Adams puts on his dark gray lab coat and glasses for safety reasons in his lab on USC's health campus. It is in that place where science and Chumash healing become one.
"The whole reason that I do this is because we know from the Chumash people that this plant, California holly, is very useful in slowing down the progression of alzheimer disease. Why? How does it work?," Adams says.
Adams enjoys going for a stroll in the hills within Southern California to gather plants that the Chumash use for healing. "We bring it back to the lab and we grind it up and extract it with various solvents," Adams says describing the chemical procedure followed to break down the components of a plant.
In a freezer at his USC lab, he stores different herbs such as chia and California everlasting. "So far, I've examined maybe 6 [plants] or so. You know, it takes a couple years to really get it done properly," Adams says.
Enrique Villaseñor (left) and James Adams (right) pose at the 24th Annual Hart of the West Pow Wow in Newhall, Calif.
Enrique Villaseñor is a one of Adams' patients who has embraced the use of Chumash natural remedies. He is originally from Mexico but moved to the U.S. when he was about 8-years-old. His mother used to be a curandera, a term in Spanish for healer.
Due to his exposure to alternative Mexican medicine, he was a lot more open-minded about using Chumash healing after suffering side effects from prescribed medication given to him after a knee surgery.
"I couldn't sleep. I was in a lot of pain," Villaseñor says. In those moments of darkness, he was introduced to California Sage liniment, which helped cease his ache. Since that day, he always carries a little bottle in his pocket.
Although, historically, Chumash healers have always been paid for their services in comparison to other tribes. Adams has encountered occasional backlash for charging $150 per consultation.
Adams usually meets with his patients at social events such as a pow wow. He also receives phone calls and emails from people seeking his services.
In his healing sessions, he usually takes patients on a nature walk, so they know where to find the plants they will need for their treatment. He tells people where they can buy the herbs, so they can prepare the medicines themselves.
"Maybe if I had 10 patients a day, I'd make money, but I have more like 10 patients a year. I'm not making money," Adams says with a laugh.
Adams also has his own creations, which is part of his conflict with the FDA. "I make the sage brush liniment, and I always have it available for sale 30 dollars for a bottle. I also make a balm out of a plant made chamise that I use for skin problems like eczema,"Adams says.
"I can sell my medicines, I can charge for my healing here in California, and the FDA, I know for a fact, is not particularly happy about it," Adams says. "I'm protected by California state law, so they can't stop me, but I can't practice at a hospital or at a normal clinic because everything that happens in those places has to be all FDA approved."
Cindy Carson, who teaches health law at USC's Gould School of Law, says traditional healers are protected under the California business and professions code. It "exempts people basically for any kind of prosecution if they are in fact doing their treatment as the practice of a religion," Carson says.
Adams has promised himself we will not give up trying to make the FDA approve his plant-based medicine to treat pain.
Part of his interest in helping patients with chronic diseases has to do with the memory of his mother. She "was a chronic pain patient, and I loved my mom a lot, but she would not let me treat her," Adams says. Whenever he has patients returning because they feel better from their pain he feels rewarded.
"What I want to do is just hug them and thank them so much because now they are the surrogate for my mom who wouldn't let me treat her," says Adams.
Just like Adams learned as much as he could from his teacher, he is also embracing a journey of mentorship with his own students.
"It is just a matter of finding somebody who has the gift of healing. You know, it's something you have to be born with it's something that God gives you. And it's not something that comes from talking to me," Adams says.
Chief Garcia hopes someone will be passionate enough to learn the ways of Chumash healing to keep the tradition alive. "I'm praying for a successor for him [Adams]," he says.
As of now, Adams is training the next generation of Chumash healers in Southern California. "One of them is from Mexican background, one is from a Chinese background. I'm still waiting to get a Chumash student," Adams says with faith.