"Cannabis has destroyed and saved my life all at the same time."
For seven years, Cody Lindsay was a cook in Canada's military. Working primarily in the Navy, Private Lindsay learned not only his craft but the healing power of food.
"There's nothing better for a guy having a shitty day than an extra shrimp on his plate, or an extra scoop of hearty stew," he says. "Those small things are huge morale-builders in the military. That's one of the things I loved about being a cook in the military; bringing people together in the mess hall over good food, during shitty times. A good meal can help the troops big time."
Lindsay, who comes from a military family, knew right after high school that he wanted to be in the armed forces, though he was also hesitant to be on the front lines.
"I applied as a cook, I thought it was going to be easy," he says. "I didn't quite want to be infantry and do hardcore military manual-labour-type stuff. I figured, 'Cooking can't be that hard!' But I was totally wrong. It's a hard-as-fuck trade; you're in a hot kitchen all day and it's the tightest cramped quarters you can find. The heat of the stove, and the heat of the moment and people around you, it's not that fun. But I took a liking to it."
Despite having found his calling, Lindsay was eventually kicked out of the military because of a weed-related offense. It was a rock-bottom moment, he says, but one which helped him reinvent himself as a veteran, chef, and marijuana advocate, all of which intersects on his website The Wellness Soldier.
"Wellness Soldier was set up for information and education. It's for veterans, or anybody, really, to learn how meditation, fitness, healthy eating, and cannabis can help more than the harsh pharmaceuticals that they're on. It's to promote healthy living. It's geared towards veterans, but the information can be used by every living human on the planet."
After realizing the toll that war was taking on those dear to him, Lindsay began using his culinary skills to help treat other veterans who are frequently prescribed heavy pharmaceuticals. "My mother did multiple tours in the military. About four years ago, she started not feeling so good and she needed a little pick-me-up. When she went to the doctor, it was pill after pill after pill, which are brain-altering chemical drugs, you're not just smoking a little bit of weed—you're getting fucked up."
"So I told my mother that if you're going to be taking these heavy medications, you can't follow up with soda, mock-chicken sandwiches, and frozen dinners. If you want the pills to work, your body has to work. So, I began cooking for her, but there was no weed in it [laughs]. And I realized that if she needed it, a lot of other people probably needed it."
Medical marijuana is only one pillar of the Wellness Soldier program, but it's a pretty central one, and one which has allowed Lindsay to push his culinary boundaries.
"Cannabis as an ingredient is amazing. There are so many ways you can use it and infuse it into food. THC is fat-soluble, so it stays in the fat. Basically, anything that you put butter or oil in becomes a cannabis meal," he says. "Risotto needs a good butter finish at the end anyway, so it does two things at once. The butter makes the risotto look beautiful and taste beautiful but it's also adding in amazing medical properties to help you."
For military veterans, those medical properties include alleviation of symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Over the last three years, the number of Canadian veterans being reimbursed by the government for medical marijuana has increased tenfold and that number is only getting bigger.
This growing acceptance of medical marijuana on the part of the Canadian government has been important for Lindsay. "I appreciate the acknowledgement from Veterans Affairs of, 'Yes, you do have anxiety, and yes, it is caused by us, and yes, we are going to cover [medicinal marijuana] because we believe that it's our fault.' It's a huge validation."
But it's also bittersweet for Lindsay, who was discharged from the military for having failed a drug test due to marijuana. "It's kind of messed up, because it's like, 'That's what I got kicked out for!'"
Like many veterans, Lindsay says that before he was prescribed medical marijuana, he was self-medicating as a way of coping with the harsh realities of being in a combat zone—even as a cook. "When I got back, I started smoking cannabis to ease my mind, because the whole time that I was there, I was in a warzone. I was just hypervigilant, looking around all the time, just making sure that I knew where I was."
Due to a traumatic event that took place off of the battlefield, Lindsay says he did not respond well to doctors' insistence on taking pharmaceutical drugs. "The military tried to help me, they sent me a psychologist. They told me I was an addict and that I should take pills and go to rehab. My sister passed away from accidental suicide from an overdose of Tylenol. [...] So I'm not quite comfortable with putting pills in my body."
Lindsay was eventually prescribed medical marijuana to deal with anxiety that he says stems from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. "They asked me if I wanted to go to Kandahar, and at first I really didn't even know where that was. But I joined the military to see the world and to do my duty, so I said, 'Sure.' Then I went on Google and found out that Kandahar was in Afghanistan; they sent me within two weeks where most people have nine months training. I didn't have the proper equipment, the required firearms training, or my malaria shots. It was a shitshow the whole time."
"Cannabis destroyed my life because I got kicked out of the military for smoking it. I loved being a cook in the military, putting on the uniform—everything about the military," Lindsay recounts. "But it also started saving my life. Because Veterans Affairs is covering it, it takes away a financial burden. It also takes away the anxiety I feel from being underprepared in the military, from having my brain racing all the time, and my operational stress injury."
Because he values healthy living above all, Lindsay's approach to medical marijuana isn't about getting high. "It's kind of hard to be healthy after you've smoked a joint and want to eat an entire box of cookies." By cooking with Health Canada-approved cannabis oils from licensed producers, Lindsay says he can integrate a smoother, healthier dosage of medicinal marijuana into his food.
"It's everything that I need without the head high. If you have a couple of puffs with a doobie, you're gonna feel it in your head and within 30 to 40 minutes you're going to start burning up. By putting the oils in my morning smoothie, I get a lot less cravings, and I barely even notice. It's like a nicotine patch. You don't notice it in your body, but it's in there. Each strain has its own taste, depending on what you're cooking. Some oils are better for jams, and others for salad dressing—there are different applications, for sure."
Though the Wellness Soldier project is in its infancy, Lindsay says that the feedback he has gotten is very encouraging. "I created Wellness Soldier for people to see that there are alternative medicines out there to help you. The greatest part is when people start making my recipes and asking all these questions of my website."
Though he is currently enrolled in a Veterans Affairs rehabilitation program aimed at transitioning back into civilian life, Lindsay plans to move to British Columbia—Canada's weed hub—where he is looking to buy a five-acre chunk of land that he says is ideal to open a "Bud and Breakfast" location, where he can once again fuse his love for cooking and cannabis.
In the meantime, Lindsay is focusing his time and energy on the Wellness Soldier and forms of activism that go beyond education, like cooking at veterans fundraisers and for wheelchair-bound veterans on Valentine's Day.
"Food is morale. Food can make your day go from shitty to good. You can have a bad day and you realize that your significant other is cooking food for you, and it turns everything around. But if you're taking the food and taking the medicine you need for symptom relief at the same time, it's double the morale."