Hugh Hempel is the first to admit he was “dead wrong” about medical marijuana.
That was before he discovered that cannabis could help curb and soothe the severe seizures endured by his identical twin daughters.
Addy and Cassie, now 12, were born with Niemann-Pick Type C – otherwise known as "Childhood Alzheimer’s." Along with frequent seizures, the fatal and progressive neurological disease causes delay and loss of cognitive and motor functions.
“I went from not even really acknowledging medical marijuana existed…until such a time when it became obvious that the seizure meds for my kids weren’t working and we were looking for alternatives,” Hempel told Civilized, adding that this happened to coincide with the discovery of Charlotte’s Web, a high CBD cannabis extract.
“I went from sort of a War on Drugs advocate to a medical marijuana-immersed individual almost overnight.”
Confident in cannabis oil’s potential as a treatment for seizures but unable to access it in their home state of Nevada, Hempel and his wife, Chris, decided to take matters into their own hands roughly three years ago by making the oil themselves.
This was not a challenge completely foreign to the couple. In the early 2000s, Hempel co-founded HopeLink, a service aimed at linking cancer patients with clinical trials, and later went on to create a drug for his daughters called cyclodexrin that attracted extensive media attention around the world.
Hempel also has a background working in tech for companies like Netscape and Apple. He’s become relatively used to the limelight over the years due to his family’s unique medical challenges, appearing in a CNN documentary and, later, in his own TED Talk.
Now, the ever-growing operation rooted in easing the everyday lives of the Hempel twins is catering to patients far beyond the confines of the Hempels’ Reno home. Headquartered in Las Vegas, Nevada, and selling its diverse range of cannabis products – including vape pens and CBD oils – through partnerships with state-licensed cultivation and production facilities in Nevada, Colorado and Washington, Strainz has been “in constant expansion mode” since its inception, with plans to widen its scope both imminently and in the long-term.
As far as Hempel is concerned, the company’s only option is up.
“What we have is two living, breathing specimens that are the centre of our lives that remind us every day that there are real, honest-to-goodness patients out there that need cannabis-based medicine and are being underserved – to say the least,” said Hempel, referring to the twins he deems “mostly stable” these days.
“We get up every morning motivated by serving patients, and for me patients don’t necessarily mean acutely ill or chronically ill people. We’re all, at some level… medicating ourselves in some fashion, to deal with our anxieties, to deal with life’s challenges. So, for me, patients are kind of all of us, really. It’s not just sick little kids like my girls.”
Hempel estimates the company has, in fact, helped hundreds of people in need of cannabis-based medicine in its relatively short run. He hopes to increase that number by the “tens of thousands” as societal attitudes about cannabis continue to shift in a positive way.
“The more of us so-called ‘mainstream’ types that get into the industry and talk about it and invest in it, and the more patients that try it and are successful, the more the groundswell builds. And there is a groundswell building and the momentum is undeniable,” said Hempel. “This proverbial genie is out of the bottle so anyone who wants to try and jam it back in, I think, is crazy.”
Watch Hempel's TED Talk for more of his thoughts on his drive to help his children, and others who are suffering from diseases and conditions that can be treated with marijuana.