We are celebrating 100 episodes of How to Do the Pot! Are you curious about the host? Ellen Scanlon opens up to journalist Skye Pillsbury about the first time she smoked weed and how breaking sixteen teeth in a bike accident led her to cannabis.
Stay tuned for part 2 of their conversation next week, when Ellen & Skye talk about “unexplained infertility” and treating Endometriosis with cannabis.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (00:00):
This podcast discusses cannabis, and is intended for audiences 21 and over.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (00:06):
And I saw JP got off his bike, and no one was really that worried because it didn’t seem like a big deal. And then JP came over, and I said, “I think I cracked my teeth.” And he put his hand out in front of my mouth and I spit my teeth out like little Chiclets.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (00:26):
Welcome to How to Do the Pot, a podcast demystifying cannabis for women. I’m Ellen Scanlon. You just heard me talking about a bike accident that in many ways set me on the course to this podcast. And I’m sharing the story because today we are celebrating a big milestone, the 100th episode of How to Do the Pot. This is actually episode 99, but almost there.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (00:53):
To mark the occasion, the incredible journalist, podcaster, and friend Skye Pillsbury actually interviewed me. And I have to confess the talking about myself is not the easiest part of being a podcast host for me. I love sharing other women’s stories and was sort of happily prodded to talk a bit about how I got to where I am today.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (01:15):
And before we get into my story, I want to update you on why we’ve been a little quieter over here than usual. We have been sharing the amazing tales of women buying weed for the first time, but we haven’t put out our regular episodes in a few weeks. Thank you for sticking with us. In the past few months, a lot has happened. I moved, I took my first trip to see my family since COVID, and my son started preschool. That’s definitely been keeping me busy.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (01:42):
And we also have been working on some really exciting new things at How to Do the Pot. Very soon, you can visit our new website still at dothepot.com, where you can learn even more about women and cannabis. You can also sign up for our really popular newsletter that comes out every other Friday. And we have so many fantastic stories to share this fall. We’re going to be talking to women who live in states with medical cannabis and with adult-use cannabis. So we can talk about what’s different about each and what you need to know if your state has recently changed its legal status.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (02:17):
We’re also excited to share stories about a question we get all the time, which is about how cannabis helps with sleep. We have a new series that’s called Weed Words, which will give you the context for all the cannabis words that you think you should know, but maybe actually don’t. Stay tuned for that series, which begins with our Halloween episode. It’s really fun. And this one is a little spooky too.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (02:41):
And a quick recap, since the first episode of How to Do the Pot came out in November of 2019, the cannabis world has really changed. Cannabis is now legal for adult use in 19 states and for medical use in 36 states. Cannabis dispensaries were named an essential service during the pandemic. And today more than 80 million women have access to legal weed.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (03:06):
Okay, now that you’re all caught up, let’s get into it. I’ve never really shared who I am and why I love teaching women how to do the pot. So today is the day. We’ve broken up the interview into two parts. And in today’s episode, you’ll hear about the very first time that I smoked weed, my experience working on a Wall Street trading floor, and how a trip to New Orleans, where I broke 16 of my teeth in a bike accident, led me to a health crisis that completely changed my life and ultimately brought me to cannabis. Without further ado, here it is. Part one of my story in conversation with Skye Pillsbury. I hope you enjoy it.
Skye Pillsbury (03:51):
Ellen, thank you so much for having me here. I am really, really thrilled to be able to talk to you today. And I’m going to begin by just sharing that one of the things that I enjoy the most about How to Do the Pot is hearing women talk about their personal experiences with the plant. And today I’m looking forward to hearing what brought you into this world. But first I want to just take a minute and go backwards in time and ask you, what is your first memory of doing the pot yourself?
Ellen Lee Scanlon (04:26):
I had just moved from Connecticut to Potomac, Maryland. I was a rising sophomore in high school. And I had this sort of moment in time where, because I had just moved, my parents didn’t know any of the parents of the people that I was meeting. And I had very strict… Wasn’t allowed to go to parties, wasn’t allowed to do things. But in this time my parents wanted me to make friends, and be able to go out and kind of start this new life in this new place where we had moved. And so I got to kind of go out to parties. And I remember I was with a friend I had made, and we went to this party at this absolutely amazing house. And we were sitting out in the back patio area. And I feel like that was the first time that I smoked a joint. I’d been around it before, but I think that was the first time. So I was like 14 or 15 probably.
Skye Pillsbury (05:32):
Do you remember how you felt? Were you nervous? Were you excited? What was going through your head?
Ellen Lee Scanlon (05:37):
Yeah, it’s so funny you’re asking this question because I actually feel like in many ways I’m sort of in a similar moment in time right now. I just moved, lots of changes. And I think I was in just kind of like, okay, this seems like a pretty nice place to try something like this. And I had been around it before and it sort of felt scary and it felt like something that I was going to get in trouble for. But it didn’t feel that way at this moment. And I don’t really remember feeling anything. I was probably drinking like Natty Light beer or something too, so the combination. But it wasn’t good or bad. I just do remember I have a visual memory of this pretty sweet house being on the patio, smoking a joint.
Skye Pillsbury (06:27):
It sounds like the perfect place to discover cannabis, I have to say. So as you started growing older, did you continue with that? Or was that sort of an experience you had and you filed it away, and went on with your life? I know that you created this incredible career for yourself basically right out of college. But leading up to that, and in your say early 20s, was cannabis or CBD part of your life? Or was that something that faded it into the background a little bit?
Ellen Lee Scanlon (07:03):
It definitely faded. I’d have memories of smoking, we called it pot, in college. There was probably a year I had a good friend who had some kind of a connection. I have no idea what kind of weed we were actually smoking. But I had access with this guy. And so I had more around. So I do remember it in college. And then I moved to New York City right after I graduated, and I was working for an investment bank. And the way that people I knew got drugs was through deliveries. And the people I knew were into more drugs than I was. And I didn’t want a delivery person coming to my house or knowing where I lived. And I didn’t have sort of a community way to get it.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (07:53):
And New York City also was sort of a stressful place for me to smoke weed. In the way that I’d done it in college, I went to college at University of Virginia. So we would be in the country. And it was relaxing and nice, or at somebody’s kind of cool house. And then to be in New York, there were just so many variables. And I didn’t know what kind of weed I was smoking. Sometimes I felt great, but other times I would get anxious or not feel great. And I didn’t enjoy that in New York City as much. And so I just kind of stopped.
Skye Pillsbury (08:26):
Yeah. So at that point in your life, you’re a little bit older, how did you envision your future? You just mentioned investment baking. But tell us a little bit about what your ambitions were when you got out of college. Did you have a set idea of what you thought your life was going to be like, what you thought your career would be like going forward?
Ellen Lee Scanlon (08:47):
I did. And then I started living it day to day, and it was not living up to my expectations. I think I had set this dream when I was very young. Before I moved to Maryland, when I was in high school, I grew up in Connecticut in the suburbs of New York City. And I actually wanted to be a fashion designer when I was little. But my dad was an investment banker, and I thought that was kind of a cool sounding job. And I got into the investment business. And then I actually switched pretty early on to work on a trading floor. And so I was in this very, very exciting environment that was right at the center of everything.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (09:33):
I graduated from college in ’99. And so I was working on the floor on September 11th, which was an incredible, scary, unforgettable kind of day. And I think that, probably unbeknownst to me, but in the way that September 11th affected everyone, I felt like my job was very important for about a year. Because getting the markets reopened, the market’s closed for a few days after September 11th. And so many people I know and worked with had lost people. And it felt very important for about a year.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (10:07):
And then after that, I started to just, I think the wear and tear. I was working like 14, 15 hour days. The job that I had, I actually went into work between 4:30 and 5:00 in the morning, which was the opposite schedule of everyone else in New York City, that I knew especially. And so I was going out a lot, and then waking up really early, which is actually when I started going out and just not drinking and not doing anything. So I kind of got used to doing things sober, which was also fun. Maybe not as fun as what other people doing, but at least I could go to work the next day.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (10:41):
And so I just very slowly but surely was burning myself out completely. And I think that that desire to be a fashion designer was part of having sort of a very creative soul, I think. I have an English major. I love art and music, and all of these things that were in New York City, but we’re not in the job that I was doing. I was in an extremely kind of high intensity financial services job. And so I ended up going to graduate school because it just felt like the right time. I applied to business school and got in. And it was when I was at business school that I kind of had the first moment to breathe.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (11:28):
Actually went back to University of Virginia for business school. I tried to really only take classes that interested me and follow sort of my interests. And when you get to business school, the thing that surprised me was, literally it felt like day two they were like, “Okay, get ready to go back to work.” And I was like, wait a minute. This is a two year program. I came here to explore. I’ve been working without looking up for, at that point, I think I’d worked for six years.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (11:56):
And so again, sort of being in the country, having a little more time allowed me, I think, the freedom to be like, maybe that wasn’t the right fit. All of those things started to come together. And then I actually ended up taking a job at the University of Virginia Endowment. The endowment world is such an interesting part of financial services because it’s considered perpetual capital. And so they’re investing for like the next 100 years, which is almost the polar opposite of working on a trading floor where you’re investing for that hour.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (12:29):
And so I really liked the people. There were more women. I basically worked with no senior women ever in my career up until that point. And it felt like a job that you could kind of have a life with also. When it came time to take a full-time job, I took a job at another endowment firm that it was founded by the woman who had run UVA’s endowment for the prior 30 years. So I was working for a woman. She had three children. She’s just an incredible person. And I think I started to think that there were more possibilities than what I had ever known before.
Skye Pillsbury (13:07):
I have to ask you whether the fashion designer dream, was that something that you ever ended up seriously considering after going to business school? I could have seen that as maybe like a transition toward that, but it sounds like you pivoted in a different direction. I’m just curious about that.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (13:26):
I don’t know what it is. I’ve never really given that dream any space. I love clothes. I love fashion. I follow Fashion Week. It’s a wonderful hobby for me. And I think that that’s how I’ve kept it in my life.
Skye Pillsbury (13:45):
Have always noticed that you have a knack for fashion in every picture and when I’ve seen you in person, so it-
Ellen Lee Scanlon (13:51):
Oh, thank you.
Skye Pillsbury (13:51):
… doesn’t surprise me. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s just fun to learn that about you. So, okay. So you were working in endowments and at the University of Virginia. What happened next?
Ellen Lee Scanlon (14:04):
I was 30 and single in Charlottesville, Virginia, and not happy about it. I was like, I’m never going to meet anybody. My friends, I’d go to dinner and they were talking about their kids. And it was just like, I was just not in the right place. And so I knew that I couldn’t stay there. And so I was trying to think about where to go. And I didn’t want to live in New York again. San Francisco just seemed like kind of a good blend of the things that I liked. And I sort of just did it. One of my dear friends was in film, and she and I took what we called our California adventure. And we went to LA and stayed with people. And kind of just hung around California and liked it. And I was like, okay, California is pretty cool. So I think I might try it. And it was also very much a practical decision because the financial crisis had started, and I got a job.
Skye Pillsbury (15:02):
You were probably lucky to get a job in 2008, right?
Ellen Lee Scanlon (15:05):
I was. And it was a really good job. And they moved me out also, which was huge, and moved my old car. And it was just a great package. I wanted to move to California. And this was a job that I knew I could do. I knew I would be able to perform well. But it did feel a little bit like going backwards in terms of how sophisticated the investors were.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (15:28):
And such a crazy first day. Actually the craziest first day I’ve ever had. I had come out to interview and met a bunch of the senior people, but hadn’t met the junior people. And I was going to be managing a team of eight. And they really wouldn’t let me meet the people. They wouldn’t let me talk to them. And it was sort of weird. But I was like, all right, I really want to move to California. And I’d had a good relationship with the woman who ran HR there and trusted her. And she was like, “They don’t want to let you interview, but it’s going to be fine.” So I felt like it was fine. I walked in. The HR woman pulls me into her office, and sits me down and says, “Ellen, so today your new managers would like you to fire two of the people that are on your team.”
Skye Pillsbury (16:17):
Oh no. That’s not a soft landing into a new job.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (16:22):
And I said no. I said, “No, I will not do that. This is my first day. There is absolutely no way that I will do that. If they want to fire these people, they can fire them before I’m here. I don’t know these people. Or I can try and figure out what’s going on, and maybe they don’t need to be fired. Because you hired me to try and fix this team.”
Ellen Lee Scanlon (16:41):
And so I was able to work with them and figure out some of them were better than others, for sure, but they did not deserve to be fired before being met. And so that job was just the most incredible like people management conflict. I learned a lot. And actually that’s when I would reach back out to my business school professors and ask them for tips. What books should I read about how to manage a team? And was kind of the perfect time to have a job like that when you’re fresh out of business school and still have all these sort of good energy of like, oh, I can do this.
Skye Pillsbury (17:16):
Wow. That is a really fascinating story. I mean, I just love your curiosity and your resilience and your advocacy for people was allowed to sort of let you take this new leap into learning something completely new and learning how to manage people. You must have felt, I don’t know, like kind of a bad-ass after that whole thing happened.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (17:42):
I don’t know. Did I feel like a bad-ass? That’s very nice of you to say. It’s funny. I had to find a password for some website that I couldn’t get to. And one of the questions was what was your worst job? And when I was having to answer the question, I actually couldn’t remember it. And so I had them send me my answer, and it was this job. And I was like, oh, okay. Yeah, it was really, really hard.
Skye Pillsbury (18:04):
Yeah. Yeah. No, it does sound incredibly hard. So in 2010, something pretty major happened in your life. And I’d like you to just bring us back to the morning of that day. Where were you? What did you plan? How did you feel? What was going on right then in that day?
Ellen Lee Scanlon (18:28):
It was such a great day. I was in New Orleans at the beautiful home in the Garden District of one of my closest friends and her fiance. I was with my new boyfriend of probably six or seven months. And I love New Orleans, and have lots of friends there. And we were there for Jazz Fest. We’d actually come in a week earlier, and done a road trip all throughout the South and kind of done a loop. And then we came back to New Orleans to go to Jazz Fest.
Skye Pillsbury (19:01):
And so when you wake up, you’re doing what? You’re going to the festival, I imagine. That’s your plan?
Ellen Lee Scanlon (19:07):
Yeah. So we got bikes and a bunch of other friends had come down from New York. And so we all had bikes. And we’re going to just have a great day at Jazz Fest. Think we saw Lionel Richie. And someone actually proposed in the crowd while we were watching this concert. It was just so much fun. And we were going on our way back. So we’d had this very long, big day, and we were on our way back to my friend’s house, probably two or three blocks from her house in the Garden District. We were not far at all.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (19:40):
And it really wasn’t a dramatic accident. I was riding behind JP, my now husband. And our friends were on the road also, and a car was coming. And so I twisted my front wheel to kind of veer myself towards the side of the road, and it hit JP’s wheel. And I mean, I’m not a biker, but I know how to ride a bike. And I fell off and I hit my chin on the ground. And then I hit my wrist and my elbow went into my ribs, and I landed on my shoulder. And I literally had the seeing stars moment, and kind of did not know what was happening.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (20:27):
And I saw JP got off his bike, and no one was really that worried because it didn’t seem like a big deal. And then JP came over, and I said, “I think I cracked my teeth.” And he put his hand out in front of my mouth, and I spit my teeth out like little Chiclets.
Skye Pillsbury (20:44):
Oh my God.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (20:45):
And he said, “I think this is not good.” And my chin was bleeding. And so Craig, my friend, his brother was a doctor. And he came over and looked at me, and said, “I think we need to take her to the emergency room.” And so he called his brother and we went to this clinic, and they ended up stitching up my chin. And I think they gave me a CAT scan, but they also gave me what I now know to be the strongest dose of medication of hydrocodone, I think. And I can’t remember the milligrams, but I remember once looking in my medicine cabinet and seeing that the pills from New Orleans were three times as strong as anything else any doctor had ever prescribed to me. And so we went home. It was a very sort of everything was okay experience. They just said, “Your chin’s okay. Be careful. And go to a dentist when you get home.”
Ellen Lee Scanlon (21:44):
And when we got back to the house, I was sitting at the table and everyone was talking about the fun that we’d had during that day. And suddenly I felt terrible. And then the next thing I knew, I was on the ground looking up at my six friends who looked really, really worried. And I sat up and realized that I had fainted or passed out from the medicine or something. And I asked JP about it. He said that my head hit the table on the left side, and then I fell out of the chair and my head hit the floor as well. And so I just had the most enormous black eye. And that’s actually when I got a concussion. So head injuries twice in one day are never good. So I don’t know exactly what caused it.
Skye Pillsbury (22:38):
Wow. Yeah. As if you hadn’t had such a physically stressful day already. And then, thanks to the pain medication, I mean, I hate to laugh, but it’s just the absurdity of that happening. And then was it at that point when you got home, and I know that you have continued to have to see doctors and get surgeries on your teeth, and things like that. You and I have talked about how there can be a little voice in your head sort of saying, this is not right. It’s not right that I’m drugged up like this. It’s not right that I’m going through this. Was that voice active in your head at that time? Or were you still in a place where you were kind of just following the doctor’s orders?
Ellen Lee Scanlon (23:31):
I think that I was even less advanced than that. I thought I was going to be fine. And I’d never broken a bone before that day. I had never had any health issues. And so I mean, I called my dentist when I went home and started working on that. But I had been really having trouble breathing. And finally I said this just doesn’t seem right. And so I went to the doctor, and learned that I had broken three ribs, and that was why I couldn’t breathe. And I knew my wrist wasn’t in good shape, but I had that x-rayed and that was just a sprain.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (24:10):
The real injury ended up being my shoulder. And I was in physical therapy for 10 months to try and just get it back to kind of… No one really knew what was wrong with it. And so all of that was going on at the same time that, when you break a tooth, just imagine that every tooth is about three appointments, and thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars. And so I was going to the dentist all the time. It was like physical therapy, dentist.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (24:42):
And especially in the beginning for really at least the first three months, my memory was not in good shape because of the concussion. And it was the weirdest thing. And I’ve talked to other people that have had concussions that have had this. I would know what word I wanted to say, and I could picture all the words that were like it, or that could kind of describe it, or maybe had the same sort of look about them, but I could not get to what I wanted. And that was happening all the time.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (25:15):
So I just felt very disoriented. Physically, I was in a lot of pain. And after that experience, and knowing myself, really any drugs stronger than like Tylenol with codeine, and even that one, they make me really, really nauseous. And so I just started taking tons of Advil. Four every four hours. And that had been the drug that I grew up, if you had a headache, you took an Advil. And I had no idea that ibuprofen in large doses, especially on an empty stomach, can really destroy your stomach. And so what I didn’t know at the time was it slowly but surely I was kind of destroying my stomach.
Skye Pillsbury (25:54):
Did you end up having to reckon with that at a certain point, I imagine?
Ellen Lee Scanlon (25:59):
I did, in a very dramatic way, much like all of this, sort of very dramatic. After 10 months of physical therapy, it just wasn’t working. And so I knew that I had to have surgery. And so I went in for surgery and had a SLAP tear and a lot of issues with my rotator cuff. But the surgery went great, and the doctor was very happy with it. And so when I woke up from the surgery, I didn’t feel good, but I’d had to go under so I thought that was just part of it.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (26:30):
And then I couldn’t keep any food down for the next six weeks. And I just didn’t know what was going on. And my doctor didn’t know what was going on, and no one could figure out why suddenly I would have terrible diarrhea when I put any food into my body. And yeah, that went on for a really long time. And I was going to all kinds of different specialists to try and figure that out. And this led me down the path of seeing a lot of doctors for a lot of things that didn’t seem connected, but were.
Skye Pillsbury (27:09):
And so how did you get to that point where it sort of coalesced, and you were able to see a connected picture?
Ellen Lee Scanlon (27:16):
I was working for another financial services firm. And a woman that I worked with recommended an acupuncturist that she had seen. So I started going to acupuncture with Dr. Anna Gold, who I still see today, who is a dear friend. And I’d never been to an acupuncturist or known really what holistic medicine was. And Anna really just started because I just had to eat. I mean, I was just feeling so terrible all the time. I had such low energy. So she started with that.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (27:46):
And then she started with all the scar tissue and my shoulders. And so my pain started to lessen, and I started to just be able to do more. And she also recommended that I see doctors and do the things that I needed to do in order to heal myself. But I felt like for the first time I had someone that was paying attention to everything and we were working on it together, and that made my doctor’s appointments go so much better.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (28:12):
I started getting second opinions, which was huge. Because after my surgery, I still needed to have physical therapy. And I went to a different physical therapist, and I was better in six weeks, which was really different than 10 months. And so I think that what slowly started to happen was I realized that I had to have a much more active role in my own health.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (28:40):
So it was a little hard to talk about all this, but I also know that this accident had a huge, and ultimately positive effect on my life. In part because of the deep compassion I have for the frustrating, painful, and expensive challenges people, and especially women, face when dealing with their health. Stay tuned to part two of my interview with Skye to hear about how the maddening diagnosis of “unexplained infertility” led me to learning I had endometriosis, how cannabis helps me with its painful symptoms, and some thoughts on getting to 100 episodes of How to Do the Pot.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (29:24):
Thank you for listening to How to Do the Pot. For lots more information and past episodes, visit dothepot.com. And that’s also where you can sign up for our newsletter, which comes out every other Friday. If you’d like updates on new episodes and some behind the scenes with our guests, follow Do the Pot on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter for updates. And if you like How to Do the Pot, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. It helps more people find the show. Thanks to Madi Fair, our brand manager, and our producer, Nick Patri. I’m Ellen Scanlon. And we’ll be back soon with more of How to Do the Pot.
So you must be legal, too. Age 21+ invited to continue.