Belief Through Experience:
Healing Social Crisis with Plant Medicine
By Haley Nagasaki
“I come from a lifetime of addiction and years of IV drug use”, says Sapha Habibi, founder of the organic cannabis company THERAVEDA. “To now having my life back, working on a social work degree at Vancouver Island University, and helping the people in my community. Cannabis and psychedelics gave me that”.
Through perseverance, strength of character, and a newfound love of Self, Sapha was able to arrest the insidious dis-ease of addiction, which nearly cost him his life. Cannabis therapy enabled him to replace the hard drugs he had been using, while other psychedelic plant medicines, like psilocybin and ayahuasca, opened his heart and freed his mind; returning to him his mental health and lost will to live.
Last month I spoke with Sapha Habibi and he shared with me his vision and his story; from the tumultuous, grief-stricken childhood lived in isolation and poverty in the North West Territories, to his move to Vancouver Island in the late 1990’s, where his mental illness and addiction issues were then largely exacerbated. He expressed to me about how plant medicine ultimately saved him, and how his purpose in this life, the only thing that has ever made him really, truly happy, is his ability to help people.
As living proof of this success, Sapha and his team are spreading the message that this medicine works, and “it’s here for the people who are open to it and who are seeking an alternative to drugs and addiction”.
THERAVEDA is a new company with a finger quite literally on the pulse of the Canadian drug crisis. Through THERAVEDA, Sapha is raising the bar of the cannabis industry to account for the people who are unable to acquire this medicine, yet are amongst those who need it most. After completing his first year in social work, Sapha is learning about social projects happening nation-wide, “and how important it is that the people are the force behind making change. That’s what THERAVEDA is all about”.
One of the projects THERAVEDA works closely with is called SOLID; an outreach program that provides harm reduction supplies and peer support, based out of Victoria and Nanaimo. Sapha had asked the chairman for Nanaimo, Kevin Donaghy, a friend of his whom he’d known from recovery if “there’s anyone he knew who could benefit from cannabis medicine, or is looking for an alternative for suboxone or methadone”. He said, “because I’ve developed something that I’m willing to share”. Kevin graciously accepted, and soon people were writing letters to Sapha, saying how “they’d gotten off crystal meth and fentanyl using the supplements [he’d] provided them”.
Sapha has been developing different formulas for medicinal cannabis products long before the official branding of THERAVEDA. Inspired by Ayurvedic medicine, he’s been active in his community for years, predominantly through volunteer work, and is now looking to extend the breadth of his reach while increasing his social impact through the branding of THERAVEDA. “For every capsule that I sell, I donate one to SOLID. So if I sell 1000 capsules, then 1000 capsules will be donated to addicts”. Listening to this, I was stunned by this incredibly generous 1:1 ratio. He continues, “and that’s on a pretty small scale. So if I’m able to do that being me, being who I am and coming from where I come from, then I really think the other industries and people should be able to do it too”.
THERAVEDA also works with different social agencies in relation to housing-first initiatives by donating funds to build homeless shelters and other similar projects. An important topic of study in social work is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, whereby people must have their most basic physiological needs met before they can move on to developing esteem and self-actualize. “We live in this free society and this free world where there are definitely ample resources for all, but we’re not using it for good. Instead [this money] is being put towards the police force, the jails and military that only further contribute to death and dying, rather than helping people heal”.
“Those who benefit would be at the level of service-users, like better resources to counseling, therapy, job searches; the possibilities are endless. Even if 1% of funds as a result of cannabis legalization were allocated towards these incentives, and was evenly distributed to the places that needed it, then poverty and homelessness could be largely eliminated”. Therefore if the cannabis companies making money could funnel some of their profits towards these agencies and social projects, then people don’t even need to be directly consuming cannabis to benefit from it.
“All the other industries: tobacco, alcohol, forestry, mining, oil and gas that are detrimental to human health are exploiting people and the earth. If they were assisting these issues then there wouldn’t be homeless people on the streets or addicts dying while waiting to get into treatment. That’s why it’s super important that the cannabis industry says ‘we’re here to help people; to support freedom and love, and give people their lives back’.
Because if this industry doesn’t do that”, he says, “and two or three years after legalization happens we’re still walking over people sleeping on the streets, and people are still dying from overdose, then as a society we have failed”.
Not only is Sapha actively helping addicts get their lives back, he’s also working to promote public awareness about what a drug user really looks like. “It is the normal guy who is dying in the bathroom at work from a fentanyl overdose; it’s not just the people on the street”.
Ending the stigma around cannabis is imperative insofar as addressing the issue of addiction and overdose is concerned. Cannabis, as warrior plant spirit only has one agenda: to help and to heal. In order to address chronic addiction and drug abuse with the assistance of this plant, it must absolutely become public knowledge; thereby claiming its rightful position in the mainstream social dialogue.
A lot of people were opposed to his actions in the beginning, thinking ‘What are you doing giving drug-users cannabis?’ This is because “many people still associate the word cannabis or marijuana with getting high and smoking weed. But I never gave up. I kept doing it because it’s the only thing that’s ever worked for me”.
For Sapha, cannabis served as the torch to a darkened cave; the dynamite to the barricaded part of his being that had been closed due to childhood trauma, mental illness, and unbearable amounts of pain and injury. The spiritual angle of his journey cannot be overlooked because one of the most prevalent hindrances to most addicts is that they have lost touch with the mystery, the magic, and the wonder of this divine earthly plane.
Sapha surrendered that debilitating way of life when in June 2015 he went to a holistic recovery center. After returning from treatment, he expressed openly that cannabis was the only medication that he used. Although there was also a stigma around cannabis and psychedelics in the recovery community that is largely abstinence-based. “I was honest”, he says. “I use cannabis for pain. I can’t take pills from the doctor, because pills from the doctor end up getting crushed up and snorted or crushed up and injected. For me, weed is the only thing I can actually consume that does not become habit forming or addictive”.
Sapha was able to inspire many people through his success, and the more people saw that it was working for him, the more they became open to it. “I started by giving capsules and oil to a few different friends. Some of them were twenty-plus years clean, who went from taking pharmaceutical pain medications and anti-depressants, to throwing those in the garbage and only using the products I provided them”.
Now, in Nanaimo alone, there are over a hundred people that Sapha deals with directly, and treats with his cannabis medications. “I’ve never charged anyone in recovery a cent,” he says. “It’s a labour of love”.
Prior to his own recovery, Sapha was working in the oil and gas industry. He was living paycheck to paycheck, on twelve grand a month, and was never happy. “Now I get by; it’s not easy. I have my most basic needs met, and I live a very simple, minimalistic existence. For me it’s never been about money. I have just what I need to have, nothing more. And anything I can share, I share”.
Sapha’s personal experience provides strength for the people in his community, and his business as a whole. He is the voice of a movement who deeply understands the addicts’ plight, as he can relate to what it’s like “to be on that side of the fence”. His main incentives are to provide “more resources and funding, and promote more educational and awareness campaigns about ending stigma”, which is another reason he wanted to get into social work in the first place. “All this volunteer work over the last many years, helping drug addicts find freedom; I love it. And if I can make a small humble living while doing it, great”.
Check back for Part 2 of Sapha’s incredible journey, where we’ll have an in-depth discussion of the spiritual Ayurvedic roots of the company, the need for cleaner products through the importance of organics, and Sapha’s long-term goal of working with psychedelic medicine in a therapeutic context.