Marijuana rocked Jennessa Lea’s life to its core. Before becoming an avid user, she was fatally overweight, afflicted by debilitating pain, and — worst of all — addicted to opioids.

For most of her life, Lea struggled with health issues. Growing up, she suffered from severe pain in her joints and muscles, pain doctors couldn’t explain and dismissed with every opioid in the book. But when she had her daughter at 20, her health took a turn for even worse. Her condition began to spiral out of control. 

“I would walk and my patellae would just slip off,” recounts Lea. “I would open doors and my shoulders would just fall out. There was just no structure within my body holding me together. We didn’t know then what was going on, I just knew I was in copious amounts of pain. And I went to doctors, and they just threw pills at me.”

She remembers taking 150 mgs of Oxycodone a day, 90 mgs of morphine a day, Xanax, Adderall, and a reeling list of others. “There was never any sort of concern about all the drugs interacting,” she says.

Fighting her condition, Lea also began to gain weight. Lots of it. It made her want to give up and die.

It’s then she discovered cannabis. Off the pills, she dipped into a whirlwind of withdrawal, but began substituting the prescription medications with high dose THC and CBD medicines. It worked. 

Eventually, doctors figured out what was wrong with her. 

“They found out I had something called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome … a connective tissue disease that connects your collagen, the glue that holds your body together,” she says. 

Because of the diagnosis, doctors fitted her for a wheelchair at age 24, a realization that only intensified her determination to get healthy. However, the biggest inspiration to do so came when her daughter, Raegan, was similarly diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. Jennessa needed to show Raegan that it was possible to live a healthy life even with their disease.  

So, she started physical therapy. And in combination with a potent cannabis regiment, she began to strive towards recovery. 

“That was really what cannabis changed for me,” she says. “I started using cannabis and I could go back to physical therapy, I could work through that pain and actually build my muscle every single day. It was a complete night and day difference.”

Today, she owns and operates America’s first cannabis-friendly gym, Break the Stigma Fitness in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. 

“I could never say enough positive things (about cannabis) because of how much it’s done for me,” says Lea, “That’s why I created this space, I want people to rely on themselves.”

Tank tops and yoga pants from Lea’s Fit Canna-girl clothing line adorn the walls of her gym. And in the front corner, a small table is set up with a Rosin Press and VapeExhale dab rig, free and open for patrons to use (although the gym follows a strict “bring your own” policy and does not sell marijuana).

Her gym is a unique endeavor in both cannabis culture and the industry. As the name implies, the team’s goal is to break the stigma of the lazy stoner. 

“At my local gym I heard someone saying, ‘People who smoke weed have no ambition and they’re lazy’, and that’s very offensive, because it’s literally what gave me my life back,” says Lea. “It gave my daughter her mom back. Pharmaceuticals are drugs, they’re dangerous, they’re killing people every single day, and cannabis has the power to save them.”

[photos provided by Daniel Oliveri, Alena Art Photography and Jennessa Lea]