The first time Todd Mitchem's mother was diagnosed with cancer, she says it scared him more than it did her. “He thought he was going to lose his mom,” Kenny Cummins says. “It was a very fearful time."
When she was diagnosed with cancer a second time, she started using marijuana as medicine. "Once he saw what I was doing and how it was helping me, he started doing his own research," Cummins says of her son. "He knew it was saving my life, and he knew it could help other people."
So Mitchem got involved with the cannabis industry. He first worked with O.penVAPE, designing the entire company's structure and developing their PR strategy. Then he worked with High There!, a dating app for marijuana enthusiasts, as a consultant.
In addition to his consulting work, Mitchem also has a book coming out April 20, 2017. It's titled You, Disrupted. Mitchem's self help book explores what he terms "the Disruption Effect," the theory that it can be damaging to stick with the same old routine. In his book he uses examples from his own life to demonstrate to readers how to disrupt themselves.
When he first joined the industry, Mitchem says he heard from a lot of naysayers. He was told over and over that the stories about people using cannabis to fight terminal illness were all anecdotal and that there was no proof cannabis actually worked. He would respond by saying he could pick up the phone right then and call his mother, who was still alive — and that was all the proof he needed.
After the second diagnosis, Cummins was given two to three months to live. The cancer had come back in the exact spot that doctors had targeted with radiation the first go-round, so she and her fiancé started looking for other solutions. She was told by a nurse she might want to try cannabis.
She and her fiancé started growing a few plants in their closet after studying the process online. He did additional research on different consumption methods and learned how to cook the plant down into an oil. “Since 2010, that’s been my meds," she says, "and I’m in remission now."
Cummins uses the oil in gingerbread muffins that are a variation on her grandmother's recipe. She says she likes the gingerbread because she can make it with all-organic ingredients, even substituting honey for sugar. "There's nothing unhealthy in these muffins," she notes. "I think these have been my lifesaver, I really do."
After she was given only a few months to live, doctors later extended that prediction to three to four years. That was eight years ago, and cannabis is the only medication Cummins uses.
Mitchem jokes that if he had started using marijuana when he was younger, his mother probably would have kicked him out of the house.
“I would have beat him to death,” Cummins says. “He would have been in bad trouble. When he found out I was using it, I thought I’d be in bad trouble, but he understood.”
Actually, Mitchem says her cannabis use helped him relate to his mother more. "It made me feel like she's a little bit of a rebel too, like I am," he explains. "And I had never really seen that."
Cummins and her husband now have six plants. “We don’t sell it. We don’t give it away. It’s just enough for me and my muffins,” she says. “To me, there’s nothing bad about it.”
Cummins still lives in Ohio, where medical marijuana just became legal in June; she says she's excited to start growing legally. When they first set up their home grow, she recalls, "it had to be in secret. Everything had to be hidden."
She would even burn candles to hide the smell when people came over — but it was worth the risk, she says.
"I asked her, are you afraid of going to jail?" Mitchem recalls. "She said, 'Hey, nothing's killed me yet.' Her spirit around survival was just so much more intense."
Cummins wasn't surprised when Mitchem got involved in the cannabis industry. “When he believes in something, he jumps in with both feet,” she says.
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“He’s always been a bit of a daredevil. Always did things a little differently, never had much fear about anything,” says Deb Mitchem, his stepmother.
One of the benefits to getting involved in the cannabis industry early on was that everyone had a story like his and a real connection to the plant, Todd Mitchem recalls. "The cannabis industry has had a bit of a rebirth of this idea that the people, especially those of us who were in it [early on], we had a reason to be there," he says. "That was one of the first things that shocked me. Everyone gave a damn. It was a mission to be fought."
It still is. Mitchem now works as a consultant, often with companies outside the field of marijuana, and he teaches them what they can learn from the cannabis industry.
"When I left the business world for the cannabis industry, there were so many people who told me I'd never work again," Mitchem says. "Now those same people are hiring me to come and talk about what I've learned."