“The scientific material, which is complicated, if it is presented in a way that one can understand and really appreciate, can be a game changer in terms of shattering stigmas regarding cannabis,” explains David Jacubovic, director of the new documentary CBD Nation.
The film, which was released last week, accomplishes what many have tried and failed to do: shatter the taboos around medical cannabis.
“There’s nothing that really makes you accept something more than understanding it,” Jacubovic says on The Cannabis Enigma Podcast.
In a wide-ranging interview, Jacubovic talks about his decision to put a focus on cannabis and women’s health, why so many people are unwilling to look past stereotypes and stigmas about the plant, and gives a behind-the-scenes look at his approach to cracking the cannabis enigma for the masses.
In the second part of this episode, Americans for Safe Access Policy Director Dustin McDonald discusses the organization’s new report, 2020 State of the States.
Produced by Elana Goldberg and Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man. Edited and mixed by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man. Music by Desca. The Cannabis Engima is a co-production of The Cannigma and Americans for Safe Access.
Elana Goldberg: Thanks for joining me here today, David. It’s great to speak to you.
David Jakubovic: Thank you for having me.
Goldberg: Sure. So I just finished watching your film last night, CBD Nation, and I can tell you I’m, basically, your new biggest fan. It kind of felt to me like a feature length version of everything that we do on The Cannigma. Really, pulling apart the world of cannabis and, specifically, medical cannabis with amazing guests, experts, really thorough explanations, clear graphics. Really, the whole package. So first of all, congratulations. Really well done on this.
Jakubovic: Thank you very much.
Goldberg: Sure. So let’s start off, for anyone who hasn’t seen the film or even heard of the film, maybe, can you give us a bit of a background and explanation of what this film is and what you are looking to achieve here?
Jakubovic: CBD Nation is a documentary about the scientific research taking place all around the world on the subject of medical cannabis. And it focuses very heavily on the science, as opposed to many other documentaries that I’d seen before that focus very heavily on emotional stories of patients. I tried to combine the emotional stories of patients with a really good healthy dose of science, because I think that the scientific material, which is complicated, if it is presented in a way that one can understand and really appreciate, that can be a game changer in terms of shattering stigma regarding cannabis. Because I think that there’s nothing that really makes you accept something more than understanding it. And before making this movie and before starting to learn about the subject, I, myself, was not at all a user of cannabis. I didn’t know really much about it at all, and I kind of had stigma thinking about it, just like many other people do. And my journey with making this movie began by those stigmas being shattered within minutes of starting to listen to lectures and reading scientific papers online. Because you very quickly realize, when presented with facts, that this is a very real thing and that’s medically very real, and it’s not some kind of random wellness fad. And so I decided to focus on facts and scientific papers, so that’s what this movie is about.
And we’ve interviewed a lot of the world’s biggest experts, people in leading universities, a lot of people in Israel, and really tried to make something that’s like a scientific movie about cannabis.
Goldberg: Right. So I’m interested, you mentioned that you used to, first of all, not be a cannabis user, but also kind of buy into these stigmas or stereotypes, and they started to break down for you in making the film. What led you to decide to embark on this endeavor in the first place?
Jakubovic: Someone asked me if I wanted to make a movie about… A documentary about cannabis, about cannabis science. And my initial reaction was kind of, “No.” I didn’t really want to. I didn’t feel like it. It wasn’t a subject I felt like spending a year of my life on. Because when you’re not from that world at all and you don’t know anything about it, you… I’m very embarrassed now to say that I used to find people who I deemed to be stoners kind of annoying. I used to think that. I used to really have negative thoughts on cannabis. I used to think it was fine, I had it a handful of times in my life. I used to think it was fine, that it probably should be legal, it’s obviously helpful for some people. But I didn’t really think it was very… I did not think it was the positive thing that I discovered it to be.
And I saw a TED Talk by Dedi Meiri from the Technion, who runs this lab for cannabis and cancer research. And he was talking in this TED Talk about how they’ve been discovering that various combinations of compounds from the cannabis plant were killing different cancer cells. And this guy was speaking very seriously. He is not a member of what I would have termed at the time “pop culture”. Here’s this very serious scientist, postdoc biochemist guy talking about this stuff with no cultural stigma baggage. And I was just blown away by that. I was blown away by the simplicity of the truth. And at that point, I realized that I should just really focus my efforts on figuring out why I had stigma thinking. Why was I not thinking in this simple truthful way about this subject? And I realized, Well, I just did not know the science.
Goldberg: Right, and 100 years of prohibition and stereotypes as well plays its part.
Jakubovic: Absolutely, it does. It plays its part. And one of the things that you start learning when you dive into this subject, is that the American government, which has been the leader of this propaganda for many years, has itself been funding cannabis research in other countries. Dr. Raphael Mechoulam’s… One of his main sources of… Well, I’m gonna take that… I don’t know if one of his main sources, but a source of his funding for many decades has been the National Institute of Health in America. And so that’s just insane. And you learn very quickly that the American Health Department has a patent on cannabis compounds for medical use from 20 years ago, that the lead scientist on that patent is a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist. And when you start realizing these things, you start realizing very quickly that you’ve been lied to and that… Let’s focus on the truth.
And I made a conscious decision early on making this movie to not go into angry activism mode. I didn’t wanna create any confrontation sense for the audience. I didn’t wanna preach to the choir. So I wanted people who are uncomfortable with cannabis, like I was, to be comfortable watching this and not be told, “Hey, the government’s been lying to you.” So I did a little bit of that, but simply by showing the papers, simply by showing the research that the government has funded, but without really going too crazy into “You’ve been lied to, you’ve been lied to.”
Goldberg: Yeah, it certainly sets a different tone.
Jakubovic: Yeah, I think so.
Goldberg: There’s something I really relate to in what you said before about watching Dedi Meiri’s TED Talk and thinking, “This isn’t the kind of stoned hippie that I picture would be advocating cannabis.” I do a lot of meditation, I’m into Buddhist meditation, Vipassana. And I remember one of my first experiences, or a few of my first experiences meditating and going to retreats, something that was very calming for me getting into this was that everyone just looked like normal people. It wasn’t people with turbans on their heads and looking stoned or whatever it is, it was often just men in polo shirts and normal trousers sitting and explaining the techniques. And it was something that really normalized the practice for me. And I think that’s something which is rife and growing within the cannabis world, both on the recreational side and the medical side at the moment. It’s that kind of breaking of those stigmas and stereotypes.
Jakubovic: Well, after watching Dedi Meiri’s talk, I was in Israel… I grew up in Israel, so I go there a lot. And I was there and I was in Tel Aviv, and there was this Canna Tech conference happening that I heard about. And I thought, “Well, alright. I’ll go learn about cannabis. It seems like there’s scientists there. I’ll go listen to lectures.” And so I went to Canna Tech and I was completely just blown away by exactly what you just described about this Buddhist conference, where everyone was very, very much not what I would have imagined in my stigma thinking about a pot conference. And I don’t refer to it now as pot, but back then, maybe. So all scientists, PhDs, technology people, entrepreneurs, business people, and educators, the whole thing felt like a tech conference. And the law makers and the deputy health minister of Israel was speaking there. It’s just crazy. I’m thinking, “This is a cannabis conference?” And I started listening to the lectures and it was just so clear that there’s a problem in the mainstream education. Mainstream education is too embedded in the stereotypical cannabis culture, which is perfectly not bad, I think, as a culture, but I think it’s not doing a lot of good in teaching the uninitiated about why cannabis is good.
Goldberg: I think something… One of the things that’s most effective about how you built the story in the film is that you started off with children, of course, and personal stories, and then wove in more and more of the scientific research and understanding, and then got to the business side of the industry. And I think that really helps take maybe a less educated viewer through that change of mindset. Is that something that was intentional?
Jakubovic: The business sequence is interesting, ’cause the guy in there, Klee Irwin, he’s an old friend of mine. He has this big company and he was starting to do CBD lines of products there. And I love Klee. I’ve done work for him before. He’s a really interesting guy. He’s a physicist. He’s this total Renaissance man. And I’ve made videos about the quantum physics theories that he’s working on, and he did this, too, almost on the side. And his heart was so deeply in it, and hearing him speak about it was just so beautiful and inspirational. And I know this guy for a long time, so I knew that all the things he says in the movie, that he doesn’t care if you buy other people’s lines of CBD, he just wants to help people and that he’s so happy to put it out for… And lose money putting it out. I know him, so I know that that’s all very real and that he really means that, and so I just thought, “I just need to show this guy, ’cause he’s just so beautiful.”
So I, originally, was thinking of focusing on… When I was starting this whole thing, I thought I would go more into the business side of it, but the reason that it appears at the end of the movie is kind of a funny, practical reason, which was I found myself doing only the science and I didn’t really want to do it anymore, to do the business aspect of it anymore. And I realize as I’m going, “I don’t think I’m gonna focus on this,” but I still really wanna do something with him. So I ended up just slapping a little business section onto the end, and I’m so happy I did because I think it adds some kind of rounded feeling about the whole experience of the world of cannabis when you watch it.
Goldberg: Yeah, absolutely. And I think…
Jakubovic: And many people… One of the cool things… Sorry to interrupt you. One of the cool things about making this movie, my cameraman Natt and I remarked to each other often during shooting this thing over a few months, how every person that we met involved with the world of cannabis was uniquely nice. And it’s sort of like a simple statement, but you don’t usually encounter that amount of people who are so nice within one sector. And it was a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Goldberg: Yeah, I really feel that and experience that. I feel like everyone will take my phone call, everyone’s at least willing to chat for half an hour, and that’s not something to take for granted. It’s rare.
Jakubovic: That’s very true. And also, I found that people wanted to tell their stories. I think there’s a thirst in this industry and sector and world to impart knowledge in a way that is credible. Steve DeAngelo talks a lot about how everything related to how you talk about cannabis is gonna fall into one of two categories; one is enhancing stigma and one is breaking stigma. And I think he’s very right about that. And so I think there is a sense when someone is trying to tell the story of cannabis in a way that breaks stigma, I think people rally to help. And I found that a lot, making this movie, is that people would often introduce me to other people. That’s how I met everyone. I interviewed Steve DeAngelo and he said, “Okay, you’re cool. You’re asking the right questions. You seem to be in the right state of mind. Have you met the Israelis yet?” And I said, “No,” and he said, “Alright, I’ll introduce you to Mechoulam and I’ll introduce you to… ” I think he introduced me to Meiri, also. I’m not positive, no. He introduced me to a few of the Israelis.
So yeah, there’s this beautiful need to impart knowledge. And I think that’s an issue in the cannabis industry as a whole. I think educating the public is the absolute number one priority, other than research.
Goldberg: Yeah, definitely…
Jakubovic: I think it’s more important than business, it’s more important than money making. I think there’s nothing more important right now than that, because the legalization situation is not gonna change without more and more education. It’s changing, gradually, the more people are educated.
Goldberg: Yeah, definitely. As you mentioned, you really have an impressive list of interviewees and testimonials. How long did it take you to put this all together?
Jakubovic: We shot it over three months, maybe, with a few extra things being shot over the few months after that, while editing. Took me… It was like a year, the whole thing. Took six, eight months to edit.
Goldberg: Okay. And I was very excited to see beautiful footage of Tel Aviv in there. Where else did you film?
Jakubovic: The Tel Aviv sequence… There’s that little Tel Aviv montage of pretty Tel Aviv pictures.
Goldberg: Loved it.
Jakubovic: It was there because I grew up near Tel Aviv. And Israel is, politically, such afroth with bad PR plays that I think cannabis is a really good source of public relations for Israel. So as my little contribution to that, I thought, “Alright, let’s show Israel in a really nice way for a moment here.”
Goldberg: Yeah, loved it.
Jakubovic: I went to Canada, and I went to a bunch of places in the US. So I was in the San Francisco area a few times. Marin County, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, just a bunch of places around the country. Delaware. I got just interviews with a lot of people. There’s a lot of interviews that also didn’t make it into the film, so there was quite a lot of shooting.
Goldberg: So let’s talk a little bit about the graphic elements in the film. Something that I can tell you here at The Cannigma, that we struggle with and talk around a lot, is how to present credible, unbiased information about cannabis without doing it in a stereotypical way. At the risk of seeming like stoners, seeming hippie-dippie. And something that I really love that you did in CBD Nation was integrating some kind of psychedelic visual elements into it, which were balanced then by the expert testimony and the scientific basis. How did you put together that graphic language?
Jakubovic: If you get a great artist to work with you, then that artist will bring a lot of beauty to it. The animator and designer of all these sequences, her name is Sarah Winters. And I’ve worked with her a few times, and we’re working together now on some corporate video project together, which I’m very excited about because I love working with her. She just does such beautiful work. And I think she has a bit of a psychedelic touch to all of her work. And if you had asked me before making this movie if that’s a style that I would wanna touch on, I would’ve probably said no. But she does it naturally, in a way that’s not at all overwhelming and that I decided was a nice… Or I realized was a really nice homage to the plant without it being the culture of the plant.
I think graphics, art, are such a crucial part of presenting information in a palatable way. If graphics and art are presented in ways that are really literal but pretty, when presenting hard to grasp scientific information, it makes the experience so much easier and it makes you really understand stuff. And I think we began with this psychedelic thing, when I read this article by… I read a scientific paper by Dr. Ethan Russo. I mention it in the film a little bit. And he wrote this paper on the history of women’s health and cannabis. And I read it and it was just so interesting and I thought, “We have to include this in the movie.” It’s a very long paper with a ton of detail, so I just read it and thought, “What are the most powerful things in here that can work as quick points?” And we just made a nice animation sequence out of it. And because it was touching on different cultures and different moments in history, I think Sarah’s approach to the art became really interesting and abstract and a little, maybe, psychedelic and I loved it.
Goldberg: Oh, I loved that sequence as well, the women’s health graphics. Stunning. Another section that stood out to me was the explanation of the endocannabinoid system. We made, actually, a few months back, a very short, not comparing it to your film, we did a one-minute animation explaining the endocannabinoid system. And pulling apart a complex topic like this and presenting it in a clear and yet accurate way is very, very complex. And a technique that I really like that you used in that particular section was how you zoomed out and gave the big picture, then finish that up, and then dove in for a much deeper explanation. Who helped you put that all together and find the best way to explain this concept?
Jakubovic: The Israeli Air Force.
Jakubovic: Because… [chuckle] Well that’s partially… That’s a joke sort of, but also not really because I started my film life making training films for the Israeli Air Force, when I was in there for my service. And when making training films back then, you’d make these movies about subjects that you don’t know anything about. I don’t know how to fly planes, but we’re making these videos about how to fly planes, and we’re trying to make them really entertaining and understandable and clear. And I think that was training for me, and that really instilled in my brain how to approach complicated scientific subjects and make them interesting and easy to understand.
So a very basic teaching technique is you just explain the subject, explain it broadly, and then start going in details, which is just basic Teaching 101 almost. And so that’s what I did there. I just tried to keep it really simple and clear. Part of explaining science to a lay person has to do with looking at this whole giant scientific picture, which me, as a filmmaker, I don’t understand it. I’m not a scientist. But I ask the questions a million times until I grasp enough of it, and then I go and distill all that millions of bits of information into just the most important bits that the lay person can understand. And when you do that, you can watch this movie and grasp the science without actually being a scientist. You grasp enough to understand, “Oh, there’s real science here and I understand what it’s about.”
Goldberg: Right. Well, that’s it, isn’t it? Because the viewer only needs to understand these concepts to the extent that you understand them, not to the extent that the scientists understand them.
Jakubovic: Exactly. That’s exactly it. And I understand them to the extent that the viewer understands them. What you see in the film is my understanding of the science based on asking dozens of scientists the same questions a thousand times till I really understood it.
Goldberg: Right. Well, I think it’s spot-on.
Jakubovic: Thank you. Why don’t we say something more about… I wanna just come back to the women’s health thing for a second.
Jakubovic: ‘Cause we were talking about that, and I think it’s important. I interviewed quite a few people talking about women’s health, and when I was making the film, when I was telling people that I was… When I was telling women that I was making a section about women’s health in the movie, I often heard excitement about it because I kept hearing that movies don’t really get into women’s health. And the more I learned about this, I realized, “Wow, women’s health is sort of… ” Well, we all know that women’s health is completely politicized in an insane way in America. But beyond that, it’s just not part of the conversation on cannabis and cannabis medicine. And so I was really happy to be able to focus on that a little bit.
Especially on endometriosis because several times when saying to women that I was talking about that in the movie, I heard very emotional responses to that and many women who told me that they suffer from that and that no one ever talks about it. And that it’s almost stigmatized for them because just people don’t talk about it, so they were excited to hear that a movie is touching on that.
Goldberg: Yeah. Well, I guess it’s where a stigmatized issue meets another stigmatized issue. So I think, as a society, we don’t really speak about women’s health. And I know that’s definitely changing, and I think our generation is in this different place than our parents’ generation. But I think you’ve got a treatment that people are using and not talking about it, coupled with symptoms and conditions that people are suffering from and not talking about.
Jakubovic: Yeah. And actually, many of the conditions that are helped by cannabis are conditions that are stigmatized in a way: PTSD, depression, anxiety. A lot of subjects that people have been suffering quietly with for a long time. I think depression and anxiety are probably going through a process in the last few years of being less stigmatized than they were, but still not entirely. And it’s interesting how these stigmatized conditions meet with this stigmatized plant and find solace and help. That’s a strange aspect of this whole thing. And when speaking to veterans, army veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder, who lose friends to suicide often, in America, and who suffer greatly from PTSD they themselves experience so much stigma that they cannot really talk about their problems with others. In Israel, we all, or most of us go into the military, and then everyone has an understanding of what that is. Where here in the US, people go into the military, come out and no one else gets that, no one else gets it. They don’t understand at all what these people have been through. And as a culture, they’re like a separate entity from people who did not go to the military, which is the majority. And so I think they feel just so isolated, and cannabis is such an important part of the recovery for a lot of these people. And that in itself is stigmatized.
I showed the film at UCLA in a preview screening, before we finished, just to get feedback, to 30 people. And there’s a section in the movie where the focus is on veterans and PTSD, and this guy named Colin, who’s just a beautiful soul, who helps a lot of veterans, was speaking very openly about his experiences. And this guy in the audience, when I was getting feedback, this guy in the audience, I think he was in his 30s, he said… His feedback was that the veteran in the movie would have been more credible to him, I kid you not, would have been more credible to him if he had been wearing a suit. And when you’re listening to feedback, you don’t wanna judge the feedback, so you don’t wanna judge the person giving the feedback, so I didn’t. I just listened and said, “Thank you,” and moved on. ‘Cause I just thought it was so insane. And you start wondering how many people think this. Would he have been more credible if he had been wearing a suit? That’s insane, right?
Goldberg: Right. But he was hiking. It would be ridiculous if he was wearing a suit.
Jakubovic: [chuckle] Yeah, exactly. Should I have asked him to wear a suit in the interview? To think this guy who went to Afghanistan and is suffering because of that, you need him to wear a suit? Go fuck yourself. But you don’t say that, obviously, in a… You don’t say this in the screening.
Goldberg: Right. But I guess the truth is that this is the stigma right in front of you, and this guy was telling you the truth. He does honestly believe that he would be able to trust what the PTSD patient was saying more if he was wearing a suit. I’m sure he’s not lying to you.
Jakubovic: Exactly. He’s not lying at all. And because he’s not lying, that is the person that I wanna be speaking to with this film. This amazing thing happened. I was on a plane early on making this movie, and I had a big packet of information on CBD or whatever it was. And I was reading it on the plane, and there was this married couple sitting next to me in their 30s, I think, maybe late 20s, and the guy was excited that I was reading all this material and he started talking to me, he was a mixed martial arts fighter, amateur fighter who would do it after work every day. And he told me that all of his friends, all of them and him, they all take a lot of CBD because it helps them with their injuries. And his wife was climbing over him to get to me to yell at me about how much she hates that her husband takes drugs. And this guy takes CBD, takes CBD capsules for his injuries. And I told her, “Hey, can I tell you what I’ve been learning? I’m making this movie on them. I’ve been learning about the science of this a lot.” And she goes, “I don’t care about the science, it’s a drug.” And she starts just mouthing off all the stigma shit about it. It’s a street drug, it makes you crazy, just all the propaganda stuff. And I thought, “Wow, this is the person that I should be speaking to with this film.”
Goldberg: I hope it is the person you speak to with this film, I really hope so.
Jakubovic: I hope so. I hope so.
Goldberg: How has it been received? It’s been out there for a few days now, right?
Jakubovic: Yeah. I don’t know, I’ve been hearing some good things. I know that I’ve heard from a few doctors who had seen it who were very impressed by it, who are not cannabis… They don’t do stuff with cannabis. I don’t know yet. We’ll see, we’ll see. So far, I’m hearing good things, but I don’t know yet.
Goldberg: Alright. So for anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet, can you give us some details about where to find it?
Jakubovic: Right now it’s available in the US and Canada. It will be available later internationally. It’s on video on demand, on cable, it’s on iTunes, Apple TV, you can buy it on YouTube, or buy or rent it on YouTube, Google Play, and all the other VOD places. Not yet Amazon, but you can do a PlayStation, wherever you can get VOD movies.
Goldberg: Well, thanks again for speaking to me today. And, really, for everyone listening, I highly recommend finding CBD Nation and giving it a watch.
Jakubovic: Thank you very much for everything.
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