For The Past 17 Years, Montel Williams Did What The FDA Won’t: He Made Weed A MedicineMontel Williams
After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2000, Montel Williams set out to find the safest, most effective form of medicinal cannabis for treating his disease and others, and to bring that product to the masses. After 17 years of nonstop research and advocacy, those goals are finally in hand with the launch of his new, medical-grade line of cannabis oils and products–but don’t expect him to slow down anytime soon.
Now serving medicinal cannabis patients in California (and other states soon), Lenitiv Labs is the product of nearly two decades of research spanning multiple continents and continuous, very personal investment by Williams. As founder, the retired naval officer, former TV host, and ongoing entrepreneur has guaranteed to personally try every batch of cannabis concentrate he sells, having spent years learning how other companies process the plant for use in ‘medical’ products.
He explained by phone that the medicinal and recreational booms have also brought a huge rise in the number of different cannabis producers, all operating under fluctuating, often ill-defined regulatory standards. “We’ve got a lot of ‘garage scientists’ in the industry, who are well-meaning people–I don’t think anyone gets up in the morning, goes to the garage, and thinks they’ll make something poisonous that could hurt people,” he said.
“But some are misled, some don’t do the research, and some don’t understand how long it’s taken to get here, and just work from bits and pieces of the extant literature,” he continued. “If you looked at how some of these products are processed, you would not give it to your mother or your child. So why do we call it medicine?”
Williams, whose company recovers active and medicinal chemicals like THC and CBD from cannabis plants using the ‘green method’ of supercritical fluid extraction (SFE) with C02, noted that the butane, hexane and flavoring used to process much consumer-grade cannabis can leave unwanted traces behind. “With specialty beers, sure–include all the novelty junk you want. But if you call it medicine, and give it to anyone with a serious disease such as MS, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, and on and on, you must believe that they’re walking in that door trusting that it will work, and not do them harm.”
“A lot of these doctors never signed the Hippocratic oath,” he added. “I spent time in the military, and I believe in oaths. If I wouldn’t put something in my body, I won’t sell it to you for yours.”
It was not long after Williams formally retired from the military that he was diagnosed with MS, and began his search for an effective treatment. “In the first year, I was put on a myriad of medications, most of them opioid-based, only to affect one symptom, which was pain,” he said. “Then I started taking another, which was supposedly immune-system modifying. I tried homeopathic remedies, and everything I could think of, and almost destroyed my intestines with opioids.”
In 2001, one of his doctors, a renowned one in the area of MS, told Williams off the record that some of his patients had reportedly seen benefits from using cannabis. “A credible doctor told me not to stick a needle in myself every day, not to take four pills a day, but to try cannabis. It took about two and a half months to switch over, and I’ve had cannabis in my system every day since–except for about 40 when I was traveling in a country that strictly prohibits cannabis, and I had to use MARINOL, one of the most insidious drugs ever created, with strange side effects at any dose, on any body.”
When he was diagnosed at the age of 43, doctors told Williams that his life expectancy would likely be cut in half. Today, at 60, Williams eats healthily and exercises frequently, making sure to stretch and crack out the characteristically stiff joints which, he suggested, may have inspired a Chinese term for MS: roughly, “the statue disease.” He also keeps himself “saturated with cannabinoids” to increase flexibility, help with pain, and promote nerve-protective neuroplasticity in the brain, he said, but which never get him high. By first prognosis, he said, “As an African-American male, I should be dead.”
Since the time he first started using cannabis for MS, Williams has also been tirelessly advocating for cannabis reform in states around the country, as well as on behalf of veterans. “I was lobbying literally for myself,” he said.
His military history also drove his interest in creating a highly tailored form of cannabis oil using SFE’s powerful capacity for targeting and releasing specific chemicals. “I’m an engineer, and a naval academy graduate, and I can’t look at things without wanting to take them apart, and figure out how to put them back together in the optimal way,” he said. “I spent 16 years figuring out how to use [CBD] to work best for me, and developing things I know work for me, and I want to share what I’ve learned with others.”
“There have been times I’ve been so disappointed with the industry. People jump in, see it as the ‘green rush,’ and forget that 17 years ago people were dragged out of their homes with IVs in their arms, in their wheelchairs, for growing marijuana to treat awful symptoms of cancer,” he added. “As things have changed in the past five years, people have forgotten that there were patients left on the battlefield.”
“Honestly, I’ve been appalled by aspects of this industry,” he said. “Cannabis should have been treated like any other plant-based medicine for the past hundred years: find the best portion of this drug and use it in the best modality it can be used for.”
In the absence of such research (broadly speaking), Williams has continuously tried to uncover the information himself since he first started using medicinal cannabis. While he was never a ‘garage scientist,’ he recalled trying to extract oil from cannabis plants in his small Manhattan kitchen back in the early 2000s. “With the pilot light there, it wasn’t the smartest,” he joked.
But his tireless dedication to the cause, and to other ones across the industry, seem to have paid off. He noted that he wants to continue taking the knowledge he’s gaining himself and “offer it up” to others, including through clinical trials he plans to arrange as the business gains steam.
In salutation, then, at 4:20 on 4/20 in my own city, with my own method (though sadly inferior, from what it looks and sounds like):
Mr. Williams, this one’s for you.