Weed Queen: Erica Daniels
Company: Hope Grows for Autism
Hope Grows for Autism is designed to improve the lives of families affected by autism. Hope Grows for Autism does this through research, education and advocacy. We are dedicated to supporting families affected by autism by encouraging government and private sectors to collaborate to fund cannabinoid research and make treatments more widely available.
Check out our interview below, where Erica Daniels talks about her career, her entrepreneurial journey in an industry dominated by men and shares some really helpful advice on how to jump into the cannabis industry.
How would you describe yourself and what you do?
I have found myself in what we call the “cannabis space”. However, first and foremost, I consider myself a cannabis pioneer in the broader industry of helping families affected by autism. I am the mother of a child diagnosed with autism. I learned very early on, never to give up and never to give in. Asking questions is so important because curiosity awards you with knowledge. It is with that knowledge I can effectively advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves: individuals with disabilities and families who are struggling to keep their head above water. I am driven by a passion so deep and so personal; it is as vital to my survival as the air I breathe. Helping others is a way for me to heal. I am so grateful I have found a career which never truly feels like work.
What is your company about? What do you guys do?
I founded the non-profit, Hope Grows for Autism after discovering cannabinoid medicine dramatically improved my son’s quality of life. I searched for years without success, to find a conventional medicine or therapy that would help with his autism-related symptoms. I tried cannabis as a last resort.
Years later, here I am with a growing non-profit designed to improve the lives of families affected by autism. Hope Grows for Autism does this through research, education and advocacy. We are dedicated to supporting families affected by autism by encouraging government and private sectors to collaborate to fund cannabinoid research and make treatments more widely available.
At Hope Grows for Autism, we believe cannabis deserves to be a frontline treatment for autism, NOT a last resort. Why would we prescribe antipsychotic medications and threaten patients with institutionalization before we give them a plant? It’s archaic and dangerous.
We are so grateful and appreciate the support we have received over the years from our friends, donors and partners. 2020 has been a hard year for everyone including our Hope Grows families. Despite the uncertainties and monstrous challenges, we have been able to pivot and continue to aid families across the globe.
Through Autism Advisors LLC, I act as an autism consultant providing strategic solutions to healthcare workers, product manufacturers, and universities. I help empower professionals to make data-backed business & healthcare decisions involving autism.
No matter how much education Hope Grows for Autism generates, it is almost useless if access to appropriate cannabinoid medicine isn’t available. In 2018 I partnered with Dr. Oludare Odumosu, CEO of Zelira Therapeutics, to create the HOPE™ range of medicines designed specifically to treat clusters of symptoms associated with autism. HOPE™ is now available in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Washington DC and Australia. We are actively seeking more licensing partners across the US and the globe.
What makes Hope Grow for Autism unique?
Throughout my journey to learn more about cannabis as a treatment for autism, I came across very few resources offering information on medicinal cannabis. What was more frustrating? There really weren’t any existing autism organizations willing to engage in a conversation about cannabis. Struggling families in our community don’t have a starting point. They are in the same lonely and intimidating place I was years ago, looking to cannabis as their last hope, not first option. My son spent years on black box pharmaceuticals. Where did those medications get us? To a place in which I considered placing him in a residential treatment facility.
What inspired you to start your company and how did you get started?
My son, Leo, was struggling with anxiety, OCD and epic meltdowns as a result of his symptoms associated with autism. He was suffering and unhappy almost every day and there was nothing I could do to help him. As I mentioned, I considered residential treatment facilities because as a single mom with another child to care for, I was physically and mentally exhausted and frankly out of options. Leo was beginning to hurt himself and I couldn’t control him. It was my lowest point as a mother. But then, there was, as I like to say, an unsolicited intervention. I heard about medical cannabis easing autism symptoms, so having tried everything else the medical community suggested, I decided to go rouge and administer the cannabis to Leo. Within 30 days my son went from having debilitating and self-injuring meltdowns 4-6 times a week to only one in 30 days. Even more miraculous? He was happy. Medical cannabis works for my son. But this was not a treatment I was willing to keep a secret.
What is your vision and mission for Hope Grow for Autism?
Our goal is to facilitate legislation that would make autism a qualifying condition in all current legal medical cannabis states. But it shouldn’t stop there. The legislation should include ACCESS to appropriate medical cannabis for all autism patients. My job will be done when HOPE™ truly sees no boundaries… no state boundaries, no educational boundaries, no stigma boundaries, no access boundaries.
My goal is for medical cannabis to be used as frontline treatment for autism. Not after every other treatment has been exhausted. Families shouldn’t have to wait until all else fails or put themselves in danger in order to have the opportunity or the option to try medical cannabis. It is unethical, unjust and unfair.
What were you doing before you started Hope for Autism? How did that influence what you do?
I worked in marketing and media for many years. After my son was diagnosed with autism, my life changed, and I gained new purpose. I was able to use the marketing skills I had acquired to create new ways to work and be at home with my kids. My first project was a cookbook, Cooking with Leo, which was born in my own kitchen surrounded my family!
How did you learn the skills to start and run a successful business?
Business is all about marketing and promotion. I was lucky to have that professional background.
What factors have contributed towards your path of success?
I have been told that I do not take no for an answer! I am passionate and driven because my work not just close to my heart, it is my heart and my family.
Did you ever expect a career in the cannabis space?
I’m not sure anyone (especially from the War on Drugs generation) every expects to take on a career in the cannabis space. While the industry is growing to have a major economic impact, it was my son’s autism diagnosis, not the money which introduced to this world.
Were your family and friends supportive of your venture?
I am lucky to have a very supportive family and group of friends who understand how beneficial cannabis has been for Leo and other families with autism. While not everyone can relate to the difficulties surrounding raising a child with autism, the Hope Grows community allows others to share stories and relate to one another’s struggles. It is a collective shoulder to lean on in our darkest hours.
What has your personal experience with cannabis been?
I have always been open-minded when it comes to cannabis and believe it has had a positive impact for so many people who are suffering from a variety of conditions. There is no reason medicinal cannabis should be illegal if it is used in a sensible way. I see time and time again accidents occur due to alcohol, yet it is a legal substance. The stigma of cannabis has a long and complicated history. I hope we can all work together to change the perception of this plant.
Did you ever feel like you were not taken seriously because you are a woman?
I think every woman feels like they are not taken seriously at one point or another during their career. Is it more prevalent in the cannabis industry? I don’t know. Most women are inherently maternal—-what is more maternal than doing anything in your power to help your child?
How/do you think your involvement in this industry is going to positively impact your community?
Having cannabis available as a frontline treatment for autism will be a gamechanger. So much suffering will be eliminated and so many families will see improved quality of life.
What has been your greatest obstacle in this industry to date – and how have you overcome it?
Being a mom. I had to prove even more I could balance my work and personal life. But no woman is “just a mom”. I, along with millions of others are living proof of that. I successfully run 2 businesses, but I am always looking for growth and improvement.
There’s still a perception or stigma attached to the people involved in the cannabis industry or just consumers that partake in recreational or medical use, as being stoners- if you have encountered this kind of close-minded perspective, what would your argument be to shift the conversation to one of the importance of the weed market and why it should be celebrated/normalized?
The products that I have helped to create are not designed to “get someone high,” they are designed to ease any pain or discomfort that those on the autism spectrum face on a regular basis. Often, I get push back from the medical community. The stock answer seems to be, “we don’t know the long-term effects of cannabis”. Which is ironic and a bit hypocritical because we DO know the long-term effects of opioids and anti-psychotic drugs, yet they are still over-prescribed for a variety of conditions and pain management.
Do you have any suggestions on how we can help normalize cannabis?
Yes. Join our community and see what cannabis has done for all the Hope Grows families.
Where can we reach you? (IG/ Twitter handle and or email)
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, @erica__Daniels on Instagram, and on twitter.
Name 4 of your favorite women in weed that you’d like to give a shout out too. What do they do and where can we reach them?
- Chanda Macias – Dr. Chanda is a cannabis entrepreneur and national cannabis industry leader. She founded National Holistic Healing Center and Ilera Holistic Healthcare, the leading medical cannabis dispensary in the nation’s Capital that currently serves patients with a medical marijuana card from any state.
- Dr. Bonni Goldstein -Dr. Bonni is currently the Medical Director of Canna-Centers, a California-based medical practice devoted to educating patients about the use of cannabis for serious and chronic medical conditions. She is a Medical Consultant to WeedMaps.com. She is a Member of the International Association of Cannabis as Medicine, the International Cannabinoid Research Society, and the Society of Cannabis Clinicians.
- Lisa Gray- Ms. Gray is C0-Founding and Managing partner at PIPV Capital, EVP of Organizational Development at Ilera Healthcare and Board Director/ Co-Founder of Zelira Therapeutics. Her experience spans business development, finance, marketing and operations. Lisa generates investments, acts as advisor, board member and/or CEO for portfolio companies.
- Rosie Matteo- Ms. Matteo is CEO of Mattio Communications, a full service communications firm specializing in the cannabis industry, with clients spanning every sector of the trade, including, but not limited to, cultivation, manufacturing, finance, technology and ancillary services. Since launching our cannabis-specific unit in 2014, MATTIO has secured well over 100,000 media placements in print, digital and broadcast outlets for its clients.
Huge shout out and big thank you to Erica Daniels and Hope Grows for Autism for taking the time to chat about her experiences as a female entrepreneur and executive in a male dominated industry, for giving us great advice and tips on how to be successful in the weed world and for shouting out other dope Weed Queens!
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