Brian Grossman stands tall at his workbench in his north Boulder studio. As he shows a visitor the grinding bits and files he uses in his sculpture, Grossman is in his zone, explaining the physical methodology behind what is a very spiritual pursuit—though Grossman prefers to talk of the universe rather than God.
A metal pipe runs horizontally along the top of his bench’s front lip. Grossman uses the bar to lift himself into position above his workspace; a weightlifting belt secured around his waist holds him in place. He has multiple sclerosis, diagnosed back in 1984; he can stand and work with his materials—stone and wood, primarily—but cannot walk. Grossman is 70 years old, and still uses his artwork to process the trauma of an abusive childhood. He credits cannabidiol, or CBD, with a resurgence in his physical and artistic abilities and psychological resilience since he began taking the cannabis-derived phytocannabinoid about three years back.
Grossman enlisted in the Coast Guard after he turned 18; it was an escape from a household where he and his two siblings were subjected regularly to physical and sexual abuse. When he got out, Grossman went to CU Boulder to earn his fine arts degree.
“Wine, women, and money,” he laughs, explaining his life goals as a young man. He was a competitive athlete, a powerlifter (the belt that holds him to his workbench is a relic of that time), a Category 2 bike racer. “Because all I wanted was for people to accept me,” he explains.
His path as an artist wasn’t clear at first—he took drawing and painting classes, but those didn’t ring true. He took a sculpting class, molding a seated nude figure from wax, and left it in his locker, where he’d regularly examine it. “One day, I just had my knife, and I just cut it in half. At that moment, my life changed. The light bulb went on.” He enlarged the piece, cutting it from mahogany—the piece, titled M’Lady, still sits in his north Boulder home gallery.
After Grossman graduated from CU in 1979, he began working at the local foundry, learning to cast bronze from the foundry’s owner, Chuck Quigley, who became a mentor to Grossman.
But in 1984, Grossman unexpectedly took a fall while he was taking out the trash. A series of medical visits resulted in a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
Grossman threw himself into his work, using his creativity as an outlet as his physical condition deteriorated. Over the years, friends helped him build the infrastructure that assists him with his mobility and his artwork—the pipes secured to tables to use as grips, the custom-built tricycle he uses to zip around in the fresh air and sunshine.
He’d discovered in the late 1970s that EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, was an effective therapy for his psychological demons. But today he credits CBD as much as the therapy for his present ability to create his art.
“It’s hard to explain,” Grossman says of the positive effects his CBD supplements provide. He’s been using it three times daily since being introduced to the medicine by a naturopathic doctor three-plus years back. “It’s like my whole nervous system, body system, is just taken down a notch. Like calmer, calmer . . . “
In his home studio, surrounded by his artwork—”each one of these pieces is my family,” he says —Grossman is at peace, despite his physical condition and the childhood trauma that still haunts him. His sculptures, of stone and alabaster and wood and bronze and colored strings, are abstract—geometric figures that curl into themselves like a vortex collapsing and expanding simultaneously. His first, inspirational sculpture, M’Lady, is displayed in a corner, reminding him of the path he’s taken.
“Each one of these pieces is a journey,” he says. “Each one of these pieces has so much reality, and so much emotion. I’ve come to realize I’m an extremely passionate person. But this is the only place I know how to express that passion, in my artwork.”
Grossman takes three doses of CBD daily to propel him through his creative process, and considers it a crucial ingredient to his ongoing productivity and psychological well-being. “The CBD, it’s really hard for me to explain [how it works], because it’s so connected with my creativity. I live, breathe, and eat art—my art. The CBD has allowed me, has helped me just to keep going.”