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Reality TV Star Ethan Zohn Talks Cannabis, Cancer, and Hope

When you hear the word “survivor,” what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s the memory of a traumatic event you overcame or a hardship you endured. For some, “survivor” harkens to the reality television series of the same name, in which contestants compete for a hefty cash prize. For cancer survivor and Survivor competitor Ethan Zohn, it’s a bit of both.

In 2002, Zohn won $1,000,000 on the third season of CBS’ Survivor: Africa. It would be his first of three appearances on the series. He also participated in several other national television shows, including Fear Factor, PitchMen, and The Amazing Race.

While competing for the cameras, he was fighting another battle behind the scenes. Zohn was twice diagnosed with CD20+ Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He spent years undergoing treatment, including two stem cell transplants. 

To help mitigate the symptoms of cancer treatment, Zohn turned to cannabis. He used the herb to treat pain, anxiety, nausea, and aid with sleep. Now 10 years cancer free, he uses THC and CBD products to recover from demanding workouts.

Cannabis & Tech Today spoke with Zohn via videoconference to discover what’s next in his journey of overcoming. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Cannabis & Tech Today: “Survivor” seems to be an ongoing theme in your life, from the TV series to your triumph over cancer. At what point in your journey were you introduced to cannabis?

Ethan Zohn: When I was 35 years old, I was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer called CD20+ Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I had to go through multiple rounds of chemotherapy, radiation. I had to go through a bone marrow transplant. While I was in the shit, I struggled with some of the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

I was taking a lot of prescribed pills just to get to bed every night. I was taking Ativan for anxiety, Percocet for pain, Lunesta for sleep, Wellbutrin for mood, and then [I would] wake up in the morning and have to rip an Adderall just to get enough energy to go to the doctor to get more blood tests. So it’s this horrible, vicious, synthetic lifestyle I was living.

“I Like Revenge” – Danni Boatwright, Ethan Zohn, Amber Brkich Mariano and Natalie Anderson on the Fourth episode of SURVIVOR: WINNERS AT WAR, airing Wednesday, March 4 (8:00-9:01 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

So, I looked for alternative ways to make myself feel better. I knew about cannabis, and I read the benefits, mostly nausea related. I wanted to try it because it’s from the earth, right? Nature is the world’s pharmacy. So I started using cannabis, but access to it was disheartening.

C&T Today: How were you able to source your cannabis?

EZ: No one at my hospital could tell me about it. No nurse, oncologist, social worker — they weren’t educated on cannabis and cancer, so I had to research that myself. Then I was forced to hit the streets of New York City, bald with chemo, mask, gloves, talking to a drug dealer.

They sold all sorts of drugs, not just cannabis. I was worried about quality, mold, pesticides, and what they were fertilizing it with. And here I am putting this plant in my body while doing illegal activity on top of a majorly stressful situation like cancer… just to make myself feel better.

Once I got into a decent routine, I never smoked it. The doctor suggested if I were to use it to ingest it through a cookie or vaporizing, so I got into vaporizing. This is in 2009 before vape oils and before the industry took off.

At that moment, I was like, “I feel so much better. I can sleep. I can eat. I’m less stressed, and I’m a lot more fun to be around, that’s for sure.” My girlfriend at the time, my mom, and brothers said I was a lot nicer to be around. My mood was better. Everything you read about resonated with me.

Most importantly, I could wean myself off some of the meds I was taking and reduce some of the dosages of others. That was my first entryway into cannabis, using it from a medical perspective, to mitigate the side effects of cancer treatments.

C&T Today: How has your relationship with the plant evolved since then?

EZ: Where I found the most success and the most benefit was after cancer … Post-cancer when the doctor said, “All right, Ethan. You’re in remission,” they sent me back home. Everyone disappeared, and I got bags full of [prescribed] pills. I was plagued with dump trucks full of uncertainty and invisible scars that needed healing. 

“Out for Blood” – Boston Rob Mariano and Ethan Zohn on the Third episode of SURVIVOR: WINNERS AT WAR, airing Wednesday, Feb. 26 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment 2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

I developed debilitating anxiety and fear to the point where I was just not living a life I was proud of. It was exhibiting itself in destructive ways. That’s when I got deep into CBD and cannabis and a combination of the two to help manage my mental health issues post-cancer. That’s where I am today. I’m in remission for 10 years now, and cannabis is part of my daily routine.

C&T Today: You are now a brand ambassador for Trulieve, one of the nation’s largest multi-state cannabis operators. How did that relationship start?

EZ: I wanted to help educate other folks who are in a similar situation to what I was going through, so I approached Trulieve with this idea — “Hey, what if I run the Boston Marathon while medicating on Trulieve products?” And they were interested.

So when I engaged in this new partnership as the brand ambassador for their in-house everyday wellness brand called Momenta, it was almost like my own clinical trials. 

I developed a routine where I would do a pre-, during-, and post-workout cannabis regimen. I trained with that, analyzed how it affected my body, and then I could put the master plan into place when I actually ran the Boston Marathon in April.

Post race, I was using a THC-infused pain cream and an indica capsule to help calm me down a little bit. I did use it during the marathon, a low dose. I used the capsule again because I could run with it.

C&T Today: Did having different ingestion options help you create a more effective regimen?

EZ: A hundred percent. I mean, you nailed it. If you’re new to cannabis, and you’re looking for a way to get in, I think Momenta is a great product because [it offers] a whole host of ingestion methods. They have tinctures, RSOs, capsules, pain creams … for me, that encapsulated everything I needed in a cannabis product.

A lot of people think they have to smoke it, you don’t have to smoke it. There are other incredible ways to get THC into your body.

This article first appeared in Volume 4 Issue 3 of Cannabis & Tech Today. Read the full issue here.

Images courtesy of CBS Broadcasting, Ethan Zohn, and Trulieve.

Author

  • Patricia Miller is an executive editor at Innovative Properties Worldwide. She explores science, technology, and policy shaping the legal cannabis sector. Follow her work when you subscribe to Cannabis & Tech Today at cannatechtoday.com/subscribe/.

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