Medicinal cannabis has had its big break. It is no longer an extra on daytime TV, it’s on the silver screen, nominated for an Oscar for its role in mainstream medicine.
Basically, it is now being taken seriously for its uses – namely pain relief and treatment for mental illness – and anti-nausea, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties.
And for menopausal women who, due to their plummeting oestrogen levels, are affected by rapid changes in mood, increased anxiety and depression, sweating and sleep problems, CBD is proving to be a game-changer.
Melissa Sturgess, CEO and founder of Montana Wellness, understands the positive effects of CBD first-hand. After a 25-year career in the mining industry, she founded Ananda Developments, a medical cannabis investment company.
At this time, she found herself in Israel, a pioneering country in CBD research, and having just turned 50 herself was suffering from a hot flush. She asked one of the scientists she was working with, ‘can your CBD help me?’
A week later Melissa was sleeping better and sweating less. A convert. The CBD oil had alleviated her symptoms and she wanted more. But when she realised that all the brands selling CBD oil specifically for menopausal relief made her feel 80
rather than 50 (imagine old-fashioned bottles covered in flowers and softly falling leaves with unclear ingredient lists), Melissa decided it wouldn’t do.
She shared her idea with some ex colleagues turned friends and Montana Wellness was born with a COO and a lead scientist in tow. Melissa’s experience raising capital and incubating new business paid in dividends and it didn’t take long to get to where it is now – a forward-thinking company, led by women, making products for women.
'This gives people another option.'
Today, Melissa splits her time between Ananda Developments and Montana Wellness. This combination allows her to keep abridge of the wider industry as it evolves alongside changing regulations and concentrate on the specific use of CBD in helping menopausal women.
Her attitude to age and the ageing process is clear. ‘I don’t want to turn the clock back, I want to be my age but I want to feel and look good so developing a product that reduces those extreme symptoms but allows me to still experience the menopause is a game-changer.’
‘Some people take HRT to reverse the effects of menopause but since my mother had breast cancer, I didn’t want to do that. So what else can I use? And what can others like me use? This gives people another option.’
The company is currently 100% online and since launching officially in November last year, the team have seen great feedback and growth. They plan to be in some retail outlets eventually but, since it is primarily a luxury wellness product, it probably isn’t going to be in the high street pharmacies.
Most women are taking it to help with their anxiety and sleep problems. ‘It helps to fine tune the balance of hormones in your body. So if you’re a little bit anxious or unfocused it brings you back to centre.’
Montana Wellness also hosts intimate events with members of its network which focus on education about medicinal cannabis and CBD since understanding is still limited, largely due to the UK’s regulatory environment.
Melissa is keen to have an open discussion about the topic with anyone, as CEO of the company but also as a fellow woman. ‘I love talking to people about this and telling them my own experience. I’m always happy to share what has worked for me with others who are also struggling.’
I tell Melissa my aunt’s recent summation that the menopause feels like a grim finale after a long show of period pain, endometriosis, PCOS and episiotomies and she laughs. ‘I’m convinced there is infinite wisdom on the other side of that finale though. When the oestrogen drops, aside from all the side-effects, I think women become calmer and more rational.’
‘I think there is something very natural about this phase in our lives and I want to experience and enjoy it.’
Melissa has spent a lot of her career mentoring other women in an effort to make them feel more ‘empowered and invincible’ in work. Our conversation turns to this and the female experience of the workplace. ‘I think that gender as a binary construct is problematic. The division is unnecessary when dominant people will always look to exert their power over you, regardless of your gender. How they gain that dominance is usually gendered though and we should prepare ourselves to deal with that.’
Her ethos is that everyone should equip themselves with tools to be able to handle overly-dominant people and in worse cases, bullies – an approach she has used repeatedly to help her mentees in male-dominated offices.
Even though hierarchies are less pronounced now in business, power is still the most important currency, and we can learn how to handle others who use that power for ill. ‘Like a bully in the playground, you ignore them, show strength and prepare some one-liners at home with your mum.’
Melissa’s last piece of advice? ‘Business is a game and the rules have been made by men but let’s learn those rules, play by them, nurture our confidence, achieve success and then try and change them from the inside.’