two cats and my wife. He used some of my grow equipment and we were able to save up enough money for us both to go our own ways. From there, slowly, my wife and I worked it to the point where we were able to think about really making a business out of it. And at that point, I had met my business partner, Jason, he was another Veteran who was growing locally. We had some old Vietnam friends that were around, and we would give excess weed that we had just to get them by. We knew they were spending too much on a monthly basis. A lot of these guys were using it in lieu of some of their pharmaceuticals. So, we felt that if it was good for them, we had plenty of it back then, you know, the price was good. And it was easy to grow. And so it was just cool to be able to give back to a couple friends. That’s kind of how it all started. It just kind of started spawning from there. We started growing and gave a portion of everything that we grew back. And then in 2016, when we developed a not for profit and created a collective of patients and started cultivating for all of them. And then in 2016, Proposition 215 started coming around, and it was going to go legal. And we were only cultivators. And obviously we’re black market cultivators. There was no legal cultivation at the time. But yet there were still dispensaries selling it somewhat legally.
Calla: That’s so confusing.
Aaron Newsom: It was very confusing. It was all under the guise of Proposition 215 and medical cannabis, and it was working fairly well, except for the majority of the cultivators who were having to do it illegally. Which, we were one of them. And at that time I had my first kid and my business partner had his kid and we were sick of looking over our shoulder expecting the sheriff to kick in the door at any moment.
Leanne: That’s what I was wondering, hearing that and knowing that you were hyper-vigilant and that was your main issue that you were dealing with, Did you have trouble during that period of time keeping your anxiety under control?
Aaron Newsom 34:48
Yeah, and during that time, I used cannabis to go to school and get a degree and work a regular job at a restaurant so that everybody can see that I’m a normal person and work and that’s how I pay my bills.
And then my business partner, Jason and I got a commercial unit and we started cultivating there. That’s where we develop the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance. And at one point, we decided to start holding group meetings at one of the local dispensaries who opened up a space for us. We figured this might gain some traction. We’re sure there’s other veterans out there that can use some of this, we have plenty of free cannabis that we can give out,s o we just started bagging it up and giving it out at our little group meetings at this one dispensary. Within three or four meetings, we had so many veterans that they didn’t necessarily have space for us anymore. We had maybe maybe 20 or 30 veterans coming down the stairs, so we convinced our local VFW which is the Veterans of Foreign Wars down here, to open up the VFW for us and allow us to start hosting groups there and dispensing medical cannabis. They didn’t really like the idea of us dispensing medical cannabis. But we proved to them that it was a needed service, and that we would take any responsibility and they allowed us to move forward. I ended up going and meeting with the local sheriff and letting him know what we were doing. He didn’t have a problem. Because again, we had Proposition 215, we had doctor’s recommendations for all of our patients. We started getting some publicity and the VFW ended up asking us to leave because we kind of got too much publicity and they were included in that. We ended up getting another spot down in the Veterans Hall that the county built, but we couldn’t dispense any medicine there. So we started lobbying for them to allow us to open a dispensary because under the new legalization law, you can’t give out anything or sell anything as a cultivator. It has to go to a distributor and then a distributor has to give it to a retailer. And then that retailer has to sell it or give it over the counter somehow.
Leanne: So much red tape.
Aaron Newsom: There was definitely a lot. At first, we didn’t even have the ability to give it out for free over the counter. We did, but we still had to pay taxes on it. So just recently, a couple years ago, we were able to pass SB 34, which is the compassionate use act, and now we’re able to actually give away free cannabis without having to pay taxes on it.
Leanne: So were you giving it away and paying taxes on it in the beginning?
Aaron Newsom: Yes, for a long time. They actually came back to us once we got our legal license through the state. The state contacted us and said we had to prove to them that we were cultivating prior to legalization to get our license. We pretty much had to prove to them that we were doing it illegally.
Leanne: Yeah, that’s terrifying.
Calla: Isn’t that crazy?
Leanne: That’s enough for some people to throw in the towel.
Aaron Newsom: Everybody would have just jumped in. It was good. I mean, I was ecstatic about that, because I could prove that we were doing it. We were paying our regular income tax for a long time prior to that as well. So even though we were selling on the black market, we were still paying our taxes to the federal government.Once the state got involved, they realized that we were giving away free cannabis, and they made us pay back taxes on a lot of it. We ended up getting that back because of SB 34, but we never stopped giving it out for free. We continued, we’ve never stopped. A little over 10 years now, and every month we’ve given out free cannabis to our Veterans. Without stop. Even though there was a big transition point. There were a lot of compassionate programs that did stop, because the regulations weren’t necessarily a legal route to do so.Then that’s kind of where it all started. Now, we have a license for cultivation, we have a license for distribution and a license for retail. Again, we needed to be vertically integrated so that we could pass free products through each license. It’s hard to convince other people to do that and train their people to do that. It costs money to do it. So we really, really didn’t want to have to go out and convince other companies to do this nonprofit work for us. I don’t necessarily want to have to convince anybody to do anything. If I can do it myself, hopefully, you know, we can just continue to do it this way.
Calla: Yeah, I respect that.
Leanne: How did you discover that cannabis was medicinal for you and what you were dealing with?
Aaron Newsom: I’d always had a pretty close relationship with cannabis since my young teen years. I was very close to it through high school briefly afterwards. I obviously had to take a big hiatus because of the military, but, whenever I got a chance I would definitely partake. Leaving the military, I had safe access to it because I had friends and family who had access to it. I knew it was going to help me when I got it. It always helped me with my anxiety. Again, I had anxiety going into the military, but it was used as a tool to help with the aggression, and with the security aspect of being on guard and on call and things like that. Like the knot that had manifested, I just took it on as a part of myself and just manifested even more. And it did help. I mean, it helped me get a lot done in life. I was scared not too, you know, with school and developing businesses, and, you know, doing the things that I have the passions that I Am vigilant about pursuing.But it can definitely go in a dark direction. Cannabis has always helped me kind of calm that, and helped bring me back into the moment. That’s why I knew I had to continue to pursue it. Because when I was in Huntington Beach/ Orange County, I had access to it, but it was very expensive, and still illegal. I still did have anxiety, driving around and having it on me knowing that I needed it as my medicine but knowing that it was super frowned upon. That was the main reason why I came back up here to Santa Cruz, because it was on the last priority, nobody cares about it up here. I don’t have to worry about it as much. I can also cultivate it, not have to spend money on it, and maybe be able to sell some of it and be able to pay some bills with it. From that I developed a passion for just growing plants. Horticultural therapy became a huge part of what we did as well. We would bring Veterans into our garden that were having PTSD issues, and hyper-vigilance issues and anxiety and stress and bring them into a very quiet, calm environment of working with the plants. Plants don’t talk back, they don’t yell at you. It’s a meditation to work with plants, and it is a therapy. That was huge for me and my recovery and the 1000s of hours that I would spend in my own gardens aided in my recovery so much that it was something that I wanted to share with others. My business partner, Jason, same thing. I know he had the passion for cannabis, because it helped him in his anxiety. Because of the horticultural part as well and being a farmer, he is from Alabama, so he comes from, like the farming culture. So just wanting to grow and create a good product and good medicine for people is, I’m super honored and blessed to be able to continue to do it now. You know, 13 years later.
Calla: Wow, so amazing.
Leanne: I can see all the plants behind you. I’ve become a plant lady in the last year. So I totally am on board with horticulture.
Aaron Newsom: Yeah, it’s good stuff.
Calla: What’s been one of the biggest challenges that you’ve come up against, with creating the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance?
Aaron Newsom: Probably learning all the other aspects of business development and political advancement- besides just growing cannabis. Growing cannabis has become what I love to do and all I want to do, but that’s like barely what I get to do. A lot of it is political and ensuring that you’re following different laws and jurisdictions and seeing what’s going to be allowed here and there. Right now, I have a cultivation permit for 5000 square feet. I have my own small little distribution, that I pretty much only distribute my own product and my friends product, The Beard Bros.
Aaron Newsom: You guys know them?
Aaron Newsom: We worked with him quite a bit. We have a small little retail outlet right now and hopefully going to open up another small little retail outlet. We’re a very, very small company. With all of this money flooding into the industry, celebrity money, and corporate money, , it’s getting so big and corporate that we’re just trying to stay relevant, and stay in the industry without getting swallowed up really quickly. No matter what, I don’t want to see this mission die. I don’t want to be bought out. I don’t want to be drowned out. It’s somewhat of a scary feeling because there is so much money. I feel that we are doing really good. Like I was telling you earlier, we don’t market and advertise. I feel like we are doing really good if people do know about us, and they do support us and I am proud of the compassionate aspect of what we built.
Calla: It’s so authentic for sure.
Leanne: The compassion is there, because you put it in there from the beginning. That’s something that I think would set you apart from other people.
Aaron Newsom: That’s what I’m hoping. It seems like now a compassion program is like the standard in the industry. You won’t even be accepted in the California Cannabis Industry if you don’t have a compassion aspect, which is great. I just hope not to be drowned out. Which, you know, it’s not a big deal. I don’t think I will be, I just got to keep moving.
Leanne: You can keep moving to Texas. There’s lots of room to grow here.
Aaron Newsom: I just came from there yesterday. There’s a lot I’m keeping my eye on in Texas. My wife’s family is from Texas. I have family in Texas. I would love to see something develop over there. But still waiting over there. Holding my breath.
Leanne: I saw on your website that you guys have like, is it three main strains that you sell?
Aaron Newsom: Yeah, we’ve been messing with some new strains,but for the most part, we have a strain, “The Kosher Kush” . It was bred by DNA Genetics A long time ago. Over a decade, my partner Jason and I, fino hunted a couple 100 of those seeds, because him and I both knew that the kushes and the OGs had something that really, really, really helped both of us regarding our anxiety and being able to be in the moment and focus on something. For me at the time, it was mostly school and getting projects done, while also having all of these other things on the side. Now, knowing a little bit more about the science, the myrcene is really what helps me, personally. The high myrcene strains have been just so beneficial in helping me find calm and come back to myself. So the Kosher Kush has been our main staple. That’s what we donate out to the majority of the veterans most of the time, because it has the most calming effect a lot of these, that’s, you know, they’re very vigilant and they’re very hyper-vigilant a lot of times they won’t stop or slow down. So the Kosher Kush is really good to help them slow down a little bit. We have the “Super Sour Diesel”, which is the complete opposite of that. Most of the time because of medicine, they can’t get off the couch and get their life going. So that’s another strain that kind of helps in the opposite direction. Then we have a strain called “Combat Cookies”, which for me has really helped combat a lot of my symptoms. It’s a hybrid so I’m able to still function during the day. Those are the three that we’ve grown for a long time, 8 to 10 years.
Calla: For those that are gonna listen to this later on and have no kind of cannabis knowledge whatsoever. What makes it medical grade?
Aaron Newsom: Well, I mean, I guess it really depends. It has to be clean. The black market still thrives. But what I tell people who are still buying out the black market is fine, you know, but you can’t be certain that it’s clean of pesticides, or molds and mildews, or micro contaminants, you know, you can’t be certain. At least with the California testing regulations, I can be certain. It is pretty locked down and very intricate regarding ensuring all California cannabis, whether it be recreation, or medical is super clean. First and foremost, that would be it for me. Then you go to the CBD aspect of it. Then there’s also the terpene profiles, which are the flavors, which are found to have a lot of medicinal effects, right? And we’ve known that for years with essential oils and things like that. Then who knows what else I mean, there’s chlorophyll in there, there’s plant oils, there’s a whole aspect of things in the cannabis flower itself that when used as a whole, have a really good medicinal effect, in my opinion. Things like full spectrum oils, like the RSO oil, like The Beard Bros, make a really good one, and then the full flower. There’s also extracts that are made from whole extracted flour. There’s this whole new phase of concentrates that are being extracted and they’re extracting out pretty much just pure THC, which does have its own medicinal value. I think scientists and pharmacologist, they really want to pull out these individual things and say that these are the ones that help but I mean, in my opinion, and using an experimenting with all the different isolates of these different compounds, and using the full spectrum flower, or the full spectrum oil, there’s a huge difference to it. I think there’s a huge medical benefit in using all of it , not just the THC or not just the CBD. But there’s still so much research to be done regarding that.
Leanne: Yeah, it’s the same as having doctors for your gallbladder, and a doctor for your heart. But your body works as one whole functioning system. It kind of seems like that’s repeated even in plants.
Aaron Newsom: Yeah.
Leanne: It’s just so funny how we always want to piece things apart, make it more intense in one specific area and forget about the rest, you know?
Aaron Newsom: Yeah, and to think also that our body has cannabinoid receptors. We actually have receptors that pull and grab are meant only for cannabinoids, which is fascinating.
Calla: Yeah, blows me away.
Aaron Newsom: I doubt that nature would give us those and expect us to isolate out a specific cannabinoid from a flower to receive it. There’s multiple cannabinoids and flowers and most of the time, they’re trace amounts. The big one is CBD or THC, but a lot of times there are multiple different types of cannabinoids, some of them that we haven’t even heard of, or care about, because we don’t even know what they do. They’re such miniscule numbers or amounts. We definitely need to take all that into consideration as well. But it’s hard to say what’s considered medical? I mean, it depends on what people need, and want to to be themselves.
Calla: Yeah, and what strain relates to them.
Aaron Newsom: I think with cannabis, it is about relieving pain, or helping sleep or inducing appetite, or negating different effects from different things,or helping with migraines, or the list goes on. But,also, there’s many day to day users as well. A lot of times it’s helping reduce anxiety or stress or helping us get back to a baseline of being able to like I said, be ourselves and not feel again, like we’re always on call or always having to perform. I think for me specifically, cannabis just allows me to be myself and not always concerned or anxious about what others are thinking or what I should or shouldn’t be doing. It just brings me back to myself.
Calla: It turns down the volume on that other voice.
Calla: It can change the dynamic of how your day to day is lived for sure.
Aaron Newsom: I like that.
Leanne: Did you even know that that wasn’t you? I feel like if you get used to feeling and behaving a certain way for so long, you can be easily convinced that, you know, “this is me, this is who I am. I’m an anxious person. This is just how I act.” When was the first time you realized that’s not you?
Aaron Newsom: Probably the first time I smoked cannabis.
Aaron Newsom: I mean, I don’t know.That’s obviously a battle that we all have to go through with ourselves. Where we have to draw the line with ourselves. It’s a super personal thing because do I feel that sometimes I probably use too much? Probably. Yeah.
Calla: We talk about that all the time. There’s a stigma around it, but it’s like, pick your battles almost.
Aaron Newsom: Yeah, and for me, if it is hindering something in my life, then I know there’s a problem. But if I’m able to get my work done, enjoy my family and love my life, then I personally have come to the understanding and conclusion for myself that it’s okay for me. Is it probably the most healthy thing I can do for myself? Probably not. But I’ve accepted that for now. That’s just something that really helps me be a little bit happier right now. And, that’s fine with me. Until it starts hindering things in my life, then I’ll take another look at it. It’s not for everybody to use every day or every week or so often, you I mean, some people can’t.
Calla: How do you help navigate that when you’re helping veterans in your community groups or when you’re giving them medication? Do you talk with them about that?
Aaron Newsom: Yeah, I think, for sure, it’s definitely not for everybody. What I say to a lot of them that don’t use it but still come to our groups and support is: This is the one thing that I can do and this helps me also create a community and create camaraderie. So, thank you for being here. This is the one thing I can do. And we do a lot more too, you know? I love doing what I can. I could do more, of course, and I work with a bunch of veterans that run non profit organizations that do so much. I’m lucky enough to have a for profit company that has a nonprofit sector, I’m able to give a little bit away and do my work, and then continue on. I’m glad that I’ve had longevity in this. I hope that will continue. I think and I know that it will. Could I do more? Yes. But right now, with my life,I have a young family and I’m trying to spend as much time with them as possible. There’s no rush. But, you know, with the group and creating other camaraderie groups,, I really try to get people to follow their passions. There’s definitely a bunch of groups out here who have gotten together and surf all the time, and hiking groups, and hunting groups, and things like that. Just trying to create more camaraderie based activities would be something that I would really like to do more of. COVID has really been a big hit. We used to get together once a month. Talk about different things going on in the community. We used to do beach cleanups, and things like that. But yeah, this last year has been quite a hit.
Calla: But probably needed more than anything.
Aaron Newsom: For sure! It brought a bunch of realization of what people need, I think, to the forefront.
Leanne: How shutdown are you guys right now?
Aaron Newsom: We’re just now starting to open back up quite a bit. These last couple of weeks have opened up quite a bit but I don’t really know to be honest with you. I don’t watch the news. I don’t listen to the radio. I try to live in my own little happy bubble here. And not listen to all the craziness.
Leanne: That’s all you can control. Why bombard yourself with stuff that you can’t do anything about?
Aaron Newsom: Right. That’s kind of why we haven’t taken the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance out of Santa Cruz very far. We have small little donation centers in The Bay and every once in a while down in Monterey. I think we’ve done it in LA once. But I try to keep it close because that’s what I can control. I know sometimes when things go national, they get out of control. I’ve really tried to keep it small and really just try to vocalize the mission, which is safe access, creating safe access. I can’t create safe access for everybody. Fabian Henry up there with GAFF House and the same as the Veterans for Healing, he showed us the way back in,2013 -2014. They came up here and introduced us to some doctors from the VA that were looking to do research with them. We were lucky enough to develop a research program with Palo Alto VA and Harvard University. They came out and did a study with about 100 of our veterans, and all of the medicine that we were giving them. They ended up publishing a peer reviewed study about two and a half years ago that had some really good benefits regarding veterans having safe access to medical grade cannabis and how it will relieve their intake of pharmaceuticals, their longevity, their happiness, their ability to sleep. We know all these different Veteran groups have really tried to help each other and feed off of each other because it’s one team one fight. We’re really just trying to stay happy. We’ve seen too many of our friends commit suicide or go down rabbit holes, in the bottle or the pills. It’s been a hard road for a lot of our brothers and sisters that have come back, so whatever we can do to just help with things like safe access whether it be cannabis or mushrooms or any other kind of plant medicine or mushroom medicine out there that needs more attention. We need to pay attention when people are saying that this thing has helped heal me. I have heard that so many times with cannabis, it has brought us into an opening of a whole new ability to heal ourselves and now we’re seeing it with other plant medicines. Safe access to anything that’s going to help heal me like, how dare you say, I can’t use that. I hope we just all keep pushing, and a lot of these veteran groups see that this is helping. I mean, I know, down here, I think it was the Navy SEAL foundation that donated a bunch of money to MAPS last year, or a couple years ago, which was huge having an organization like that now supporting research, because they know. One of their guys comes back and says this shit healed me from the shit that we went through back then. They’re gonna listen.
Calla: Who wouldn’t say, okay, we need to look at this? That’s why it’s so frustrating in the different states, that it’s not just across the board allowing for everyone to have safe access. Other than the obvious, like voting and getting involved that way, what are some ways that you would encourage people to help out this mission?
Aaron Newsom: People need to educate themselves. I feel very lucky because I live in Santa Cruz, I live in California, everybody here agrees with me. It’s hard to find people who don’t agree with me here. The ones who don’t know, I just say just listen. Listen to the testimonials of the people who have actually been through the traumas, and then come out the other side from healing and said, “this path healed me”. We all say that America stands for freedom, and this and that, yet, we don’t even have the freedom to heal ourselves. It doesn’t make any sense. We all need to keep educating ourselves. And for some of us, that means educating ourselves in the powers of these medicines. What can these actually do? We can read the books. We can listen to the testimonials. But sometimes we need to just dive deep, and find out what people are actually talking about. There’s a big movement of people who are starting to dive deep and figure these things out. And I’m just trying to swim along.
Leanne: Do you have any experience with psilocybin or psychedelic therapy?
Aaron Newsom: Sure. As much as I can get my hands on. I’ve been definitely going down the path for the last few years and trying to understand it. I think I’ve come a long way in the last four or five years of, really, really trying to dive deep and understand it and now we’re trying to show Veterans that the means to healing might not be so easy. But you know, they say it’s a warrior’s journey, and they’re not lying. A lot of times when you have trauma, and you use these medicines, it can be scary, but you come out the other side dropping all of the fear, and it’s so worth it. Like I was saying earlier, always feeling like I was on call, and on guard. And, you know, through some of these plant medicine journeys, I’ve come out the other side, realizing that I am no longer on call, and being able to actually realize that in the depths of myself, and being able to realize that I’d been walking around with a backpack full of boulders, and then last night, I was able to take it off. It’s such a freeing feeling. It’s such a transcendent feeling. Hopefully, just talking about it, giving testimony, and letting people know that there’s options and ways out there to heal yourself. I hope people start educating themselves and moving in that path of healing, because it’s so much easier to not heal yourself sometimes. We live in a community, and in an environment of convenience, right? That’s what the Western world is all about convenience and comfort. And the obstacle sometimes is actually the way.
Calla: What is the pull on your heart and your soul to t make you want to be healed and to get better? That does take a type of person, like you said, to not go towards the convenience to really put in the work? What do you attribute that force to if anything?
Aaron Newsom: Yeah, it takes a real strong person to go through that. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work. I mean, not just plant medicine, but therapy in general.Sitting on a couch, and, and trying to figure out, what’s holding you back, that’s hard. That’s not easy. That’s very, very hard and takes a lot of trust. For me, it took half a dozen therapists before I found one that, changed my life. She showed me that I could figure this out. But, it was a lot of work finding her. Years and years of trying to find her. I had given up at one point and dove into plant medicine spent, 40 hours, you know, over a couple years crying into pillows on my couch and like realizing all of these things that were holding me back and then, realizing that I needed help integrating that and finding somebody to help me with all of these things that I was trying to figure out. I’m so blessed to be able to find this lady. And, and for her to accept what, you know, the the, the therapies that I was using.
Calla: Were there some therapists that were not accepting of that? Or did you even feel like you could share that with them?
Aaron Newsom: Well, you know, most of the therapists that I had seen were prior to me starting to experiment with plant medicine, all of my experiments were by myself. Initially, for the most part in the forest, or on my couch. So, it was nice being able to bring somebody else into that world. Not that my wife wasn’t in that, but she definitely was my protector during that time. She wasn’t diving deep with me. She didn’t need to. It’s not easy. It’s a warrior’s journey. It was hard, but it was so worth it. I’m still going through it, I still go through the roller coaster, and I think at times that kind of helps when it comes to talking to other people about it, because it doesn’t heal you fully. Nothing does. But being okay with the feelings that come and making friends with that. Making friends with your own darkness is so huge.
Leanne: Was it talk therapy that you were going to see this woman for?
Aaron Newsom: It was and I recommend it all the time. And then the thing that was so profound for me was EMDR. So it’s a light therapy. It was so profound for me and she told me it helps like, you know, like, five or six out of 10 people, but for me, it was like, man, every time she would put that on, I would just be crying. And, you know, most of the time I’d come in there, not knowing what I was gonna talk about and she’s like, stare at the light. [laughter] In psychedelics, you have these visions that are like dreams, but burned into your memory. She was able to do that exact same thing with hypnosis and with the EMDR. It was beautiful, and still is. I still have these memories of these dreams. And these exercises that she put me through that we’re just so freeing.
Calla: I’m so happy to hear that you did that, because we just interviewed a hypnotist last week and we learned a lot. It’s funny how the different therapies really go back down to treating that root cause of what’s making your trauma kind of come out in different ways. I know you said you liked EMDR, but what did the hypnosis look like for you? How did you sink into hypnosis?
Aaron Newsom: She would give me a very, calming visualization to sink into at first. And then she would bring up say, for example, the knot in my stomach that I was telling you about. She would call me by bringing me through this hypnosis. and then it would be my younger self that she would say things like “walking through a door” and then walking through another door and then walking through another door. And then I would end up at the house that I grew up in. Then I’d be sitting there and she had me visual it was like this crystal ball I was holding, but it was this metallic black liquid that was swirling on the inside. And she said bring in your older self and you guys need to figure out what to do with that. So immediately, as my younger self, I was like, let’s go get a baseball bat. You know, he’s destroying this thing, right? And my older self immediately without me even thinking said “No, we need to love it.” And from that point forward, everything had changed for me. I realized that I can’t get rid of my anxiety. I can’t get rid of my past. I can’t get rid of the things that I think aren’t good. Or could be better. Right? I have to accept myself and all of its totality including the traumas of my past and the stuff I don’t like about myself and that’s just been so huge for me. I always go back to that. It’s like it’s still with you. You just have to love that part of you even though you think it’s darkness and evil. That is you. That’s like that’s the yin yang. That is the duality of this world. We just have to have the good with the bad.
Leanne: So did the not go away or is it just more manageable now
Aaron Newsom: It went away, which is crazy because it was literally over 10 years that I had it. I had talked about it and told my wife and other therapists, and it was just that nothing ever worked. I don’t know if it was just that hypnosis session but you know not more than a few weeks or a month or so she was able to get rid of that which was, Wow, so cool! We made it to a point where I don’t really see her anymore. A couple times a year maybe I’ll go, but for the most part I don’t necessarily need to. She was really able to help me pull up all that, and I continue to use the help of plant medicine to help me purge my darkness every once in a while.
Calla: Yeah for sure. Like you said it’s not gonna go away but now you know, you can sit with it. You can ride that wave of discomfort and come out on the other side and know that it was just that you needed to process something. I think that that’s really really beautiful. That has to make you a better partner to your wife, a better dad, a better son, a better friend. How has Cannabis helped in those areas and those relationships?
Aaron Newsom: Before on pharmaceuticals for my anxiety, I had trouble feeling and had trouble connecting. Obviously, my wife didn’t like that. I didn’t have kids at the time. So thank God. I didn’t really care much to spend much time with my family, and was so worried about, you know, finances and image and things like that,.
Calla: You weren’t in a place to be around people it sounds like.
Aaron Newsom : Cannabis helped me. Cannabis helped me realize that I don’t necessarily need those pharmaceuticals anymore. Specifically, the ones that were hindering me. I mean, there’s definitely a place for pharmaceuticals, absolutely. But I think a lot of it can be reduced or replaced with cannabis. It helped me do that. It helped me move away from that, and be more in the moment and connect more. It continues to do that. When I do take breaks, it’s not like, I can’t take a break. It’s not like, I feel that I’m not happy without it. But I do like myself better with it, because I do feel like I am slower. And without it. I am so fast that like I’m not relaxed. I’m not enjoing
Leanne: You’re not living.
Aaron Newsom: Yeah, I’m not living totally. I’m always in the future. Always thinking about the future and never being present. And yeah, that’s not living.
Leanne: I think some of us have personalities I know, both me and Calla are very similar in that way. That Type-A- always- looking- fo-r what -do- I- need -to- be -doing-?- What- did- I- miss-here?” And that’s definitely what cannabis helped me with as well.
Calla: I completely agree.
Leanne: How old are your kids now?
Aaron Newsom: Just about to turn seven in 10. Seven.
Calla: Those are my babies ages!
Aaron Newsom: So fun, huh?
Calla: Yeah. 10 year olds are wild.
Aaron Newsom: Seven year olds wild.
Calla: The craziest., I agree.
Leanne: How are your discussions with them about what cannabis does? Or is that even a conversation right now?
Aaron Newsom: No, it hasn’t necessarily been much of a conversation, except they know that I do use it as medicine and it helps me. That’s about as far as we’ve gotten with it. Um, yeah, I still think they’re probably a little too young for that. YBut I do want them to see that. It’s my medicine and it’s something that helps me. We don’t drink here in my house or anything like that. So it’s, it’s not like we have, you know, recreational drugs or alcohol or stuff like that around. And I’m not saying this wrong. I’m just saying we don’t… So, the stuff that I do have around, you know, I want them to think that it’s medicine.
Leanne: Just understand it that way. Yeah, I’m just curious about that.
Calla: Aaron, you are awesome. We’re so grateful that you got to come and hang out with us today. I did have a few questions before we wrap up, one of them being :If there’s Veterans out there that listen to this, and they’re struggling, like what is your message to them?
Aaron Newsom: I think first thing is you’ve got to do your research.It’s so hard when you’re in the hole. I’ve been there before. I have friends that are there right now. You know, I, I feel for them, and it sucks. But you’ve got to find something that’s going to make you want to get out of the hole. Whether that’s your family or a camaraderie group of some kind, or get on a surfboard and go serve, or go hiking with some friends, or do some art, or go hunting, or whatever your passion is, like, just get out and do something. Again, I know it’s so hard that when you’re in the hole to get yourself out of it. It’s like it’s almost impossible, perpetually harder, the more depressed you get. That sucks. But, we need other people to help us,maybe not always, but we do need people. We need to know that we’re loved, you know? So I hope that they can reach out, whether it’s to me or to their fellow veterans in their community and then find that passion. We need love and we need passion. That’s the only reason we’re here. If we don’t have those two things, you’re going to be in the hole, and you’re not going to want to be around much longer. And it’s unfortunate. So hopefully they reach out.
Leanne: For people who know that somebody is struggling right now, what are the best ways to help support?
Aaron Newsom: I don’t know. I mean, I wish I did. I have friends struggling right now, and I don’t know how to support them. Some of the strongest people that I know are struggling, and I don’t know how to help. You just have to want to help. You have to try. I don’t know what it is, but reach out, make a phone call, you know, spend 20 minutes stopping by. We just need to take time out of our own schedule and, help those that need it. It’s easier said than done. We can all spare a little bit and reach out to those that we know need it. I don’t know what it is.
Calla: The more options the better, Right?
Aaron Newsom: For sure. Yeah, just let them know that you love them and that there’s people there for them and that they have options. And, who knows, try this or don’t or let’s go to lunch or I don’t know, but I’m trying to figure that out too. You know?
Calla: Ongoing quest. That’s amazing. Well, I am just so thrilled that you stopped by. I want nothing but the best for the Santa Cruz Veterans Alliance. Where can people find you? Where can they get connected with you?
Aaron Newsom: We’re here in Santa Cruz. We have products throughout California. Unfortunately, we don’t have a group meeting right now, which we usually do monthly. But we had to shut it down because of COVID. And right now we’re in the process of building a new dispensary. When we have that I’ll have a community center there and we’ll be able to start holding camaraderie groups again, mostly for free medical cannabis donations, but also for the community. We’ll figure out how we can continue to be a service together. If anybody needs anything, they’re more than willing more than welcome to reach out. And thank you very much for having me.
*This text has been revised and edited.