Medical cannabis may not be for everyone when it comes to treating certain disorders. But for Adrea Sustarsic, it provided a better, and, in some ways, safer alternative to how her generalized anxiety disorder and ADHD were being treated. Before discovering the benefits of cannabis, she recounts the extreme symptoms she suffered after being prescribed Valium by a psychiatrist.
“I would do my monthly check-ins, and I started out taking it, but it was scaring me; I was blacking out,” she tells Pittsburgh City Paper, adding that the medication — which, according to the National Library of Medicine, can be used for “short-term relief of the symptoms of anxiety” — also led to her grinding her teeth “really badly.”
Instead of giving her an alternative, the psychiatrist prescribed a higher dose. She decided to not take the Valium and, when anxiety disorders were approved for cannabis treatment in Pennsylvania, set about getting her medical cannabis card.
Sustarsic, a Robinson native who now lives in Gibsonia, says she has since found relief through medical cannabis in combination with other treatments but felt overwhelmed by the options and strains available to her, especially when some made her anxiety worse.
“I kept buying strains that didn't work for me,” she adds. “And then on top of that, I would forget which ones I had bought, and then rebuy them, or I didn't understand why a certain strain didn't work for me. So I would buy something similar again, and I just got so frustrated with the process and, honestly, how expensive it was.”
With Smoker’s Section, Sustarsic wanted to create products that made the process of finding the best strains “fun and approachable” and less “stuffy.” She joined forces with local artist Paul Haggerty after seeing his work on Instagram and believed he could bring her “very retro” and “light-hearted” vision to life.
She views the journals, which were designed with whimsical colors, fonts, and language (negative side effects are listed as “Bummers”), as helping patients be “more empowered and knowledgeable” when they go to the dispensary to shop.
Sustarsic registered Smoker’s Section as an LLC in February 2022 and debuted the journals at the 2022 Pittsburgh Cannabis Festival, where she says they were “really well received.”
“And then I just started having other ideas from there and kept it going and accidentally built a brand,” she adds. Smoker’s Section has since been a featured vendor at events like the Unblurred First Friday gallery crawl in Garfield and the Thunderbird Summer Jam at Hartwood Acres.
In addition to the journals, Sustarsic now sells other products, including branded clothing and accessories, stickers and totes with humorous cannabis puns and sayings, and colorful vape pen labels. Customers can buy Smoker’s Section items online and at markets like the upcoming Made and Found pop-up holiday event on Dec. 17 at Spirit.
Sustarsic believes that adding levity to an issue that many still consider taboo, and that, in a slow-to-adapt state like Pennsylvania, is still legally vague, helps alleviate some of the stigma around medical cannabis.
Under the cheeky jokes, however, is the understanding that, despite progress being made on legalization, both medically and recreationally, people, particularly Black Americans, are still incarcerated for possessing and/or selling cannabis. To bring attention to this issue, Sustarsic donates 10% of every Smoker’s Section journal purchase to the Last Prisoner Project, a national nonprofit dedicated to drug policy reform and freeing those held for cannabis-related offenses. The Smoker’s Section website also has a link to donate to the project.
“It was important to me that I do something, and I've been a big supporter of the Last Prisoner Project for a long time,” says Sustarsic, who views Smoker’s Section’s cutesy appeal as a way to draw people into the more difficult realities around the cannabis industry.
Over time, Sustarsic wants to expand Smoker’s Section offerings, and has already looked at working with other local artists to launch new products like glassware and other cannabis accessories. These would add to past collaborations, as the local sustainable clothing brand PACKPACK already featured Smoker’s Section designs on their signature fanny packs.
“[Founding Smoker's Section] has been really, really great,” says Sustarsic. “It was the best decision ever because I've just met so many incredible people.”