Tyson Ranch broke ground in 2017 in the middle of the California desert. It was good timing.  Proposition 64 had freshly legalized cannabis for recreational use in the state. When Tyson is being asked about his corporate vision or business savvy, he inevitably gets personal. He describes marijuana as medicine that has put his life on a better path.

Tyson is open about his past. Both in explaining his cocaine addiction as a young man and to demonstrate the role cannabis plays now in his health. Tyson grew up amid poverty and abuse — even given alcohol as a baby. He tried cocaine for the first time at eleven years old, and not two years later, he was discovered to be a promising boxer while he was a thirteen-year-old inmate at a juvenile detention center. His counsellor, ex-boxer Bobby Stewart, introduced Tyson to the famous trainer, Constantine D’Amato, who saw in Tyson the next world heavyweight champion. When Tyson’s mother died, D’Amato adopted him.

Shortly after Tyson won his first championship, D’Amato died. So, Don King targeted a nineteen-year-old Tyson. King enabled Tyson’s cocaine use and, as a result, cut Tyson’s boxing prime short. Tyson was always an intimidating contender, but there is an obvious decline in his technique as his addiction escalated. He was high on blow before famous fights. He side-stepped drug tests by smuggling a child’s pee in with a false penis. King stole millions of dollars. Eventually, Tyson lost his boxing career and went to prison. When he emerged, he was broke, traumatized and in chronic pain.

Cannabis and the road to recovery

Tyson doesn’t call cannabis a panacea — No drug is a cure-all. He credits his third wife, Lahika Spicer, with helping him get sober and healthy. Together, they developed his one-man show that rehabilitated his reputation, where he tells the story of his traumatic childhood.

Nevertheless, Tyson calls himself an advocate for cannabis. He thinks education about the medical benefits of cannabis will help end the stigma. When he retired from boxing, he started taking prescription pain killers, which left him feeling “tired and cranky all the time”. Cannabis also helped him manage his symptoms of mental illness, especially his anxiety. So, he only needs to take one medication (cannabis) to manage both conditions instead of taking two.

Tyson’s story challenges conventional wisdom on addiction treatment.  Abstinence-only says, Tyson is still an addict, he has just switched his drug of choice. However, people with addictions frequently have other disorders as well, such as chronic pain or psychiatric diagnoses. (The term for this is “co-morbidities”).

Integrated treatment is an approach to addiction that considers co-morbidity. When we can meet our needs, and medicate ourselves properly, we’re less driven to seek self-medication.

Tyson is presenting cannabis as the best medicine for his co-morbidities. Granted, smoking $40,000 of weed in one month is a lot. However, addiction has never been defined by how much you consume, but by the consequences of consuming.

Nobody is saying trauma victims just need a joint and they’ll feel all better. Addiction isn’t straightforward, but one thing is certain: treatment needs less shame, and more empathy.

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