Sarah Stenuf spent hours poring over videos on YouTube researching the efficacy of cannabis as a treatment for epilepsy. At the time, she was severely medicated from more than a dozen prescriptions from Veteran’s Affairs and had resorted to cocaine and alcohol to cope.
“I was miserable,” she says. “I’d get up at 12:30 and be drooling on myself, like a walking corpse, catatonic.”
The research results were nearly universal.
“I went to my wife and said, ‘I am going to be smoking more pot,’” Stenuf says. “I went from 13 prescriptions down to four.”
Her investigation and personal success forged a passion for advocacy and education that led to her starting HappyHealing420, an educational community in New York, focusing on cannabis awareness in a judgment-free environment. It’s a long way from her last gig, a dream job in the Army. But that was before fate hit her in the face, literally.
After a blow to the head during hand-to-hand training, Stenuf initially dismissed her concussion as an occupational hazard. After a second concussion, the seizures were a little harder to dismiss. But Stenuf remained determined to stay in the military.
“I found a clause to stay in the military as long as my medication remained under control and I was able to deploy with my unit,” she says. “When I was deployed in Afghanistan our cargo got blown up, so needless to say, I wasn’t able to get my medication.”
After having seizures during combat, Stenuf was evacuated back to the U.S. She was prepared for the long road back to health physically, but the emotional trauma of not being able to return to active duty blindsided her and took years to recover from.
“I wanted to go into the military ever since I was a kid,” Stenuf says. “And then finding out that my fight wasn’t good enough? That hit me pretty hard.”
Stenuf left the military with a medical discharge, as well as epilepsy, hand tremors, migraines, nausea, depression and eight prescription medications. She was engaged to be married, but felt suicidal in what should be the prime of her life. It wasn’t until a fellow veteran recommended researching plant-based medicines that Stenuf was able to get her life back on track.
She’s been using her research and her story to help others make the same transition through medical cannabis ever since. She formed HappyHealing420 in October 2017, but prefers to let members be the driving force behind the business. This summer she’s also starting the Veterans Ananda, a homestead retreat in New York where veterans can receive traditional and non-traditional treatment.
“HappyHealing420 is a community organization that is run by the community,” Stenuf says. “It’s run by me in a sense, but everyone in the community generates the process and ways that we learn from each other.”