In 2013, Jennessa Lea was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos, the rare and genetic collagen disorder that affects the joints, skin, and blood vessel walls. Because of the chronic joint pain, as well as the body's joint and muscle instability, Lea had to put her all into her physical therapy sessions to build muscle.
“I grew up with pain through my entire body, but never got any answers of what it was,” Lea told INKED. “My joints would pop in and out, to total dislocation.”
“I woke up everyday looking at a wheelchair,” Lea said. “That quality of life, I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.”
Living life in excruciating pain, her doctor-prescribed pain management had left her addicted to opiates.
When Lea became pregnant with daughter, Raegan, her disease was exacerbated. Lea then swapped opioids for cannabis.
“I thought, if people were using it for cancers and to shrink tumors with it, it was worth a shot,“ Lea says. "At first I used cannabis to manage the pain, because before, it was still impossible. I would be in bed for a week to recover after physical therapy. With cannabis, I could consistently work out and build that muscle. Soon enough I was out of my brace.”
Feeling that cannabis had saved her life, she created the blog Fit Cannabis Girl in the summer of 2016.
“It put me in a zone that I could focus on my workout and strengthen that mind/body connection,” she says. “Cannabis is medicinal. THC, CBD, THCA, there are over a hundred [cannabinoids], and each have its own medicinal properties, like anti-inflammatory and pain relief. In finding strains to target what benefits you want, the possibilities are endless.
After sharing her experience with “fitness, cannabis, and how I reclaimed my life with both,” Lea had wanted to further advocate for cannabis’ capability as a performance enhancer. With a desire to bring fitness-minded cannabis consumers together, Lea created Break the Stigma Fitness.
“The stigma is broken when people understand the science behind it," she says. "You can’t deny science.”
With the goal to legitimize cannabis as an "aid to control users’ own health and wellness," Break the Stigma Fitness was formed with cannabis-friendly fitness classes, nutritional advice, as well as workshops.
“When I opened in Colorado you couldn’t have a cannabis-friendly business, so I opened in a private residence,” she says.
Lea wanted to be a “living example to people that you can have cannabis as part of your daily fitness and lifestyle routine,” and that it “doesn’t need to define you or put you in a box.”
However, as stigmas still circle around cannabis, Lea's business was closed down.
“Fox News did a piece that went viral, and they shut me down,” Lea said. "They wanted to make an example out of me."
While Lea's intention for participating in Fox News' story was to share the benefits of cannabis, the coverage went national by morning, leading to an immediate license suspension and notice of revocation. Still, she keeps her head up about the experience.
“While it was frustrating, I am optimistic for the future, and just waiting for a concrete law to support me.”
Along with cannabis as an aid for her physical pain, Lea says that getting tattoos helps her manage the emotional trauma that came with her journey.
“I definitely use tattoos as a coping method. It calms me and redirects emotional pain,” Lea said. “For someone with pain throughout their body, centralized pain is a nice distraction.”
While tattoos and cannabis have both given back the control that Ehlers-Danlos had tried to take away from Jennessa Lea, cannabis has been the one thing that has allowed her to reclaim autonomy, as well as joy.
“When it changes your life and gives you back the life you had, you feel you owe it to advocate and offer the knowledge on the power of cannabis,” Lea says.