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Would Jacques approve? A Cousteau family brand links the sea to the weed

The Cousteau family’s first foray into cannabis began as an off-the-cuff comment.

“Over a couple of glasses of wine, I made the joke, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if the Cousteaus created a cannabis line and we called it seaweed?” Ashlan Cousteau recalled in a recent interview with Leafly. “We all had a chuckle. But then we couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

A journalist, television host, author, educator and social entrepreneur, Ashlan began her career as an entertainment reporter before co-starring for three seasons on the Travel Channel’s Caribbean Pirate Treasure. Her husband is Philippe Cousteau, host and executive producer of the multi-Emmy nominated series Awesome Planet, now in its sixth season. In the Cousteau family tradition, they both lend their talents to a wide variety of environmental nonprofits.

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Ashlan Cousteau: Inspired by her experience overcoming insomnia, she found a way to blend the power of the sea with land-grown cannabinoids. (Photo courtesy of SeaWeed)

“I’m the third generation of a family that has dedicated itself to conservation of the oceans and the planet,” Philippe told Leafly. “I have spent my whole life continuing in the spirit of that legacy.”

Philippe is the grandson of world-famous ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau (1910-1997), the French naval officer turned author, filmmaker, conservationist, inventor, and director/host of The Silent World—a documentary on the ocean and marine life that inspired millions of people and won a Palme d’or at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.

Hence the “seaweed” joke that gave rise to SeaWeed Naturals.

Surf and turf

SeaWeed Naturals’ promotional materials describe it as “a first-of-its-kind lifestyle brand, creating products that bring customers the established benefits of the cannabis plant, combined with the countless powerful effects of marine botanicals.”

Specifically, the SeaWeed Naturals line of topicals, balms, tinctures and gummies combines THC and CBD oils with seaweed and algae. The company’s origin story may involve a playful pun, but the couple says they’re hoping to make a serious impact by providing a market for restoratively sourced seaweed (“from aquaculture farms in Maine that naturally sequester carbon, de-acidify the ocean, create habitats and provide sustainable jobs”) and ocean-friendly omega 3’s (“derived from algae that’s sustainably cultivated through a fermentation process similar to kombucha”).

According to the Cousteaus, 5% of the company’s profits will be donated to ocean conservation and education.

SeaWeed Naturals currently offers eight top-shelf-quality products at select California dispensaries and via delivery, with plans to roll out a 50-state CBD-hemp wellness line in the near future.

An infused gummy changed their lives

According to the Cousteau’s, combining cannabis and marine botanicals was far from their first entrepreneurial idea.

“We thought about doing a t-shirt line, but the fashion industry is a huge polluter. We thought about doing furniture, or wine, or cooking. We didn’t know what we wanted to do, we just wanted to do something.”

That something came into focus when Ashlan had a profoundly healing experience the first time she ate a “sleepy gummy.” Following the birth of the couple’s first child, she’d been suffering with debilitating insomnia.

“I tried over-the-counter sleep aids, I tried prescription medicines, and I never liked the way they made me feel,” she recalled. “I still remember that next morning [after trying a THC gummy]. I got a good night’s sleep and woke up refreshed, not groggy or hungover. It changed my life, and truly opened my eyes to the power of this plant.”

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Philippe Cousteau, grandson of Jacques, created SeaWeed with Ashlan. (Photo courtesy of SeaWeed)

Add marine botanicals like kelp

Next came the idea to incorporate marine botanicals, which are already found in a wide range of cosmetics and wellness products, and offer their own health benefits.

“Right off the top of my head,” Ashlan said, “kelp is antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, hydrates your skin, and inhibits collagen breakdown. Omega 3’s help with depression and anxiety, help with your organs and your joints, and support your immune system.”

A curious history with “the grass”

Jacques Cousteau, the family’s famous patriarch, lived to the age of 86 and left behind 120 television documentaries, more than 50 books, and a thriving environmental protection society. But he may be best known to a younger generation of cannabis consumers as the inspiration for the 2004 Wes Anderson film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

In The Life Aquatic, Bill Murray plays a character clearly (if very loosely) based on Cousteau. One of the major differences between the character and its inspiration is that Steve Zissou enjoys smoking weed throughout the film.

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In this 1986 photo, 76 year-old Jacques Cousteau stands before the refurbished research vessel Calypso in Miami, Fla.. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, file)

The real-life Jaques Cousteau, by contrast, was adamantly opposed to cannabis. And we know this because he put it in writing.

In his preface to a 1976 anti-marijuana polemic called Keep Off the Grass: A Scientific Enquiry into the Biological Effects of Marijuana by Dr. Gabriel G. Nahas, Cousteau likened the effects of cannabis to the “nitrogen narcosis” suffered by deep sea divers, and repeated discredited claims.

“The damaging biological effects associated with the marijuana habit are of the most serious nature,” Cousteau wrote at the time. “If we are concerned about the external pollutants that threaten our environment, we should be equally concerned about internal pollutants—like marijuana products.”

Put that in your pipe

Both the book Keep off the Grass and Cousteau’s preface are today forgotten relics of a bygone era. So forgotten, in fact, that Philippe Cousteau told Leafly he’d never heard of the book, and had no idea his famous grandfather advocated against cannabis.

“We’re talking about 45 years ago, when society’s perspectives around drugs was very different,” Philippe said. 

Obviously, it’s not fair to hold a half-century-old polemic written by his grandfather against Philippe Cousteau. And who knows? If Jacques Cousteau had lived long enough to see the legalization era, and the widespread acceptance of medical cannabis, he may have filled his famous pipe with some seaweed instead of tobacco. 

Or more likely, tried a SeaWeed Naturals gummy.  

“I can’t speak for my grandfather now—and I have no idea how his thoughts on this may have evolved over time—but he was somebody who definitely changed and grew his perspectives as time moved on,” Philippe said.

And that’s a positive sign of the times. 

David Bienenstock's Bio Image
David Bienenstock

Veteran cannabis journalist David Bienenstock is the author of "How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High" (2016 - Penguin/Random House), and the co-host and co-creator of the podcast "Great Moments in Weed History with Abdullah and Bean." Follow him on Twitter @pot_handbook.

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