Anthony Sullivan has made a living selling cleaning products on television, but his latest venture has him getting dirty in a way he couldn’t have imagined only a few years ago.
The celebrity pitchman, who became famous for starring in OxiClean commercials with late friend Billy Mays, recently opened a hemp farm in the vast green fields of Plainfield, Vermont. His 116-acre field, MontKush, was born out of Sullivan’s curiosity and need to find a replacement for the powerful drugs his 8-year-old daughter, Devon, had been taking to manage symptoms of a rare genetic disorder that has affected her development.
“She’s turned out to be this great little girl. She has an amazing personality and she loves everybody,” Sullivan, 50, tells PEOPLE of his daughter. “But she has a lot of aides, and she has an army of people to help her.”
Over the years, Sullivan says, new symptoms have created more and more challenges to maintaining Devon’s health.
“The minute we solved one problem, another problem would present itself,” he explains. “Devon had a terrible time sleeping, very difficult time eating. Her balance [and eyesight were] off… and about two years ago, she started to have seizures, seizure-like episodes.”
The family’s neurologist prescribed Devon an anti-seizure medication to help mitigate the episodes, but Sullivan says he soon decided its side effects were too much for his girl.
“It just wrecked her body, and she lost 20 percent of her body weight. She was absolutely exhausted, and she just lost her personality,” he recalls. “I get really upset when I think about it.”
Anthony Sullivan and his daughter Devon
Sullivan says anti-seizure medication affected Devon so much that he was ready to stop giving it to her and quit work to be with his daughter full-time in case she had an episode.
“Unless you live in that world, it’s very difficult to relate,” he says. “And I really can empathize with any parent that has a kid with special needs.”
With their options seemingly running out, Devon’s mother suggested they try CBD or cannabis to help with her seizures.
“I was like, ‘No way. We’re not going down that road.’ Then I kind of slept on it, and there was just no doubt in my mind that I’d try anything other than that anti-seizure medication,” Sullivan says.
So far, the FDA has only approved a version of CBD for two pediatric epilepsy conditions, Dr. Kevin Hill, an addiction psychiatrist and Director of the Division of Addiction Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told PEOPLE in March.
Many people take it for medicinal purposes, such as for treating anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia and depression — though, CBD’s effects are still up for debate, the New York Times reports.
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“It’s an extremely promising compound and there are a lot of studies that show its potential,” Hill said, before adding, “While pre-clinical or animal studies show CBD may have anti-anxiety properties and may be antipsychotic, for the majority of uses, there is not a lot of evidence.”
Some CBD businesses have been warned by the FDA for the use of unsubstantiated claims, such as asserting that CBD can treat pet anxiety or cancer.
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Sullivan began administering CBD for Devon’s symptoms and soon her seizures were under control. Two months after being off the anti-seizure medication, Devon’s weight and personality came back, he recalls.
Around the same time late last year, Sullivan visited Vermont with a friend who took him to a hemp farm he owned. While Sullivan initially thought nothing of it, once they arrived, Sullivan says his life was forever changed.
“I got out of the truck, and it just hit me. I don’t know what happened. I had a moment of clarity, or an epiphany, standing in the middle of this field,” Sullivan recalls. “It’s tranquil, peaceful, magical. All of a sudden you walk into these fields, and as far as you can see is a sea of hemp. And it smells amazing, and you start thinking about wellness, what this plant can do from a wellness perspective.”
That moment sparked an idea in Sullivan’s mind — that growing hemp was how he’d spend the next chapter of his life, even if he hadn’t farmed anything before.
“Call it a midlife crisis. Most guys buy a sports car — I end up buying a hemp farm,” he says, jokingly.
But Sullivan was on to something. According to the Times, the CBD industry is projected to hit $16 billion in the United States by 2025.
Since then, Sullivan has been hard at work, buying property and equipment and getting out in the fields to harvest the hemp by hand to eventually turn it into CBD oil.
The goal for him is to make the CBD medication his daughter uses, all with his own hands. With each plant grown, he is closer to that dream.
“I’m really fired up. I’m really passionate about this project, and I’m excited to share what we have with the rest of the world,” he says.
“To give it to my daughter is just going to be, maybe, the greatest day of my life,” Sullivan continues. “I’ll be able to tell Devon, ‘Here, take this. This is your medicine, and your dad made it. Your papa made it.’ “
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