Former television personality Montel Williams has used cannabis nearly every day for 17 years. But he hasn't smoked it in over a decade.
"I have dexterity problems. I can't roll a joint to save my life," Williams tells Business Insider. He prefers vaporizing more concentrated forms of the drug.
Williams, who is also a retired Navy officer, suffers from multiple sclerosis, a disease that causes his immune system to attack the insulation around his nerves. It produces intense, burning sensations from his head to his toes.
Every morning, Williams takes a fistful of pills to ease the pain. He supplements this cocktail with cannabis, which he started using after his diagnosis in 1999. The drug has been shown to improve symptoms in patients suffering from MS, according to a summary from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
In April, Williams became a "ganjapreneur," launching his own line of cannabis products. Lenitiv Labs makes high-quality, user-friendly marijuana products designed specifically for medical users. They're available in over 30 dispensaries in California.
The company uses a type of cannabis extract made from compressing carbon dioxide at high pressures, a process that does not require chemical solvents or artificial additives. The oil and drinks come in three formulas that vary the ratio of THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) and CBD (a chemical compound thought to be responsible for many of the drug's therapeutic effects) so patients can control their doses with precision.
"The Montel Williams Show," which made Williams the first African-American to host a syndicated daytime talk show, ran for 17 seasons. He hid his disease for most of that time, until a tabloid threatened to print the story and forced him to reveal his diagnosis on air.
Williams has since described how he'd take long commercial breaks backstage, where he could cry from the pain in private. "[I would] let it go, refocus, come back out and sit down, and do another interview with a person," he told Oprah Winfrey in 2009. "I was doing that every day."
After his diagnosis, Williams jumped in front of a taxi cab in New York City in a suicide attempt. Around the same, time he started using cannabis — specifically kief, a fine powder made from the plant's dried resin glands — to help manage his pain and mood. Depression is one of the most common symptoms of MS, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Today, cannabis "helps me to function," Williams says.
He lives in New York, which is home to one of the country's more restrictive medical marijuana programs. But because he operates a business in California, Williams says he is qualified to buy and consume medical marijuana there. He sources his kief from a "compassionate caregiver" — an individual authorized by the state to grow the plant for medical users.
Williams says that since 2012, when the first US states legalized marijuana for recreational use, sugary, weed-laced junk food has dominated dispensaries.
"They're putting all kinds of junk in there. And I say, really, that's medicine?" he says.
An increased demand for recreational products has Williams and others worried that the needs of medical users will be ignored. "This industry has gotten so caught up in making money, they forgot they're leaving patients on the battlefield," Williams says.
He hopes to expand Lenitive Labs to every state where medical marijuana is legal, and is traveling the country this spring to give educational talks on cannabis.