On the Cover / Chelsea Leyland

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NYC based, British DJ, Chelsea Leyland, is not going to let her condition define her. After being diagnosed with a form of epilepsy in her early teens and recently ending a tumultuous relationship with western medicine in exchange for CBD oil, Chelsea has become an activist in the Cannabis community and an advocate for epilepsy and medical marijuana use.  Fueled by a lust for life and determination to bring her sister, who suffers from a more severe form of epilepsy, access to Cannabis treatment in the UK, Chelsea is using her platform in the fashion and art world to speak out and raise awareness of the benefits of treating neurological disorders with CBD, the non-psychoactive compound found in Cannabis. 

 “I was 15 years old when I was diagnosed with Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy,” Chelsea told MJ.  “I was away at a boarding school in England. I had been extremely over-tired and was experiencing light brain blackouts and hand jerks. It was a difficult moment because my doctor wasn’t able to identify the epilepsy at first. My older sister has a severe type of epilepsy that requires full-time care, so the doctor assumed my symptoms were psychosomatic, stemming from my sister’s condition and the anxiety that I had surrounding that.  I was then referred to a neurologist who within five minutes diagnosed me with JME.

Being a teen is hard enough as it is with everything you’re learning about yourself and trying to fit in, and then being diagnosed—that was very difficult.”

JME or Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy is an idiopathic generalized epileptic syndrome characterized by myoclonic jerks, generalized tonic-clonic seizures, and sometimes absence seizures (brief, sudden lapses of consciousness). 

Chelsea was put on various anticonvulsant medications for 16 years before discovering CBD oil.  The pharmaceuticals she had been prescribed, like Keppra, an AED (anti-epileptic drug), would target one issue while resulting in a slew of other serious side effects.

“For people diagnosed with epilepsy you are prescribed these medications and you don’t have a choice. You either risk hurting yourself or you take the medication, and that is how it is presented to you,” said Chelsea. “I struggled with many side effects from these medications ranging from severe anxiety, rage, and heart palpitations to depression and thoughts of suicide. I was emotionally unstable and had trouble focusing. My parents told me that my personality changed after taking the anticonvulsant drugs and I became very aggressive. It was hard to see at the time what was the medicine and what was me.." 

Follow Chelsea’s journey on Instagram @chelsealeyland and be on the lookout for more information regarding her upcoming documentary, @CBD4epilepsy “Separating The Strains.” 

By Brittney Mesica

Creative Direction Dane Diseth

Photography Amanda Bjorn

Styling  Naomi Zinns