Brendan and Ryan of Crainn

Crainn (the Irish word for ‘trees’) are a cannabis advocacy group who boast Ireland’s largest online cannabis community, with over 30,000 members on their Reddit page alone. They started life there, but have since expanded their presence to Twitter and other social media outlets. Recently, on April 20th (‘420’) they organised a team of volunteers in Dublin to provide information on the benefits and potential of cannabis. In this interview, Richard is joined by Brendan and Ryan, who are both Crainn moderators.

When was Crainn first planned and what aims had you in mind for it originally?

Ryan: This is a bit of a complicated question actually, because the subreddit has been around since 2010 and I would’ve been around nine years old when it started. Richard laughs We don’t actually know who set it up originally. Someone set it up and it was sitting there with a couple of hundred members for a while. Then it got passed down to a Reddit user called Golden161 and he was running it with two guys who are still with us now. Golden161 became busier with responsibilities, so he stopped moderating the subreddit and it was left for a while. In 2017, we started rebuilding the subreddit a bit and we began to moderate it and put guidelines in place.

For a while, it was just a little forum that was a kind of free-for-all. From around 2018 onwards, we started to see a growth in engagement. That’s when members started to come in and moderating had to be taken more seriously. A little under a year ago, after a Covid lockdown when we had a really big spike in users, we said: ‘There’s a lot of people here. There’s a lot of demand for change. People want something to happen, let’s get organised.’ And that’s where we are now. Is there anything you’d like to add to that, Brendan? Brendan: Ah no, not really. I first became aware of Crainn through Reddit around 2016. I’m not a big Redditor, so I was mostly lurking, keeping my head down so to speak. During the lockdown, I got heavily involved in the history of prohibition in Ireland and that’s led me down a rabbit hole and on to political campaigning, so here I am.

Why was the name Crainn chosen?

Ryan: Are you aware of the subreddit, Trees? It’s a general cannabis subreddit. There’s different offshoots of that, like UK Trees and Canadian Trees. The lads who set it up originally wanted to make an Irish Trees, but they didn’t want to call it Irish Trees, so they called it Trees ‘as Gaeilge’ [in Irish], which is Crainn. So that’s where the name comes from.

Your subreddit was created back in November 2010. How long was it before it really started gaining recognition? Was there a point before the pandemic where mods started noticing much pickup? Ryan: I could speak to this a little bit. There’s a graph [see below] showing the subreddit subscriber growth, from when it was set up until today. It was gaining slow growth from 2010 up until Covid but when the lockdown hit in 2020, the subscriber rate went up exponentially. It doubled or tripled, it went from around 15,000 to 30,000. I think the subreddit really grew during the lockdown.

Did you focus much on promoting the subreddit to gain members yourselves, or has it mainly been an organic growth in your experience? Ryan: We’ve never promoted the subreddit, bar the stickers we did a while ago. People just come to it. It grows organically on Reddit. I think it’s the only significant thing that’s on Reddit for cannabis in Ireland, to be honest. Reddit is probably one of the few social media channels where people can publicly talk about cannabis without fear of being banned. It makes sense that it would gain a large following there. Brendan: My intro to the Crainn subreddit stemmed from my involvement on Discord with people in the US and Canadian cannabis scenes. Things have been largely normalised in those regions for a while. Lockdown left me looking for what’s there in terms of an Irish cannabis community. It’s one of the things that brought me on to Reddit

Do you guys feel that Reddit going public has had any effect on how subreddits are moderated? Do you feel that site mods have come down more harshly on cannabis-related content? Ryan: It’s funny that you mention that. We’ve always been on Reddit’s good side because of how well we moderate according to the terms of service there. On the subreddit, you’re not allowed to ask: ‘Where can I buy cannabis? Can I sell you some cannabis? Can we meet up and trade cannabis?’ It’s illegal, so we don’t allow it. We’re always on top of that. But recently, in the States, there’s been a ban on sending vapes out in the post. This includes dry herb vapes, CBD vapes, all of that. Any subreddit relating to vaporisers has been wiped out or put on lockdown, we noticed that straight away. We have to put new rules in place whenever Reddit clamps down.

We’re now not allowing people to buy, trade or sell vaporisers on Crainn. If they do, we have to remove their posts. We need to keep on top of Reddit’s terms of service and make sure we moderate within those limits – then we’re on their good side. Reddit going public has had an effect on moderation, because we increasingly need to keep an eye out [for updates to the terms]. We actually have a bigger problem with Instagram. Our Instagram was taken down for posting about cannabis. We never posted a picture or anything like that, only infographics and we still got taken down. And we haven’t heard anything back. Luckily, Reddit isn’t that bad. If it was, we would be long gone, because people like posting their bongs and everything like that. If you posted that on Instagram, you’d be gone in an hour.

How was Crainn’s experience of partaking in 420 events this year, in Dublin and online? Ryan: On April 20th, we were in town volunteering and the experience was great. It was our first time actually getting out there doing an event like that, in person. Roughly how many people were involved in the volunteer team? There were about eight to ten people at any given time, because certain individuals were also getting involved in other things. I’d never met a lot of them in my life, but I knew a lot of them for a long time online. I was meeting them in person and getting the high vis [jacket] on and talking to people and seeing everyone’s different knowledge bases, ‘cause everyone was into different things. One of the lads was really into the medical side of things, one of them was really into hemp. It was good to get out there and see that and connect with people, not just from the cannabis community. The older generation were a lot more receptive to our campaign than I thought they’d be. They were really into it. It must be because of CBD interest nowadays. They were saying, ‘I’d love to try that, people are telling me to try it.’ I was surprised by it, because you often hear from the community online that the older generation are holding us back, and that is true to an extent, but when we were out on the streets campaigning, they were really into it. To be honest with you, it was an excellent experience and it was eye-opening in some ways. 

We were at the picnic as well, which was hosted by the Major Group for Cannabis Reform [on Saturday the 23rd]. We just went to that as civilians, I suppose you could say. Brendan: It was my second year at it. I went to their event last year as well, which was under much more restrictive terms. But it was during one of the gaps in the [Covid-19] lockdowns, so it was all sort of manageable. The turnout this year, I thought, was a bit down on last year. It was a good event, although it was a little chilly, in my mind. As Ryan was saying, you’d get to put eyeballs on people you know online. We might have known each other for years, but it was our first opportunity to meet in some cases, so it was really good in that way. And I think that this sort of thing is very important actually, because it’s beginning to normalise [cannabis use] within our own community. Self-stigma is holding us back a lot of the time, we’re afraid to talk about it. This is a perfectly normal thing for grown-ups to do in a lot of parts of the world, to consume cannabis.

Did you notice any growth at all in media or political attention relating to this year’s Irish 420 events? Brendan: Yeah, I definitely did. I think the attendance was down a bit because Dua Lipa was in Dublin on 420 and the following day, while Ed Sheeran was on the 23rd and 24th. There was a lot on that week. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan was at the Major Picnic, as was Gino Kenny. Luke gave a really good speech, there was some beat poetry on the day. It was good, it was well-ran, they marshalled it well, the park was left tidy. The guards weren’t in evidence, but I’m sure they were there. The organisers had clearly gotten the necessary approvals because there was a PA system and various other things that couldn’t be facilitated last year when they were there. I think more of these kinds of events are necessary actually, to bring people together, out of their shells. In some ways, as well, if you’re looking at drug use in general – it’s better that it’s a shared experience, in terms of health and attitudes and understanding what you’re doing and safe consumption.

Ryan: I noticed RTÉ covered the Major Picnic, which was good to see. Brendan: Yeah! It actually made the news, which I think was a first. It hadn’t been covered the previous year, even though there was a substantial turnout. Ryan: I think overall, there was a lot of media coverage on 420-related events this year. There was the Crainn info day, the protest and the Major Picnic. So there were different outlets picking out different parts of what was going on, which made it a little bit more spread out. There were a couple of articles on the info day that were put out pre-empting it, by District and Buzz, who did great coverage. Then, after the fact, RTÉ was there doing their own little bits and bobs. So it was actually quite good.

We were hyping the info day up for a while as well, to try and get it out there. I think that if events like this are happening, especially on 420, do a lot of planning and try to get the word out there and the media are gonna follow. They need stories to cover. Cannabis stuff is a kind of fringe topic and it’s exciting to cover and it gets clicks. So I think the more events there are, the better. Brendan: Yeah. I think Ryan’s hit on a really important point there, actually. One of the problems we’ve got is that cannabis reports of busts and raids and things generate huge amounts of clicks for the media industry, so they want to cover stories in a certain way because they get a lot of page impressions. But cannabis in general will get you the page impressions at this stage, so give them good content that’s not necessarily somebody having their life changed for half a gram and the coverage will follow, I hope.

Have Crainn got any interesting campaigns in the works that you’d like to share with us? Ryan: I can speak to this a little bit. I don’t want to give too much away, but we are planning to do some more events in person. We’d like to do another info day and we’re having a few more online events as well, but we’re not going to announce them just yet. We’re just gonna wait till we have everything ready, but there is stuff for the cannabis community in Ireland to keep an eye out for, we’re looking forward to it. We’re taking part in the Patients for Safe Access national conference [June 11th], as speakers. That’s not our project, but we’re happy to get up there and speak and try to help give them a voice. We have our own things planned as well, so just keep an eye out for some more things we’ll announce, hopefully in the near future. Perfect, looking forward to that!

How do you see yourselves helping to increase support for cannabis reform in the future? What’s next in the development of Crainn? Ryan: I think to help to increase support you just need to have the facts on your side. One of the pillars of the Crainn organisation is education, we place major importance on it. We try our best to make sure we’re talking facts and making sense. We always have a study or a source if we’re making a point on Twitter or on Reddit, so we can refer to it. Because sometimes you will have people saying, ‘That’s nonsense’. But you can say: ‘This is where we got it from. Feel free to have a look at it and come back to us if there’s anything else.’ We need to have education, because it is an emotional topic. You feel like you’re getting wronged with the current laws. But at the end of the day, you need to have the facts, because the people you’re up against have qualifications, sometimes.

People such as Bobby Smyth and the Cannabis Risk Alliance. They have the qualifications, but oftentimes they don’t have the facts. So we need to present the data and say: ‘What can you say about this? Teen use is dropping in various legalised states in America. This is how we protect young people – not by banning it, by legalising it.’ That’s just one example. Brendan: I think we’ve all heard our various government advisors speaking in radio interviews and things in recent years. And quite often, when it actually comes to facts, they will tell you stuff with their professional hat on. When questioned by the journalist about it, they’ll say: ‘Oh, well just Google it.’ But we need better than that. There’s a huge amount of harm being done, I think, in the teenage to early college years age group at the moment, particularly post-lockdown.

The supply chains have been very badly damaged. Synthetics, which were a problem prior to lockdown, are now endemic across pretty much everything, except for [cannabis] flower. And even flower is contaminated at times. These are really genuinely dangerous substances that are harming people, so we have to educate. This shouldn’t be our role. A health-led policy should mean that we are making moves in the right direction, but we’re not at the moment. Another thing I personally find shocking is that the Director of Public Prosecutions delegates all the small case stuff completely to the Gardaí. Where is the public interest oversight that this Director is supposed to have? It looks like we’ve got a bunch of laws that are running on autopilot because it suits certain people. And politically, there’s an utter unwillingness to touch them.

Where would you see the development of Crainn happening in the short to medium term future? Ryan: We have projects that we’re working hard on. One of the things that Brendan touched on is synthetics. We want to become an educational force on what’s going on in Ireland. There’s a big problem with Spice edibles going around, which you’re probably aware of from social media, but it’s being completely under-reported. This is what the government should be doing. ‘There’s synthetic cannabis here, this is what it looks like. This is what it does to you, avoid it.’ And we want to just keep doing what we’re doing – educating, normalising, developing a great community that’s collaborating and helping each other out. We want sensible reform.

Brendan: Normalisation is, in effect, what the current drugs policy is fighting against. It’s got its targets on that. It’s like trying to hold a tide back though, because the forces of normalisation are coming from everywhere now. They’re coming from Canada and the US and soon from Malta and Europe and other places. Ireland will look like a backwater. I’ve tweeted about the original debate on the [Irish] Misuse of Drugs Act and it has got some real gems in it. It wasn’t a black and white debate at all. The people who made certain decisions that have left us where we are now were told by senior politicians of the day what the outcomes would be, including the negative impacts on the justice system. There’s actually quite a contrast if you look at the debate that took place around Ming’s [2013] Bill. The government didn’t read it, they just ridiculed it. But I’ve a feeling they won’t get away with that again when Gino’s Bill goes forward.

We’ve seen under a freedom of information request that the government has been trying to keep cannabis entirely out of the Citizens’ Assembly [on Drugs] process. There’s not a chance of that happening. It feels again like there’s some tyre-kicking going on. Ryan: When this Bill comes to the Dáil and it’s debated, I don’t think politicians will get away with spouting misinformation anymore. I think that the climate’s changed. If they come out talking rubbish, people are going to call them out on it. Brendan: I don’t know, I think they might well carry on talking rubbish for a while, It’s hard to say.

Something you touched on earlier, Ryan, was that the older age group seemed a lot more open to cannabis than expected. With my age group, starting with people slightly younger than me, that’s when the bullshit in terms of drug education really began. The ‘Just Say No’ stuff. And the people who are a little bit older than me come from a time where we had quite a different justice system that wasn’t so focused on prosecuting – it was much more focused on diversion. There was a different culture towards justice at the time. Really, the war on drugs weaponised everything. And if you look at what various Ministers of Justice have done with it over the years, it’s revitalised the careers of many a failing Minister, by giving them something to ‘be tough on’.

Let’s hope Ryan is right and that politicians won’t get away with ignoring cannabis data and misinforming the public any more. Thanks so much for your time this evening gentlemen. All the best with Crainn moving forward!

 

Eoin Long of The Cannabis Review

In The Cannabis Review, Eoin Long talks with leading figures in commercial cannabis. The show has a stated aim of educating viewers while clarifying ‘some of the sectors and topics of interest in the global cannabis industry’. The YouTube channel launched in February of 2021, where he has interviewed the likes of Dr. Peter Grinspoon, Mitchell Osak, JP O’Brien of Little Collins CBD, Jim Weathers of Puff N’ Stuff, Matthew O’Brien of The Green Paper and many others from around the globe.

What inspired you to start The Cannabis Review?

It was initially set up two years ago as a project for one of my companies, and it ended up turning into a great source of data and information and a way to connect with industry leaders.

I got to realise, ‘I don’t need money to pay for this to be made and I know how to do everything myself’, so I just started cherry-picking people of great knowledge in the industry I wanted to learn from. I thought: ‘What do I want to know about the sectors that are going to be the areas of interest?’ Over the course of time, I’ve built up a pretty strong global network and an ability to see what’s coming around the corner. The aim of The Cannabis Review is to help educate and inform both the consumer and the entrepreneur in the industry, in any way I can.

In your view, how strong is cannabis activism in Ireland?

Activism in Ireland is very strong. The folks that do it need to be commended; Martin, for example, who does Martin’s World, Natalie O’Regan, Cork Cannabis Activist Network, JP & Íde at Little Collins, Jim at Puff n’ Stuff, the Crainn folks plus a host of other determined people. There’s a lot of work they are doing now where they are putting themselves at risk, and most are not getting any financial reward for doing this. They are doing this because they believe it is the right thing. That has to be commended, no matter what side of the fence you sit on. For a businessman like myself who wants the industry legalised, you need more people like that. I would like to point out the likes of Luke Flanagan [independent], Gino Kenny [People Before Profit], Neasa Hourigan [The Green Party], and Lynn Ruane [independent]. These politicians will be remembered and appreciated for a long time for the work they are doing to help our community.

I find The Cannabis Review more accessible than many other shows of a similar nature, due to its length. Was that a strategic decision on your part?

It was, yes. I had looked at a lot of the shows and felt this was a more suitable model for educating myself and fellow entrepreneurs. You manage to get straight to the point this way. The guests have also commented on how nice the short time frame is and that it doesn’t become boring or over-complicated. There are very few good cannabis shows or podcasts out there and I aim to build TCR up over the coming years. The way you get good at something is by talking to people who are very knowledgeable in specific disciplines and that helps you round off your structure of knowledge. That is the way I have treated this show for myself. If other people are benefiting from watching the episodes, then that is great. I’ve been doing The Cannabis Review for two years and talking to some of the biggest CEOs in the world. And I’m only scratching the surface of how big this industry will be.

If you had to choose a few guests from The Cannabis Review who you found to be the most interesting personally, who would they be and why?

The number one is definitely Dr. Peter Grinspoon, who is a medical GP. The episode I did with him was Cannabis and Pain, and I think everybody seems to have liked that one. That one had the most knowledgeable medical professional I have spoken with to date. Somebody who is bonafide. His father [Lester] was in this space as well. He was just one of those people where you couldn’t not respect or be in awe of the information he possessed. There’s another gentleman then called Matt Lamers, who covers international business for MJBiz Daily. Matt, to me, is the best source of cannabis information and knowledge in the business world, especially when it comes to the Canadian MSOs. He’s one of the smartest and nicest guys, I had him on the show as well and everything that he posts is pretty much always on point. 

For you, what have been the most exciting developments in the cannabis industry over the past few years?

I think biotechnology will change the game to a degree, with the use of microorganisms capable of fermenting cannabinoids in bioreactors, exactly how they make beer. I think that’s the future for a lot of the ingredients side of the industry – a lot of the activity is going to end up being in that space, due to potential scalability, purity, safety of the end product, IP-able methods and the price per litre versus a farm grown method. The second thing I would probably say is, New York. One cannot underestimate how important New York’s legalisation is for Ireland. Whatever about Germany and Malta starting their processes, you still see unclear language from the three coalition Parties in Germany trying to get this over the line, but New York has moved swiftly, with stores opening in Autumn or earlier. They have enacted a lot of public service projects, in terms of people with weed-related convictions who are now allowed to apply for cannabis licences.

There is a lot of good being drafted into their Bills and the people in charge of the various departments seem to be very smart. Plus, Ireland and New York have a special relationship. I think the more it grows over there, where you will start seeing that it’s four to five billion a year in turnover, you are going to start seeing moves being made here. The capitalist model is to expand and to grow and to acquire new consumers and new markets. We are in a good space. Germany is going to legalise recreational use and New York is almost ready to open with their industry. Slowly but surely, those big companies will begin to want to take more territory and to start moving towards Ireland.

I see Ireland being a gateway into Europe for a lot of the North American companies and I think that’s the way Ireland should be positioning itself. We have got a very skilled, intelligent young workforce over here. There’s a reason Google and all major North American companies operating in Europe are headquartered here and I don’t think the cannabis companies will be any different. That is not to say we won’t have our own hugely successful global cannabis companies. That is for certain, in my opinion. Who those entrepreneurs will be is still up for grabs.

Are there any stand-out cannabis companies you see as having especially exciting potential, in Europe or further afield?

There are a good number of exciting cannabis companies, and you kind of need to fine-tune it down into each sector – is it the edibles market, the vape category, hemp and construction? There’s Hempflax. They are a pretty amazing company that I think is going to revolutionise industrial hemp in construction. BioHarvest Sciences can make the cannabis plant in a bioreactor without using cultivation methods. You have Prūf Cultivar in Oregon and The Werc Shop in California. Bhang is another, Cann Drinks will be a global brand. For Europe, the market is so early that I believe the most exciting companies are still to come. What I’m looking forward to seeing is the first real brand that comes out of Ireland. I think Ireland has got a Kerrygold or a Guinness [of cannabis] in it, and I’m looking forward to seeing who gets that up and running. Look what we did with alcohol, do you think we cannot do the same in this industry?

Yeah. It’ll be interesting to see how soon that can become a reality. It often feels like our government drags their heels with all of this.

Yeah, but this is another thing that people are getting annoyed about. People are getting annoyed at politicians who know nothing, you know? Richard laughs I feel sorry for Frank Feighan [Minister with responsibility for drug policy] now at this stage, with the amount of abuse that he seems to get on Twitter. But at the same time, they’ve signed up for this game. They’re public servants, so everyone’s within their rights to be contacting them and telling them how they feel about a specific topic. And that’s just tough, they have got to take it. But at the same time, I think there needs to be a level of realism about who the decision makers are. You hardly think Stephen Donnelly is going to be the Minister for Health in three, five years time? When the next election comes, there will be a shuffle in the cabinet and he won’t be in that same position. So, to waste all the efforts on that individual.. he’s not doing it within three years, not from what I can see.

Barring it becoming this new piece of their election campaign, where one of the smarter Parties picks it up. Until we get to the next election, we won’t know. And that’s why a Citizens’ Assembly can be pushed off until then, because the election campaign comes around mid-2023 for the 2025 election. You’ll have a good year and a half of whether they are going to bring that into a campaign that they will go around trying to get the young vote with, or if it will just be disregarded by the Parties again. I reckon that by 2025, New York will be three years legal. There will be [cannabis industry] people chomping at the bit to get into this country. Anybody with any sort of common sense in our government will support this industry then. We know the Revenue people would love to have the tax revenue from this. We know a lot of the people in the Department of Justice would like to lessen the petty crime cases, which are a nonsensical waste of time and resources for Gardaí. And it appears that a number of influential individuals in politics who are outdated in their thinking process are able to hold this whole process back.

How do you think cannabis misinformation in the media can be more effectively tackled?

The mainstream media really have no clue about the cannabis industry outside of 420 and the munchies and the usual stereotypes. They just write pieces based on second hand information. People on both sides react to it and they have succeeded in their job as a modern journalist, which is to get a reaction, good or bad. Journalism used to be about informing the public with real information. Tell me when have you ever seen a real investigative journalism piece on cannabis in Ireland? The other day, RTÉ posted an article about seized plants that were not even grown, which Gardaí claimed had an estimated value of €200,000. It was so embarrassing to see that. Who in their right mind cleared that article? It was a downright lie, published seemingly without question by our national broadcaster.

There are a number of good sites popping up to help with cannabis misinformation and one of my recent guests, Professor Dan Bear, has a new site & Twitter account – I would suggest that people check those out. Ireland definitely needs a source which calls out misinformation in this manner. 

When do you see cannabis being fully legalised in Ireland, realistically?

How far down the line do you think that will be?

I would say 2027/2028. If you go to the next election, let’s say that is in 2025.. Let us say there is a Party going: ‘Right, we’re legalising cannabis.’ And they win. It’s at least one to two years of paperwork and taxation laws being constructed. What department is it under? What are the taxes and laws? So, they’re going to have two years of politicking, and everybody figuring things out. They are going to need a cannabis board, they are going to need professionals in all the different sectors, they are going to need to start the licensing process. Cannabis Compliance Ireland, the lobbying firm that I co-founded – we already have all that built and ready to go. We sent a proposal document to all the government officials, about three years ago, for how to develop and enforce a legal cannabis industry in Ireland. I have talked to all the Department heads over in Colorado, California, Oregon, New York plus many more about how to design licensing and taxation systems. So we have all that information already, in our pocket. 

Cannabis Compliance Ireland, when everything gets legalised… There won’t even be a company close to the amount of information, data and connections that we’ll have built up over time for our country. You’ll be ready at the outset. That’s five years experience so far, we’ve got multiple databases built out and we have already designed numerous types of industry policy and taxation papers that could be used in Ireland. If the government decides to legalise cannabis we will have everything ready for them to utilise from taxation to licensing and duty, to import, export, financial support and social equity programmes. We have all the boring information and policy that will make the Irish industry ready to go. I believe Ireland has some of the best entrepreneurs in the world and our island will be the gateway to Europe for all the North American companies in this sector. It is up to us to build the companies and services to compete.

Beyond contacting local TDs, what else would you advise people to do to get the cannabis discussion off the ground properly in Ireland? 

Well, first and foremost, I think we need to start having good events. And that’s hopefully something that we’re going to start looking at at the start of 2023, maybe starting with some of the great guests we have already had on The Cannabis Review. I am going to bring over a select few from a couple of different industries and disciplines and invite a number of politicians and policymakers along as well. It will show everybody that this is how you create a company in this industry and these are the experts within a couple of different disciplines who are going to give a brief presentation and outline what needs to be done to be successful.

Because this is business now. It’s not the cannabis industry, it is business. And to run any business you need to know your product, your consumers and the rules and regulations. You need to be researching and developing your ideas and your products continuously, because there’s no guarantee for success in anything. But the harder you work at something, the better a chance you’ll have of it working. I can’t wait to hear your updates on those events. By the way, I am going to be turning The Cannabis Review into its own media website soon. It will have its own bi-weekly newsletter. It will be a source of news and information on the New York, Irish and European industries, with a section for stocks, op-eds, top weekly stories and all of that sort of stuff.

That’s what we need more than anything in Ireland, a de facto source of information that is consistently up to date. That sounds great, best of luck with that! It sounds like you’ve got very exciting plans for the future. We’re looking forward to hearing about those as they develop. Thanks again and take care! See you!

My First Toke: From Environment to Etiquette

My First Toke: From Environment to Etiquette

In the future, I’d like to think first-time smokers will be introduced to cannabis in a completely different environment. But unfortunately, it will be a long time coming as many newcomers will have to endure the touch and go setting of the black market. In a legalized, regulated Ireland, first-time smokers will have safe access to the plant and will be able to benefit from its properties more safely and appropriately. Due to the fact that they will know exactly the strain and potency of the cannabis they are smoking. This can’t be said for those of us back in the day or currently for that matter.  For my generation, we had to go through the necessary channels to access the drug to experiment for ourselves. As a result, many of us have found ourselves in situations that weren’t particularly safe, but alas, at the time this was the only method at our disposal.

In my case, thankfully it was nothing drastic. Though, looking back I have to wonder how much worse it could’ve been. My story begins conveniently under a bridge, smoking my first hash joint.  As is the case for many who need to shield themselves from the public eye before embarking on their first journey with cannabis.  For many of my generation in the 2000s, ghost sites where construction had come to a halt and derelict uncomplete houses were left behind leaving ample spots to smoke were the best locations.  For me though, it was with two ‘friends’ from school, one of which was well versed in the area of cannabis resin. We climbed over a wall and made our way down a riverbank, to which there was a ledge that we could prop ourselves on away from the stream flowing below us. From there, we watched the ‘friend’ that had procured the hash slit a cigarette to dump its tobacco into a three-skinner rollie he had made moments prior. 

We watched in awe as he filled the skin with the tobacco and then slowly burnt the hash with his lighter which allowed small little nuggets to break away from the eighth that we were all there for. I still remember the smell singeing from the hash. It is a smell that I’m not particularly fond of even today as the most vivid memory of my first time was how harsh the toke was.  But this couldn’t happen before the joint roller had the first pull, as were the rules you see.  Many, many rules were formulated in the culture of teenagers chasing the magic dragon, rules that I never want to hear about again.  He was the first to spark up before giving it to my ‘friend’, who took a few more tokes before passing it to me. I inhaled and exhaled. Coughing a little bit as I hadn’t lost myself to nicotine just yet meaning my virgin lungs weren’t equipped to take the puff like the champions sitting next to me under that bridge.  My coughing, of course, was met with roaring laughter from my two associates, who clearly forgotten we were meant to be incognito for the duration of our smoke but had no qualms about letting anyone passing above us know that there were teenagers up to no good underneath them. As you might have noticed from my use of putting ‘friends’ in quotations, there was very little concern for how I was dealing with the harshness of the smoke.  I don’t remember much else other than really playing up the act of feeling high. I still don’t know why I did that. I assume it’s because I was trying something new and had consumed so much stoner media that may be a placebo effect took over and in wanting to enjoy it more, I played up its effect on me? I’m not sure. I was a dumb 15-year-old.  

Still though, even then, I felt that I could have been with people more enjoyable to smoke with. Honestly, I don’t remember much from my first time other than the circumstances in which I smoked it. I would have longed for an opportunity to smoke indoors with a group of people that were all in the same boat as opposed to the hierarchy of experience I was subject to.  Instead, my adolescence was confined to the 2000s when one-upmanship was the go-to method to signal how masculine you were.  I won’t dispute this is no longer the case but, in my hometown, it was a lot more prevalent when the mid-2000s culture afforded it. 

This was the culture surrounding weed, where your mate pulling a ‘whitey’* was seen as a great source of entertainment.  Instead of looking after one another and making sure everybody was accounted for, smoking games would break out.  One of the games I always hated playing was called Around the World, a game whereupon you take a pull from the joint and keep the smoke in your lungs until the joint has passed around to every individual in the circle where it makes its way back to you to which you can finally exhale only to start the whole ordeal all over again.  I don’t exactly remember the penalty for exhaling before the joint reached you again but I do know it was just another mechanism for certain people in the group to capitalize on those in their worst moments and encourage them to not pace oneself to enjoy it for all its worth.  This was far removed from how the characters in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused acted while enjoying a joint amongst one another.

I thankfully never found myself in a situation where I got sick, but I have been exposed to those who have and it was this type of competitive behaviour, the bullying, the intimidation, that cultivated an atmosphere where you gained satisfaction from another person’s suffering. That left a bad taste in my mouth regarding the weed culture for teens. It was only until I got older that I realized that I had been introduced to the drug through individuals that, let’s say, aren’t of the most trustworthy character. Shocker I know. 

I didn’t expect myself to be smoking with bleeding heart empaths for the first time, but at the very least I expected concern for how I was doing.  It should come as no surprise that those I experienced my first joint with are no longer on speaking terms with me, not due to any negativity or in-fighting, but rather we were simply not the same people. And by growing and maturing, we went in completely opposite directions. One of the most potent memories I have of my early years of smoking was the price. I became aware very quickly that drug dealers, especially when you’re a teenager, have little to no respect.

This obviously came in the form of getting ‘maced’.  The art of getting screwed out of your money.  Keep in mind, my first time as a smoker, Ireland was a different place in regards to the accessibility of cannabis.  It’s crazy to think of a time when the only cannabis product you could acquire was cannabis resin.  Instead of being handed a bag of oregano to pass off as weed, I vividly remember being handed my first soap bar which had the complexion of a balled-up play-dough. Though yet it smelled exactly as it should. It wasn’t until I smoked it that I realized that I had been conned, such is the life of being a teenage black-market customer. What was I going to do about it? Complain to my mother? This of course wasn’t the last time either.

Sure, you’re aware the black market isn’t exactly known for its professional integrity. It wasn’t until my mid to late 20s that I finally found a dealer that was more concerned about the well-being of his customers. While he didn’t have access to information regarding the strain or potency of the weed on offer, he at the very least knew which types would suit each customer.  While Ireland in 2004 is a far cry from Ireland in 2022, one thing that hasn’t changed is the reality that drug dealers only want to make a quick buck. 

I would have hoped by now things were different for younger people, but in a lot of ways, I should be thankful for the timing of my introduction to weed. Currently, there is a minefield to sift through for new smokers as synthetic weed has been making the rounds to which drug dealers have no shame or remorse when passing it off as real cannabis.  As a result, there are higher chances of first-time smokers ingesting this fake cannabis leading to severe psychosis problems and other mental health issues that this artificial strain induces. Obviously, the strength of weed has increased over the years, which is something that many first-time smokers will have to experience the hard way. Drug dealers are only interested in making a profit, and if that means selling a highly potent cannabis strain to a first-time smoker then so be it, because all that matters is that they get paid. 

My experiences with weed never affected my judgement of the plant itself, only the behaviour of the individuals I was smoking with.  I could only dream of discovering cannabis in a legal regulated environment as I imagine the atmosphere, attitude and overall experience would be far more enjoyable and remembered more fondly than the memories I have.

*a term for one’s skin tone when in the midst of getting sick after consuming too much cannabis

Adrienne Lynch | 09.01.2021

Richard speaks to Adrienne Lynch. Despite long-term mental health issues and related physical conditions, she was able to come off debilitating prescription medications and go on to live a full, purposeful life, thanks in no small part to cannabis. Twitter: @adriennevlynch

How was your experience of cannabis in Amsterdam when you were in your 20s and had you tried it before that? I went to Amsterdam for the first time by myself when I was 22 and I had experienced cannabis prior to that. I think that was one of my reasons for going to Amsterdam. I just wanted a safe place to go and experience cannabis and Amsterdam seemed like the obvious choice so that’s where I went. I’d only really tried it bits and pieces here as a teenager, y’know.. with your friends or whatever. But (I had) no real understanding of it. And also mixing it with alcohol when you’re a teenager. You just don’t really understand it, you know? So when I went and I sat down and smoked a joint and I ate some space cake and experienced it, I was like: “This might be for me.” I never really felt that with alcohol, but I was like: “This might be for me.” Richard laughs

In your guest piece for The Green Lens, you mentioned how you developed an autoimmune disease and fibromyalgia near the end of your teens. How would you explain those conditions to someone who isn’t informed about them? So, an autoimmune disease is your body attacking yourself. It can’t identify healthy cells and it attacks them. I have rheumatoid arthritis, which is inflammation in your joints. So my joints tend to swell up and things like that and there’s a lot of pain. And then with the fibromyalgia you have muscle spasms and you have a lot of pain. I had extreme chronic fatigue as well, but I couldn’t sleep either because I was in so much pain. Those symptoms were all very much of pain and then when I went to the Doctors, they just started to give me other medication to say: “Well this is the pain and this is what’s causing it.”

Which then just led to an onslaught of other issues coming up, you know? Because they didn’t diagnose me until I was 21 with the autoimmune disease and fibromyalgia. So I had about five years of crazy medicine. Prescribed guesswork. Prescribed guesswork basically, yeah. And a lot of them did a lot of damage. I was on steroids for a very long time. They had a slight touch of sleeping tablets at that stage but they didn’t give me sleeping tablets really until I was.. I think I was about 24 or 25. So you went a long time without being able to sleep, really. Yeah, yeah. And at that stage, I didn’t have a clue how to get my hands on cannabis in Ireland. I was living out in Donabate and nobody I knew was selling any or knew anybody to ask. And even asking them would’ve been so taboo and the fear of judgement, you know… So it was just.. You just plod along for so long, you know?

Did you ever find out why you were prescribed twice the recommended dose of sleeping tablets for several years at around that time? No. And I’m still completely fascinated and baffled that Doctors would inform me of this as they’re giving me another prescription for it. Yeah. At this stage, I wasn’t really sleeping because you don’t really sleep with sleeping tablets. So it was years of that. And the Doctor, as he’s writing me my double dosage, he was saying: “This can lead to Parkinson’s and Alzheimers, you know that?” Oh my God. I was like, “Oh, yeah.” And he hands me the prescription and I was like: “That’s it, that’s all you tell me? I’ve been on these for a number of years now. You’re a medical professional.” No matter who you are, you will build a dependency on them, you know? Yeah. So, that was it. It wasn’t even addressed ever again. 

It was just mentioned once, as he prescribed it to you. I actually had to change Doctor. And the next Doctor, she hated prescribing them for me, so she was just always at me. And then I was like, “Why am I taking these and how am I gonna get off them?” Three years back, after a year of gradually weaning yourself off of them, you managed to stop using the prescription medications you’d been prescribed for sleeping, anxiety and depression and replaced them with cannabis. How did cannabis help you to stop using them and how does using it compare to the prescription meds? So, one thing is, prescription meds.. You’re never just on one generally. One leads to another, to another, to another. So when you’re on this mix of things that are supposed to be treating one thing and they’re just stopping your body from doing something that it’s naturally trying to do, that’s what pharma medication generally does.

That leads to other issues, so straight away that’s one thing. Cannabis is one medicine and it treats your body. Now we’ve got all the different cannabinoids within that medicine, which is the part where we’ve got to start educating people, because that’s the medicine part. That’s the part that gives our body that homeostasis. So instead of stopping it from doing something, cannabis enables my body to function to the best of its ability. Yeah. It doesn’t stop it (from) doing any functions. It doesn’t suppress anything. It helps you to do all those functions it needs to do. Now our body should never be stopped from doing anything. It should be assisting it to do things, so that’s for me again a huge change and it really is the best medicine I’ve ever been on.

You said that after years of struggle, cannabis now allows you to eat comfortably, sleep, exercise and leave the house, leading a productive life. Why do you think many people still buy into the lazy stoner stereotype? I mean it’s everywhere, isn’t it? I mean, even down to the stoner movies I love and enjoy. I recently rewatched Pineapple Express. It’s absolutely hilarious. It just perpetuates this idea of an idiot stoner that’s lazy and can’t achieve anything in life. And we all know that’s so far from the truth. I mean, even the guy that wrote that movie is successful and a millionaire and a stoner, you know? So it’s a paradox in itself. But it’s something we do need to challenge. And I think it’s fine having it from a comedic perspective, but when the rest of us are trying to live our lives and we’re fighting against that stigma or that stereotype that’s just so far from the truth. I wake, bake, do thirty minutes of cardio and then thirty minutes of strength training and then thirty minutes of yoga. How is that lazy? It’s the exact opposite of it. And then I go and do a full day’s work. Somebody come at me and tell me smoking makes you lazy, because I’m telling you it just absolutely doesn’t. It gives me the ability to do everything I wanna do and I’m very ambitious and now I’m finally able to fulfil those ambitions and go for what I want. I’m delighted to hear that.

How are you progressing with your course on The Medicinal Uses of THC and CBD, and what have you found most interesting about it? I always knew cannabis is really good for us in the sense of treating pain and treating inflammation. I did not know that our bodies are 100% built to receive this sort of medicine and that it regulates so many other parts of our bodies. The studies and medical research they’re doing at the moment is showing signs for neuropathic protection, so that could be used for protection from Alzheimer’s in times to come. Who knows? If we’re finally allowed to do all the research. Everybody says THC can affect your memory. If it’s used right, if the research is allowed to be done, it can actually be used to protect your neuropathy. And then if you also look at the fact that it can also regulate your pancreas it can possibly also be used in the future to help with diabetes. 

So there’s just so many benefits to it and it’s like the tip of the iceberg we’re at right now. There is such a level left to go and it’s not even just cannabis, there’s a lot of botanical medicines to be researched. Because there’s a lot of plants that have cannabinoids, not just cannabis. Yeah. And everybody thinks: “Oh, botanical medicine is just hippie dippy stuff. There’s a lot of science to it now, it’s not just about loving plants and things like that. There’s really a lot of science. And I’m not for taking away pharma, but I’m about options for people. People need to be informed and know that they have options. Absolutely. 

There’s no point dismissing an entire area of medicine in favour of another, everyone should have a broad range of options. We must have cannabinoid receptors in our bodies for a reason, you would think! I mean we all come from the Earth, so there might be things in the Earth put there for us, you know? If you don’t mind me asking, where are you studying that and how far along are you with that course? It’s just an online course, but it is recognised by CBD CPD [Continual Professional Development], so it’s 15 points for that. I’m doing it in The Centre of Excellence, which is an English company. And the guy who wrote it, the information he is giving around the laws at the start are from an English perspective. But their laws are very similar to ours. After that, he goes into the whole body and the receptors and he breaks down the different cannabinoids and stuff as well. And then the next part I’ll be going into is how they can be used. Like topical use and tinctures and things like that. But it’s a really interesting course, I’d recommend it.

You have told me that you’re also studying to be a Nutrition and Lifestyle Coach, and that you hope to incorporate your knowledge of CBD into your coaching. How do you plan to do this? CBD could hugely be incorporated into our nutritional daily benefits. If people were even using CBD oils for cooking with. If they were drinking CBD teas, which are wonderful. Really, really good. There’s lots of different ways you can incorporate it into your nutritional daily intake. So I will be up for that, but I also really want to educate people on how they can use it to manage anxiety and stress, while incorporating it with exercise. Because I really look at everything from a holistic perspective. It’s never just one issue, you have to do everything as a whole. Yeah. So, I really think CBD can be brought into everything. Cannabis can be used, and a lot of people are like: “I don’t wanna smoke”. So then you can use oils or.. nowadays, they have the CBD drinks. I love the Parachute drink. ‘Cause I’m not a drinker but if you wanna sit and be social with somebody there having a can, have a can of Parachute instead, you know? That works for me. Things like that, it’s just small changes but they can make a big difference in a person’s life.

How would you advise our government and the Garda Síochána on the national approach to cannabis, moving forward? It’s obviously a complex issue. They need to have compassion, first and foremost. There’s no compassion right now for people that are suffering from illnesses. People don’t choose to be ill. For me, I’m being forced to break the law, all the time at the moment. And I have a child to think of, and that weighs heavily on me. And I studied law as well, you know? I don’t want to be a criminal, but I’m not willing to take pharmaceutical medication that makes my life unmanageable just because of a law that I don’t believe in. They really have to listen to us. They have to start listening to us and they have to have an open conversation. And I think it’s very dangerous, the misuse of information that they spread. Because it’s so scaremongering and it’s really detrimental to the people who could really benefit from cannabis. 

Do you think that we should gradually progress through legalisation, starting with the medicinal and then aiming for recreational (use)? Or do you think we should try to go straight for full legalisation? What kind of views do you have on that? Part of me thinks, “Just ease our way in” and another part of me is like, “I don’t know if Ireland is like that.” When it came to the gay marriage stuff, it was like: “We’re either going full constitutional or we’re just not doing it.” I feel we need a similar approach with this. It needs to be an all-in approach. We need to go: “We want full change and we want it recognised in our Constitution so that we’re protected, that this is a medicine.” Something along those lines I feel is needed on this. Because I think they’re gonna sit on their hands and they’re gonna keep tryna fob us off with little gestures here and there. Like the thing that they did recently with the Gardaí, saying: “They can use their own personal discretion.” But sure they’ve been doing that for years! And all that does is harm people who are from areas that already get discriminated against. 

Do you think our government is working in any meaningful way at the moment in terms of discussing legalisation and making it a reality for people? I don’t think it’s enough in their view frame at the moment. I think there’s so many other things and people pushing for things that it’s not in their view frame. That’s why we need this to be bigger. We need people coming out. And it’s almost like coming out as: “Hey, I am a smoker! I like THC and CBD and it helps my life.” You have to do that. And I’ve only really started doing it myself publicly within the last six months. I’ve been doing it very much in the background for a long time. But publicly, because it’s a difficult thing when it’s illegal to do, but I really believe in it. So I think if more of us can protect each other and work together, that’s one thing I feel is missing. That sense of community and having each others’ backs. Because it’s so underground. So we need to find a way to come together, I think a little bit like what they did in Spain with the smokers’ clubs. 

That could be an approach we could take, because at least it would be a place for people to go to gather information, where we could build a community that will stand up and say: “This is not okay, we need changes.” I couldn’t agree more. Is there anything else you’d like to touch on? Anything you’d like to say to people who are interested in learning more about cannabis? I would say… Go in slowly to your CBD and THC. Because there’s a lot to learn and there’s a lot of growth to be had in it. And if you go in too fast, you might scare yourself away. If you can talk to people or find people online who have experienced it, it’s always a good thing to talk to other people. And just try and find a decent dealer until we get legalisation, because you’ve gotta be safe out there. You never know what they’re doing with that stuff they sell on the street. With the sprays and everything, you’ve just gotta be really careful. Thank you so much for joining me today. Thanks for having me, take care.

* Adrienne’s autobiographical guest piece, Cannabis Saved My Life, can be read here:

https://www.greenlensblog.com/2020/11/22/cannabis-saved-my-life-adrienne-lynch/

Kenny Tynan | 07.01.2021

Richard speaks to Kenny Tynan – a radio host, DJ, producer, and the host of 1The Cannabis Patient Podcast. Kenny was diagnosed with a grade 2 glioma brain tumour in 2015, resulting in extensive surgeries which meant that he had to re-learn how to use the right side of his body. Kenny sought out cannabis as an alternative means of treating his tumour and its effects. He is keen to continue learning about it as a student while informing people of its many benefits and advocating for its legalisation in Ireland.

Twitter: @KennyTynan

What first got you into music production and DJing? Well, I think it was when I was about ten years of age, I heard me first rave tape that the cousin had in England, y’know? It was of The Utah Saints and I really got into them from that stage onwards. And then around when I was sixteen or so, I got introduced to programmes like eJay and Reason and I’ve been at it ever since then. Would you say that making music has served as a therapy of sorts, in itself? It would indeed, yeah. Because when you’re writing music a lot of the time it’s experimental, until you find that right groove. And then once you find that right groove and (the) right elements, you get into a kind of flow state. And it’s a good way to release ideas and release things out of your head. It can be very refreshing to actually complete a task as well. When you’ve finished a song and you’re proud of how it went and proud of how it came out.

And when did you become interested in cannabis? I was always, since I was a teenager. I used it recreationally, on and off. But it wasn’t until the 2Rick Simpson video came out that… I always thought it was just a drug, until I seen that and it opened me eyes completely to show me that it was a medicine. You stated in episode one of your podcast that cannabis oils “gave you your life back” and that at the time of recording, you’d been a year without seizures. What inspired you to seek out those oils and how was your experience sourcing them? Well, it was a positive side-effect from the oils that I was taking, for treating the tumour. What inspired me to seek it out was the fact that I had the tumour and I didn’t want to take chemotherapy or radiotherapy at the time, so I wanted to try this first, you know? I got them fairly handy in Ireland at first, but they were black market oils. 

I took maybe 24 hours to source them initially in Ireland. But I wasted shitloads of money on subpar medicine. Stuff that still had alcohol in it, you know what I mean? And stuff that hasn’t been made right at all, that hasn’t been extracted right at all like. At one stage there was stuff I got that was like… The only way you could explain it was nearly like putty, you know? Like an ointment? Exactly, and it stank of alcohol, it tasted of alcohol as well. I couldn’t take that at all and that cost me 400 quid, so that was 400 quid down the drain. So, we do need regulation because patients are being ripped off left, right and centre. It’s very hard to find a decent quality medicine, even though there is multiple sources of black market stuff. But it’s very hard to find the right guys.

For those who might not know, how would you describe a glioma brain tumour?   I was first diagnosed with a grade 2. And what it can do is, it can affect your memory, mood, sometimes your balance. Seizures are part and parcel of it, you know? Anxiety as well. You’re not given a very long life expectancy when you’re first diagnosed with a glioma, because at any stage it could turn into a GBM, which is a glioblastoma multiforme. And from that point on, you could have three months to live. At the minute, I’m living three months to three months. My last two scans have shown that it has been reducing, but my next one could say: “It’s gone GBM and you’ve got a couple months left to live”. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen.

In 2017, you moved to Spain and you received specialist cannabis treatment for your tumour through the Kalapa clinic in Barcelona. Can you tell us more about that experience? Yeah. I heard Vera Twomey, she got in contact with the Kalapa clinic. And I got the details off her. And I had a session over Skype. And I sent them on me medical files, I got me medical files from Beaumont. And they said “Yeah”, that I’d qualify for it. And they gave me a prescription. It wasn’t an official prescription, because of the legalities of it over there in Spain. But they hooked me up with a cannabis club that was for patients and they had their own laboratory. And they were making the medicine in the laboratory as well.

Could you see the approach of Spanish cannabis clubs working in Ireland? Do you think that system would work well here? Yeah. One of the clubs was patient-led, the other was a kind of a recreational club. But what used to happen in the patient ones was you got your own number and you told them what your medicine was and they grew that amount of plants specifically for that medicine that you need. So, each plant that they had grown for you, they would have a tag on it with your particular number. So if the cops did come and raid them, they would be able to say: “Look, these are all our members here, they’re our patients. These are not my plants, this plant belongs to..” (Let’s say, myself). “Kenny Tynan. And another person.” So, they wouldn’t really be done as such and they couldn’t be prosecuted, you know? 

Yeah, that makes sense because the shares are split up among the community. So there’s a lot of sense in that. What are your feelings on the Medical Cannabis Access Programme? I haven’t seen anything about it. Nothing has happened with it, it’s just been put on pause. I don’t think there’s been one person granted an application under it, as far as I know. The only way that people can get it is through a licence. And that is extremely at fault. I think only about a quarter of the people that have a licence are actually getting reimbursed, so it’s not a great system. I’m one of those people that aren’t getting reimbursed, so I have to make my own medicine now. Were you able to get your costs covered before? Okay. First, I applied to the Primary Care Reimbursement Scheme. And they turned me down after about three months of going forward and back. They turned me down because they says that my epilepsy is treatable. And that my primary condition is a brain tumour and not epilepsy. So that’s why they turned me down for the reimbursement, but I did find another way of getting reimbursed for a while from the Treatment Abroad Scheme. But back in February of last year, they stopped that altogether for medicinal cannabis. And after that then, I applied for the Hardship Scheme. Yeah, the Hardship Scheme. And they says that they wouldn’t cover medical cannabis on that either.

How do you feel about the theory that cannabis serves as a gateway to more illicit substances? I think that’s a very propaganda statement. I think that prohibition is the main gateway to more illicit drugs. People use cannabis to relax, to unwind. The same way that people use wine in the evening, you know? Or a drink, or even cigarettes. At the moment, prohibition means we have to deal with criminal gangs, sometimes. And those people only have profit on their minds. Because of that, not only do they carry cannabis, but sometimes they might have cocaine, or even heroin. At the very least, they will have some sort of benzodiazepines, just to complement their sales. Whereas an Irish grower will charge you cheaper than what you’re getting on the street and you know what is in it. Because any Irish grower I’ve met so far takes great pride in ensuring that their cannabis is organic and pesticide-free. And they only distribute cannabis.

Do you think the Irish government will watch how the British reform their cannabis laws in the short-term, before taking action on ours? Yeah, I think they’re keeping a close eye on it, yeah. I think, regarding our own laws, all that’s standing in our way is a citizens’ assembly. Because the hard evidence is there at the moment to support legislation and regulation. A few of us are involved at the moment in setting up Patients for Safe Access, which will be a platform for advocacy, where patients can join up and put their voice forward. And we’ll be looking at doing events, educational events, training events. Letting people know what medicinal cannabis is. At the minute, we are working with one of the Directors from Patients for Safe Access in America. And we’re working with Martin O’Brien from Foxworthy Farms. He’s the owner of the oldest dispensary in the world. So we have him on board. We’re gonna be launching the website over the next couple of weeks and hopefully it’ll give people so much information. Excellent, sounds great.

Do you think corporate interests will be a driving force behind legislation in Ireland? I think they will try to. Yes, of course there’ll be a certain amount of that. But I think we have the resources here already. With Martin O’Brien, he has (I think) a forty acre farm over in California and he has the know-how for how to grow it over here. There’s so many other people that could get involved in a co-op that could reduce the cost of medicine for all patients, you know? I think we have enough people here that are educated in medicinal cannabis and people that are doing courses in medicinal cannabis like meself that could advise people on cannabis as opposed to blocking up the GPs. We could do one-to-one consultations. Once it’s all streamlined. In my opinion we have to follow the American model of dispensaries and maybe for recreational purposes as well, that we could have certain smoking clubs or social clubs, as such. 

That’s the one thing that’s missing over here, is social clubs. You’d have the image (in your head) that you’d go into the social club in Spain and that it would be everybody just sitting smoking and saying nothing to anybody. But it is quite the opposite. I’ve heard people playing classical music on the piano. And everybody was playing chess one evening and then there was a gaming night the next night. They were teaching English because I was the only English-speaker in the club. Kenny laughs So they kind of took all that on board as well. It’s a great place for learning and chatting as well. Yeah, it’s not all about the weed. It is a community centre of sorts as well. People forget that with some strains, you can be perfectly productive and get things done and that it’s not all just lazy couch potato stuff when people use cannabis. Yeah.

How would you feel about cannabis regulation receiving similar laws to the sale and consumption of alcohol? We need to take it out of the hands of criminal gangs. In my research, I’ve come across a study where it’s shown that teenage use of cannabis can increase the likelihood of depression later on in life by one and a half times. I think that the human brain is still developing till around the age of twenty-one. So, if we can regulate dispensaries and social clubs for over 21s… Dealers don’t ask for ID, they’re only interested in money. If we can put it into the hands of an organisation and take it away from the teenage use, that can only lead to harm reduction. And in time as well, it’ll be looked upon as a kind of a hippie thing to do. Over in Amsterdam, they’re legal maybe thirty or forty years. But the teenagers over there don’t pay any heed on it at all, it’s a hippie thing. That’s stuff for aul fellas, you know? Laughter Yeah, it’s amazing how the perception changes when something is legal.

You recently studied Medicinal Cannabis and the Control of Pain at the Israel Institute of Technology, with hopes of becoming a cannabis consultant. Can you tell us more about the course and how you found it? Well, I completed it and I got 99% in it. Excellent, well done. And I’m now doing a diploma course for medicinal cannabis, which will cover it in a lot more depth. The endocannabinoid system and how oils are made, the chemical makeup, et cetera. And how to prescribe it properly. 

They’re discovering new terpenes the whole time. There’s a lot left to be discovered in the cannabis plant. Yeah. Since I came out (in) public, I have been having people contact me about medicinal cannabis. Almost every day, sometimes several a day. Back a couple of years ago it was several people a day, so it was. And I think that I owe it to them to know what I’m talking about. And not just going on my own experience, but going on scientific facts as well. I think that’s important for the legalisation movement as a whole. That we don’t just present any old thing and that we do have some data and science to back it up.

Have your studies with the Institute changed your own approach to medical cannabis?  Yeah. I learned an awful lot about the dangers, actually. People presume it’s a safe drug, but nothing is ever safe. For example, withdrawals. If a person is being treated for PTSD and stops taking it, he might… His symptoms of PTSD might actually increase during the withdrawal period. It’s not suitable for breastfeeding mothers, or for pregnant women. I’ve learned an awful lot about its affect on your driving as well. So it’s not all positives, you know? Is there anything you found especially interesting about how it affects your driving? Yeah. What I found interesting was that they no longer have to prove that you are in any way inebriated. Once you test positive for cannabis, that’s it, you’re charged. Once you’re over.. I think it’s one ug per mill (microgram per millilitre) of blood.

From my studies, I’ve learned that you’ll feel the effects of smoked cannabis for an hour and twenty minutes to two hours before it starts wearing off, and then it rapidly declines. Whereas ingested cannabis, it takes longer to feel the effects, but it doesn’t wear off as quickly. It wears off over about eight hours. What I’ve learned is that the roadside tests do not prove an inability to drive. As it happens, Nicholas put up an 3article recently on that very subject. And he had come to the same conclusion as yourself, that they don’t have a system of measuring cannabis in your body properly. And because it’s illegal and from the black market, they don’t know anything about its purity or what it’s mixed with. So I think that’s the reason why if it’s even a tiny amount, they fine you and may imprison you for a while for it. 

Yeah. Exactly, yeah. And you could’ve smoked a joint the previous evening and it will stay in your system. It’s just that you won’t have the effects of it. So you could’ve smoked a joint the previous day and get swabbed the following day and you’re not in any way inebriated. Yet you’ll get charged because you weren’t given a roadside test. I think that needs to come into it. Driving on cannabis is dangerous, let’s face it. But we cannot have a system that’s broken like that. I think it’s ridiculous, to be honest. You could’ve had some drinks and been ‘properly’ drunk the night before. Then you could sober up a bit, go out driving the next morning and you’d be okay to drive, according to their test. But if it’s even a miniscule amount of cannabis, that’s it. Yeah.

How has progress been with the booklet you were hoping to publish to help educate Ireland about cannabis? That all ties back in again with the Patients for Safe Access thing. That’s the group that’s actually launching it. So yes, we have got plenty of stories so far from all walks of life. We have such a diverse age group and people from all different types of backgrounds. So we hope to get that published in a couple of months. And in the meantime, we’ll be using them as content for the website and maybe for the social media as well. Excellent. Do you have social media at the moment that you’d like people to look out for, or is that all on the way? It’s on the way.

Is there anything else you’d like to touch on, personally? Will you plug me single? I’ve a new single coming out tomorrow, it’s called Rebel Yell. So, download it on iTunes and listen on Spotify or whatever! Is it by yourself, or someone on your label? Yeah, it’s 4Kenny Tynan – Rebel Yell. Perfect, I’ll plug that for sure! Deadly, thanks a million! Kenny laughs Not a bother, lovely talking to you. Pleasure to meet you. All the best with the patient-led cannabis group, the podcast and all the rest! Thanks Richard, bye.

References:

1 The Cannabis Patient Podcast can be found at this link: https://anchor.fm/thecannabispatient 

2 For more information on Rick Simpson and RCO (Rick Simpson Oil), see this article on Wikileaf:

https://www.wikileaf.com/thestash/rick-simpson-oil/ 

3 Nicholas’ recent Green Lens post on roadside drug testing can be read here:

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/01/07/drug-driving-testing-will-the-ends-justify-the-means/  

4 Kenny’s new single Rebel Yell is out now on all good music streaming sites:

https://www.lnkfi.re/RebelYell/

Aimee Brown | 20.12.2020

Richard speaks to Aimee Brown, a young woman who suffers from debilitating endometriosis, as well as adenomyosis. “Endo” affects one in ten Irish women, or more than 155,000 women in Ireland. There is an average wait of nine years before patients are diagnosed with this condition, often after repeated misdiagnoses. Aimee’s symptoms began at age eleven, but she did not receive a formal diagnosis of this condition until the age of 21. She has written My Endo Manifesto, which includes chapters such as: “Repeated Detrimental Surgeries & Medical Trauma”, “Mental, Physical and Psychological Scarring”, “Extensive Counselling & Lack Thereof”, and “Prescriptions & Personal Cannabis Experience”. 

According to this personal testament: “Endometriosis is a common chronic inflammatory condition where tissue, similar to the tissue that normally grows inside the uterus, grows outside of it. This more commonly happens around the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, the bowel and the areas at the front, back and sides of the uterus. In some cases, it can be found outside the pelvis (lung, skin, brain, diaphragm). It triggers a chronic inflammatory reaction, resulting in pain and adhesions. Adhesions develop when scar tissue attaches separate structures or organs together. Symptoms include severe pain, hormonal imbalance, fertility and intimacy issues, chronic fatigue.” Aimee uses cannabis to treat her pain and says that it is far more effective than any drugs she has been prescribed to date.

Twitter: @AimeeLouB / Instagram: @endowithaimee_blog

You weren’t formally diagnosed with endometriosis until you were 21. Why do you think this was? Well firstly, because I was never actually referred to a gynaecologist. The GPs (and I’ve seen a couple of different ones over the ten years), they all told me the same thing: “Unfortunately, this just happens to some women. And you’re just unfortunate.” There was never, “It could be endometriosis.” I’d never even heard of it till after I’d gotten the diagnosis. So I think the main failure was that the GPs didn’t recognise the symptoms. They weren’t aware enough to actually refer me to a gynaecologist, in my opinion. So there’s a lack of education out there in the medical profession in Ireland, basically. One million percent. Even amongst the gynaecologists themselves, who are supposed to be kind of up there in the area of endometriosis.. They don’t have the level of expertise that we need as patients. 

You were placed on a waiting list by Tallaght University Hospital for an appointment with a Pain Management Team and have been waiting since 2016. Why is the wait so long? I was an in-patient, I was admitted for ten days or something, in 2016. I was seen by the pain team and the consultant told me that all I could do was wait for an outpatient appointment. But according to the pain clinic, they never got a referral for me until 2019. But according to my notes (and I got my medical history under The Freedom of Information Act, I requested everything) I have proof that I’ve been waiting since 2016! That’s insane. The injustice is just horrendous.

You’ve been using cannabis to treat your pain since the age of fifteen. How has it helped you over the years? Honestly, I believe if it hadn’t been for cannabis, I wouldn’t be here today. It truly is the one lifeline and the one consistency that I’ve had, even though it’s not the level of consistency that I deserve. Because if it was regulated, I would know exactly what kind of strain I was buying. Whereas I’m kind of depending on the black market, which is not ideal. But at the same time, without it, I don’t know where I’d be. Even though I’m still in chronic pain every day, I reckon that I would be so much worse off, if I wasn’t smoking cannabis. My whole body is tensed up with pain, whereas when I smoke it’s almost like I can let the pain flow through me and I can relax a bit. There’s a lot of people out there with chronic pain conditions that have had to rely on the black market it seems. And it’s desperate. If I had the knowledge and the capability and obviously if the law was different, I’d love to grow my own. Yeah. D’you know? And I’ve looked into that recently. I bought a book, Cannabis Growing for Beginners. So, I’m reading that and I’m trying to get familiar with the process so that I don’t have to be feeding the black market. I don’t want to be supporting criminal enterprises. I don’t think anyone does. 

You were on 23 different prescription tablets for pain management, including Palexia (which is often prescribed for terminal cancer). The medications have side effects including severe tremors, nausea and poor balance, to name just a few. You stated before that Amitriptyline almost cost you your life because of its severe side effects. Can you elaborate on how that drug affected you? I wanna  say it was nearly a mild psychosis that I went into. My brain wasn’t my own. The fits of rage that I was getting, that I didn’t know what to do with it. It got to the point where I was scratching the skin off my own face. I was self-harming, because I didn’t know what to do with everything that was bubbling inside. I was paranoid. It was just the most horrific experience, mentally.

So you’re no longer on any of those tablets? In March this year I met a new GP for the first time and it was honestly one of the most heartbreaking days of my entire life. She took one look at the prescription and her demeanor completely changed. “Do you realise this is an end of life drug?” And I was taken aback a bit, and I said: “Excuse me, do you realise that I didn’t put myself on that? If you have a problem with what I’m on, you should surely be taking that up with the Doctor who’s prescribed it and not (be) taking it out on me.” So she didn’t like that, first of all. And I had a whole folder of all my surgical notes and I have a lot of research about cannabis and endometriosis as well, in the same folder. And when she got to that page, oh my God.. It was like I personally insulted her. So, she went ballistic and she shouted at me, “Nobody will be getting any benzos or sleepers around here!” And I went into shock, I got really upset and I said: “Excuse me, I have never been on benzos or sleepers in my whole life, not once ever. Why would you say something like that?” 

“Well it needs to be said, it has to be put out there.” I said: “No, it really didn’t. There was no need for that. And if I had known you’d be so offended by the cannabis conversation, I wouldn’t have brought it up. I had this conversation openly with my previous GP and things were fine. I never expected this kind of reaction.” So, she told me I had insulted her and that she never wanted to see me as a patient again. So I literally left the place hysterical, shaking, (with a) panic attack. Couldn’t believe what I’d been subjected to. And that day I decided: “I’m not taking any more of these tablets, because I’m not gonna have any Doctor look at me like that ever again.” So I abruptly stopped all pain relief and the anti-depressants. All I’m taking now is my pill continuously and Buscopan. That’s all I’ve been taking since March, even though I’m in severe chronic pain. Because of the psychological impact of that day, that just pushed me over the edge.

I can’t believe that a GP would speak to someone like that. It sounds like she showed you no sympathy whatsoever, no consideration of things from your point of view. No compassion, no humanity. She didn’t even know me, she made up her mind in two minutes after looking at a prescription without even asking me any questions. Am I in pain, is it working? No questions. She just made up her mind and that was that. It was honestly the most heartbreaking thing. And you had just explained to her what prescription tablets you were currently on and you mentioned the cannabis. I had given her a photocopy of the prescription from the previous GP and that’s what she was going off (of). And she found when she was going through the folder, she came across the cannabis. And once she’d seen cannabis, she closed the folder. She didn’t look at any of the detail. It was like I had said something really offensive about her mother. Aimee giggles She was so offended. I couldn’t relate to that. Yeah. And the previous GP was alright about the use of cannabis alongside the medications, is that right? Yeah, I spoke openly with him about it and he knew that that was helping and he heard when I was telling him about the side effects of the medications and stuff. And I kind of pitied him to an extent, because he didn’t know what to do with me. He’s not equipped to handle a case like mine, I think. And I’m not the only one, there’s many, many, many endo warriors out there in the same boat. Their GP is just at a loss.

Now I’ve battled with depression and I’ve had a PTSD diagnosis since (I think) the age of thirteen, so I’ve always had psychological conditions. But never to the extent of this particular drug (Amitriptyline). They were heightened a lot by it. I can’t even express to what extent. I can’t exaggerate enough how quickly I lost myself. I only took them for two weeks and I was a completely different person. It’s surprising that you were on 23 tablets to begin with, because surely some of them are already going to affect each other. Well, when I saw the pain specialist as an in-patient in 2016, his advice was until I get an out-patient appointment, I should take two Tylex, four times a day, three anti-inflammatories, say 400mg, so that’d be 1200 in the day, and Paracetemol every four hours. Regardless of if I’m in pain or not, that was his advice. To keep the massive flare-ups at bay. So, I was not willing to take eight Tylex a day, three anti-inflammatories and eight Paracetemol if I’m in pain or not… That’s not living, there’s no quality of life in that. It’s just throwing pills at the problem out of desperation, isn’t it? Exactly.

You quoted your own gynaecologist as saying the following before you were put under anesthetic in 2018: “Be prepared if we don’t find anything because more often than not if we’re used to being in pain, the pain can be all in our heads.” How did this affect you? I just thought: “Number one, if that’s really a possibility, why would you be about to cut me open? And number two, falling to the ground with stabbing pains in your pelvis is definitely not psychological.” I knew it wasn’t but for somebody who I was trusting to cut me open and look inside to say this to me five minutes beforehand, it was devastating. Now, I understand that she needs to manage patients’ expectations. And it is a chronic illness, there is no cure. The only thing we can do is try to best manage it, so I completely understand that and I get that she has to manage patient expectations. But the delivery of that statement and the timing of that statement was very, very, very insensitive. Of course, it beggars belief. I know that when they say “all in your head”, they mean that the pain signals that are going from the brain to the pelvic region, that’s been happening for so long that even if the disease is removed, that can continue to happen. I think that’s what she meant, but that’s not what she said. Yeah, the way that she delivered it definitely came across the wrong way. Very cold! Aimee giggles 

Yeah. You’ve had four laparoscopic operations (keyhole surgeries) in the past seven years. Three of those were in Ireland. Your last excision surgery in Ireland made the illness even worse for you. As a result, you had to leave work in 2018 and travel to the Wellborn clinic in Romania at a cost of €8,000 to undergo surgery with Dr. Gabriel Mitroi. How does the treatment process in Romania compare to Ireland? First of all the centre is dedicated to endometriosis, so his surgeries consist of 90% endometriosis and 10% endometrial cancer. So that’s why his expertise is so superior because he’s solely focusing on that area. Whereas in Ireland, the gynaecologists are obstetricians as well. They’re in different fields. So, we need more dedicated professionals in Ireland, number one. Number two, it’s because he’s the second in Romania in a multi-disciplinary setting. There’s different Doctors present. So that, if the endometriosis has gone to…for example, for me it was my diaphragm. Right up near the lungs. A gynaecologist is not qualified to go near there.

I was told in Ireland, that’d probably be a general surgeon that’d deal with that. And when I told that to Dr. Mitroi, he was horrified! Because a general surgeon should never, ever treat endometriosis. That’s why we need a multidisciplinary setting so that we’re getting rid of the entire disease from all areas, in one surgery. Whereas at the moment in Ireland, if you have it in the bowel or the bladder, it’s different operations for each. And that’s just too many surgeries. According to 1Kathleen King’s research, Irish women were having up to thirteen, seventeen, even twenty times more surgery than our European counterparts! That’s absurd! There’s a video of one of the TDs quoting that in the Dáil, when the topical questions were put forward. 

You worked with People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny and Kathleen King, the Chairperson of the EAI (Endometriosis Association of Ireland), to host a presentation at Leinster House in December last year. During the talk, Kathleen said she wished for the government, ‘working with the EAI, to develop a multidisciplinary centre of excellence for endometriosis within Ireland’. Have there been any developments on this front since then? Unfortunately not, to my knowledge. No. I’ve met with a new Doctor who recently started in the Coombe, Doctor Hugh D. O’Connor, he’s an endometriosis specialist. And he is working towards that setting. And he told me that he rarely operates without a colorectal surgeon in the room, if he feels the patient is gonna need that. So he is already trying to establish that multidisciplinary setting, but he needs support from the government basically. Okay.

You wrote to Tallaght University Hospital in December of last year, about the need for a consultant’s signature to give to your GP, so you could apply for a medical cannabis licence. What kind of a response did you receive and have you been able to register for the licence since? No. The response was a flat out “no” from the gynaecology team, because apparently that’s not their area of expertise. They said it would have to be a pain clinic, pain management specialists, who would have to apply for that kind of a licence. So I’ve since gotten an appointment with the pain team, I was there in July this year… Absolute disaster! The specialist refuses to treat me while I’m using cannabis. From his point of view, whatever he tries to put me on, he doesn’t know how it’s gonna react to cannabis. So he won’t accept my life experience with the plant as being enough. Not only will he not even entertain the idea of applying for a licence, he also refuses to treat me as long as I am using cannabis for myself. Okay.

So it’s still a very complicated environment when it comes to the knowledge, or lack of it, that’s out there about cannabis in relation to other prescription drugs. It’s a mess. And it’s really annoying. I said to him: “It upsets me that if I lived in Canada, with the exact same pain and the exact same condition, I would have the opportunity to have a better quality of life”. And his response was: “Well, emigrate.” Terrible. And I said: “Honestly, I feel emigrating would be a very cowardly move, because I’m not the only one in this position. Why would I leave my own country to go somewhere else, instead of fighting for what’s right. What should be happening here. And he said: “Well that’s a completely different argument.” 

You received correspondence from Philippa Bridge Cook (Executive Director of The Endometriosis Network Canada). What exactly did she say when she got in contact with you? She said she’s really sorry that we don’t have access to cannabis here. What they do with the endometriosis out in Canada, they run workshops and they explain to patients the best strains. Because obviously they have a lot of research to go on, over there. They show the best strains to use for particular symptoms. They advise how to take it, what’s the best dosage. If you want to use edibles, they advise which ones are best for which symptoms. So there’s a lot of education over there. And I’d love to have access to the same thing. I think many people would. That was in Canada, but I also have research and there was only a new paper put out recently, from Doctor 2Mike Armour (of the National Institute of Complimentary Medicine at West Sydney University).

And he’s done a couple of studies on women using cannabis as pain management for endometriosis. And he has concluded that it is the best form of pain management for severe endometriosis pain, with the least side effects. That’s what his conclusions were. There’s only gonna be so much longer that medical professionals here can ignore all the emerging data from around the world before they’re seen as a laughing stock. I probably should’ve mentioned about the pain specialist… When we had the conversation, he gave me paperwork to back up his side of it and why he doesn’t use cannabis as a form of treatment. Which I thought was better than just being completely shut down. At least he was backing up why. And I asked him: “Would you be open to a new way of thinking if new research emerges?” And he said he would be. So that’s kind of a plus. So he wasn’t entirely anti-cannabis. He felt that there wasn’t enough data that he was familiar with.

The data he was going off was an EU paper. Whereas I was going off Australian and Canadian and American. Actually, I think Israel did a study as well recently, on endometriosis. So they’re finally beginning to learn more about at least treating it with cannabis. Yeah. Because like that, it is a chronic condition, there is no cure. The gold standard treatment is excision surgery, whereas in Ireland, more often than not, they use ablation surgery. The difference is, if you could imagine a flower growing, ablation would be burning the top of the flower, but the root is still there. Whereas excision is cutting it out from the root. The ablation surgery is less severe from the patient point of view, it would be in and out in no time. Whereas excision is kind of more invasive, because you’re actually cutting right in. If you have deep infiltrating endometriosis like I did, they have to physically cut right down into the organ to cut the root of the disease right out. So that’s more invasive. But the recurrence rate of endometriosis is much higher with ablation surgery, because the root is being left behind every time. And that’s the reason why there’s more surgeries for Irish women, because they’re constantly having ablation, which is not actually dealing with the root cause. 

In 2018, your surgery in Ireland made things worse. And after your surgery with Dr. Mitroi in Romania you felt it had made a massive difference, relative to the surgeries before that. And you wrote to a solicitors’ office about taking legal action for medical negligence that you experienced at TUH and got a letter back last November saying that your Statute of Limitations (the two-year window to begin legal proceedings for negligence) had expired. So effectively, the person who botched your surgery in Ireland will receive no repercussions. Yeah there’s no repercussions. She told me there were no signs of deep infiltrating endo in the pelvis, and yet fourteen months later, that’s what the Doctor in Romania removed. I hadn’t got a chance to see her for a long time. I approached her in a public setting.

We had an endometriosis info day at the Carlton Hotel. And it was about six weeks after my surgery in Romania and she was taking questions at the end of the day. I queued up and she didn’t even recognise me. I didn’t say who I was, but I asked her: “In your professional opinion, can deep infiltrating endo develop in the pelvis in fourteen months or less?” And she said: “Well, every case is different.” And I said: “Yeah, but in general?” And she said: “No, in general no.” So, unbeknownst to herself, she admitted that it would’ve happened to me there, basically. Yeah. And yet still, the solicitor said: “The Statute of Limitations ran out. It’s two years.” And I said, “But it was only last July”, and (we’ll) say this was October, it was still within the two-year bracket. The solicitor said it would still tie-in to the first operation that I had with the same surgeon, so therefore, the first one would put me outside the two-year bracket.

Returning to cannabis, I was arrested last year on the side of the road and brought to the Garda station and denied my prescribed medication, resulting in a serious, awful flare-up. It was a routine checkpoint. And he (the Garda) checked my tax, NCT and stuff. I couldn’t wait to get through the checkpoint. It was the first time that I’d actually had everything in the window and I was excited. He checked everything and then asked me for me licence. He took the licence, went off for a good ten minutes. He comes back to the car and another squad car pulled up on-site. He said: “Now, you have to do a random drug test.” And I said: “Well, I don’t think there’s anything random about it. You’ve had me licence for the last ten minutes. You’ve obviously phoned in, checked up and stuff. Everything is okay in the car. I don’t understand why you didn’t wave me on, like you did the car in front.”

He insisted that it was a random thing. He gave me the thing to test and he said that I had to rub it around me mouth for up to eight minutes. A swab. Around me gums, for eight minutes. It was really sore. When I gave it to him afterwards, it was a complete lie. I think Google said it was two minutes. I didn’t know why he insisted, but anyways he told me it was testing for benzos, opioids, cocaine and cannabis. So straight away, I knew I’m on over 600 milligrams of opioids daily, so I was definitely gonna fail on that. And I didn’t fail on that, it was just the cannabis apparently. That’s very strange. That’s what I said, right? I said: “How do you know when the test is done?” and he said, “It slightly changes colour.”

To my knowledge on that day, that thing never ever changed colour. So, I don’t know how he was able to indicate whether it was negative or positive. He told me he had to arrest me and bring me into the station, because a GP had to come and take a blood test to determine if I’m above or below the threshold I’m allowed have in me system. I said “That’s news to me, since when is there any threshold allowed in your system?” And when you get the result, it doesn’t say “Threshold” or not. It says, “Class of drug/alcohol”. And then on the other box, it says: “Cannabinoid class”. It doesn’t say how much or how little and it says nothing about opioids, which I find very hard to believe, considering what I was on. But the most degrading part about it was…

It was in March and it was the first (day) of the really nice weather. And that day I’d brought my mam and dad over to see me new house that I’d only moved into, in Birr. So I dropped them home and I was on the way back. So I’d no handbag with me, I had nothing. I was wearing short-shorts, flip-flops and a little top. So you can imagine how degrading it was. On my hands and knees, rolling around a squad station, with male Guards all around me, clutching my vagina, with my arse pretty much hanging out of my drawers. It was the most horrific experience, I can’t even.. I ended up not leaving the house for over a week. It took me a month before I’d drive the car again. I’d only been starting to get back the confidence to drive the car, because of my condition. The condition stopped me and the tablets… Because of the tremors, I couldn’t drive the car because my leg would kick out and hit the accelerator.

It was a nightmare. So I was only just starting to get confident, now and again, to drive the car. And the sad part is, I wouldn’t be able to do that without cannabis. I need the cannabis to be in a position to drive. And what led to that treatment at the station, what exactly was the justification for that? They couldn’t get a Doctor. I was there for two and a half hours and I couldn’t get a Doctor and because I didn’t have my own prescribed medication on my person, they wouldn’t let me boyfriend at the time go get the meds and bring ‘em back to me. They wouldn’t let me mam give me a few Tylex that she had, just to tide me over. They refused me any of my own prescribed medication. I don’t understand how they had you in such a humiliating way at the station. The fact that they didn’t let me get the medication when I was supposed to take it, meant the condition and the stress I suppose, flared the pain severely.

You were debilitated so severely that you were on the ground in pain. Yeah. And there was one female Garda, she did feel sorry for me. But I hadn’t had a period or any bleeding for years and I bled that day in that station with the stress and whatever. And I asked her for a pad and they didn’t have any. She said, “I have a tampon in the car.” And I said: “Well unfortunately due to my condition, I can’t use them. I need a pad. If you’re gonna arrest me and keep me here against me will, the least you should do is have sanitary towels.” Yeah. So yeah, it was very, very humiliating. And then she kept saying to me: “Look, when the GP gets here, she might be able to give you something for the pain.” So then when the GP arrived, she had already made up her mind that I was a criminal. She was terrified walking into the Garda station.

She was a bag of nerves and she couldn’t look me in the eye. She butchered me trying to get blood, ‘cause I’ve terrible pains as it is. It is a nightmare any time I get blood taken. That made her even more nervous, I think. But that’s no use to me, d’you know what I mean? The one person that I thought was actually gonna help me then in that situation, couldn’t even look at me. D’you know? Where to even start with that… Pretty horrific! I’m so sorry that you had to go through all of that. Yeah, thanks. But speaking out is the only way we can try (to) get rid of the stigma. It’s mad how common it is, but the shame and the stigma around women actually saying that they’re struggling…they’re not taken seriously. If you go to A&E, “It’s all in your head”, or “You haven’t got a high pain threshold. You don’t look sick.” And you get all of these ridiculous biased remarks. And that’s why people suffer in silence.

Do you believe that other countries are significantly more informed on the condition than they are in Ireland? One million percent! Look at Dr. Mitroi in Romania. They have three endometriosis centres, just for one country! And the endo is known as a silent cancer in Romania, so even the level of awareness is much higher. But Dr. Mitroi wrote to his government only a few weeks ago, looking to them to give more support to women in the workplace. And even though they’re so advanced, he still believes they’re really behind. And he’s actually taken time out of his life to write to his government, that’s how dedicated he is to his patients. He has a 3free A-Z endometriosis guide on Google Docs. It’s freely downloadable for anyone. And the education that it offers is quality. And he actually featured a poem that I wrote in that as well, which is epic for me. It’s being downloaded in loads of different languages. It’s really cool, he does a lot from a patient’s perspective.

There’s an incredible quote from him: A very important thing to remember is that endometriosis is the most aggressive benign disease. It looks like cancer and the surgery is often worse than those treating cancer, but it is benign. That suggests that endometriosis itself is like a form of cancer, that it just hasn’t been classified as one yet. But because it’s not malignant and it won’t kill you acutely or imminently, it’s not taken seriously. But what they fail to understand is that, when endometriosis grows and spreads and migrates, it does cause severe trauma to other organs. My friend’s bladder and ovary were so badly adhered to her bowel, that her surgery took eight hours just to get the bladder detached from the bowel.

It really does behave like cancer in the ways that it migrates and stuff. And we don’t know enough about it, we don’t know how it starts. We just don’t know. That’s something that Stephen Donnelly and Simon Harris should encourage more funding for. Simon Harris blocked me on every social media account and now when I email his office, I get a bounce-back to say that I’m blocked from the server. Stephen Donnelly, I haven’t really persisted as much (with him), because honestly… The stress that I put myself under trying to get the word out really kind of deteriorates me condition, which defeats the purpose of me trying to have a quality of life. I am trying to maintain a balance as well, you know? Interesting that Simon Harris would block you.

He replied to me last year, saying that the RCOG (the Royal College of Gynaecology) had assured him that any gynaecologist can diagnose and treat endometriosis. Yeah, but it would seem that that’s not the case. It’s so far out of the ballpark and wrong, it’s dangerous. And I actually took a screenshot of the email, put it on my Instagram. And when Dr. Mitroi saw that, he was horrified. He did a post specifically to address what our Minister had falsely believed, basically. He was horrified. Where to begin with all of this? We’ve a lot of work to do in Ireland, haven’t we? Yes, absolutely.

Thanks for taking time to educate me about your condition. I wish you all the best moving forward!

I appreciate the invitation to come on and have a chat about it, so thanks for that. Bye! 

References:

1 The Endometriosis Association of Ireland website: https://www.endometriosis.ie

2 The following survey results were recently published, which showed huge potential for cannabis

as pain relief for endometriosis:

https://nicm.edu.au/news/1_in_10_women_with_endometriosis_report_using_cannabis_to_ease_their_pain 

3 Endometriosis from A-Z can be downloaded from Google Docs here:

https://books.google.ie/books?id=5jbADwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false 

* Petition for the establishment of a multidisciplinary endometriosis care centre in Ireland:

https://bit.ly/3zNROIH

** The Women’s Health Task Force website: https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/-womens-health/  

Farrell Miller | Toronto, Canada | 21.11.2020

Farrell Miller is the COO of Erbn Green, a female-founded company that wants to help you “discover how cannabis fits into your modern life and how it can help you fuel creativity”. She is also a board member of NORML Canada and has a JD in Law from the University of British Columbia. Twitter: @FeralMiller

When did you first develop an interest in cannabis? So, I first delved into cannabis when I began managing an accessories store in the mountains as a second job while I was teaching snowboarding, out west in the Rocky Mountains. And while I was working there, I met a fellow who had told me he was interested in opening the first medical access clinic in Kelowna, which is when the early medical access regimes were in place. The Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, which allowed patients to purchase cannabis from the government with a prescription. So that was something that interested me and that sparked my initial delve into the cannabis world. So it started off in Western Canada. The Okanagan region has been a leader on that front for some time now, so I was fortunate to be there in the sweet spot.

How long have you been involved with NORML [National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws] Canada? I first heard about them when I was doing small advocacy efforts out West and I made it a point of meeting the lawyers who were at the time on the board of 1NORML Canada; Kurt Tousaw, Paul Ewin, Jack Lloyd. And they were doing some really, really interesting work for patients. And they were fighting their legal battles, writing to the government and promoting regulatory change in that respect to allow patients to access better cannabis from the government, grow their own cannabis. Which is what led to the next level of medical access system, the ACMPR [Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations], which is what directly preceded legalisation. This allowed patients to both produce their own and purchase from the government. So there were some developments in the law that I was following. And I started doing my volunteer work with NORML Canada while I was in law school, so about 2015. And I really, really took a lot of initiative there and now I’m on the board. So it’s been quite a ride. Yeah, sounds like it! 

As a former law student at UBC [University of British Columbia], what is your overall opinion on the Cannabis Act of 2018? Are there any areas of Canadian cannabis legislation you’d like to see improved? Yes, so I’ll just go through the ten recommendations of NORML Canada. We decided to make these recommendations now that the cannabis act is gonna be up for review in 2021. Okay. Number one being to increase the public possession limit. So right now it’s only legal to possess up to thirty grams, which means that retailers.. And I’m the owner of a cannabis retail store in Ontario.. We have a limit of thirty grams, which means that we cannot sell a person more than thirty grams at one time. And that’s a lot of cannabis. But when you translate that into equivalency limits in the extra category, and beverages in particular, you see that a gram of cannabis is equivalent to five plus grams of beverage. Meaning that if you have more than five beverages, you’re over the legal limit. Making a six pack of cannabis beverages illegal. Farrell laughs Okay, I can imagine that getting pretty ridiculous. Absolutely! So, if you’re picking up beverages for a dinner party, you legally cannot pick up more than five at a time.

We can’t sell more than five and it’s absurd, so that’s number one. And number two is permitting the combination of cannabis products. There are some individuals who are advocating for the ability to put keef or hash inside joints, for example. And that is right now not permitted by Health Canada, but that is something that consumers have indicated that they want. And NORML Canada mostly being a consumer advocacy organisation, we really advocate for loosening the laws that really make it better for the consumer, ultimately. Number three is a little bit focused on medical patients, while we don’t focus exclusively on medical patients. We recognise and respect that the whole recreational legal framework was built on the legal challenges that patients had to fight to get to a regulatory space that made a little bit of sense to offer recreational.

Right now though, medical patients are kind of suffering because there is no store front opportunity for medical cannabis. And as someone who owns a retail recreational store, I get customers all the time who come in and want medical cannabis, they want medical advice. And my staff and myself, we’re not Doctors, we’re not authorised to give medical advice. And so that’s kind of just a hole in the legal regulatory landscape, where the medical patients have sort of been left out. They can order online from anywhere in the country, that’s one of the things that medical cannabis users can do that recreational users cannot.

They can order delivery. However some people really want to have that in-person interaction and talk about the cannabis a bit more. And so allowing medical sales licence holders for example to establish storefronts and act kind of like pharmacies for medical patients is something we’d be interested in seeing. So I suppose the next one from that is opening up a channel for natural health products that contain cannabis. So taking CBD out of the strict control of the Cannabis Act, which is where it is now. And if you compare Canada to somewhere like California, while Canada is federally legal right now, we’re very restrictive on who can grow (and) who can sell. We include every cannabinoid in the definition of cannabis and we include CBD in that.

In California, with the passing of the Farm Bill federally, hemp that contains less than 0.3% THC is considered just an agricultural product in the US. And so, especially in States that have legalised on the State level, you’re seeing these CBD tinctures, dietary supplements on the shelves of Whole Foods and traditional retailers, not just cannabis licenced retail stores. So, California is an example where both are able to thrive. You can sell wellness products outside of the restrictive framework of the cannabis licensing regime and there are those cannabis stores that are authorised to sell cannabis as well but that also are able to do well in that kind of mixed framework so… There’s minimal risk with consuming CBD, so we just kind of want the regulations to accurately reflect the risk value.

And we see the risk is relatively low, so we think the regulations on CBD right now are a little bit overkill in Canada. Sounds like it. Yeah. And I could keep going, but those are the main ones that I would like to see changed. There’s a few more and we have them on the NORML Canada website. But those first few are super important. How does your recently-opened 2Erbn Green store differentiate itself from the competition in Ontario? When the cannabis licensing regime first opened up, basically the only way of saying it is, there weren’t enough people working at the licensing office to process all the interest, right? So we had to restrict it to a lottery system.

You had to express your interest and you got entered into a draw and if you were fortunate you could win the chance to apply for a licensed retail store. And so in the early days, two years ago, those opportunities to get a licence were so coveted and so valuable that people who won this lottery, and I was not one of them, were offered major incentives from large organisations in cannabis. Both retail and organisations maybe loosely connected to producers that are out there, offered large amounts of money to basically fly under their banner in franchise-esque agreements. And so you started seeing a lot of that. A lot of franchise models.

Big organisations trying to purchase these licenses from these people who were fortunate enough to win the opportunity to do so. And it started to create a little bit of a monopoly, from my perspective at least, so it was important to me to be an independent cannabis store that is not operating under a big corporate banner that already has interests in other areas in cannabis. And we’re female-owned. So that’s another thing that was important to me, that overall perhaps, there was not enough participation from women in executive roles in cannabis and so that is something that I think makes us stand out a little too.   

You say on your Twitter bio that you are part 3Métis. Are there any interesting traditions among Métis cultures involving cannabis or other psychedelics? So I actually researched this a while ago, because I was really interested in the indigenous right to self-governance and their ability to create their own structure on their own territories. My heritage goes way back on my mother’s side. I am a 4Red River Cree, partially, and it’s very diluted, which makes me Métis. And when I looked into it and I spoke to my aunt on that side, she’s lived on some reserves in Alberta. She’s been somewhat of my teacher when it comes to discovering my own indigenous heritage and learning those traditions.

And between my research and my discussions with her, I determined that actually, cannabis had very little to do with indigenous cultures, in North America anyway, until colonisation. It was really brought here to us. But we did have a lot of traditions around psychedelics and tobacco as well. So tobacco ceremonies and spirit journeys, when it came to psychedelics. Have you noticed changes in the public perception of weed in the wake of the federal cannabis act? Slowly but surely. People are becoming more comfortable with the idea of walking into a cannabis store the same way they walk into the liquor store. However, there still are people who will not even work with us as a legal cannabis entity. We’re a licenced legal store. Anywhere from contractors to landlords you approach.

They do not want to deal with cannabis businesses. And I think that that comes from the stigma of being underground and elicit. And I think we’re still carrying the weight of criminalisation on our shoulders in that sense. So we’re just slowly trying to change the face of cannabis a little bit and show people that it is part of a modern way of living. And you can include cannabis in your life in a way that makes you comfortable. You don’t have to step outside of your comfort zone to experience cannabis. Recently disrupted global travel aside, have you noticed a significant increase in cannabis tourism since 2018? I suppose I would say a little bit. When I spoke about the early days of licensing a handful of those stores that were first open…

I think one of the first stores were out in Ottawa and I had a lot of people who drove out from Toronto to go check that out. It’s all been pretty close to home, relatively. Unless you work in the industry. Myself and other people in the industry that I know who are national sales representatives, who are going from Western Canada to here to tour facilities, check out retailers and see how things are done in other Provinces. So it’s really big within the industry right now. And I just think the regulations need to catch up to being a little bit more visible to the consumer. It’s very restrictive right now because of the promotions regulations. We really aren’t allowed to communicate the few opportunities that are out there, when it comes to cannabis.

So you reckon it just needs to be streamlined a bit better to give it more of a mainstream appeal, essentially? Yeah and then the licenced producers, the people who are growing and processing the cannabis, will be able to get their Farmgate stores up and running. They’re something that the government permitted; licenced entities that are able to process cannabis to open a facility on-site to sell their cannabis. Kind of like, a farmer’s market rather.. Farrell giggles Yeah. When those start popping up we’re gonna start seeing a lot more cannabis tourism. Excellent, hopefully I’ll get over there myself eventually. Yeah. 

Do you think the recent level of reform in the U.S is at least partially influenced by the benefits seen across Canada? I think so, maybe. But at the same time, what I mentioned earlier with the States really looking a lot better than Canada right now… I think they’re just looking in the mirror. They’re looking at California, they’re looking at Colorado and they’re seeing the success there. Let’s remember that the population of California is bigger than all of Canada. It’s easy to forget! Exactly! So while I want to believe we’re having an influence… I know that Canada, we’re full of all this expertise that we’re willing to offer and all of that, but we did take a lot of notes from Colorado too when we first created our licensing regime up here.

In Ireland, we’re still in the Stone Age when it comes to legalisation of cannabis, so we’re just looking across the pond in general to you and to America, hoping that any day now our government will make a little bit more effort with that, you know? Farrell giggles Yeah. What do you think the regulated market can do to improve its stakeholding in the industry and to diminish the gains the black market has generated? So, referring to those changes that we recommended on the NORML Canada website and also adding in… maybe loosening up the promotions regulations, bringing them a little bit more in line with the alcohol industry, so that we can stand a chance. Because right now with Covid and everything, it’s really difficult to communicate what makes your business different.

To communicate anything really special about it. It’s all limited to age-gated environments. Any places where legally minors are not permitted. So anywhere like… the back of a bar bathroom. But even then, if the bar is operational and open to families at all, you can’t advertise there. So you could really only advertise on the inside of cannabis stores, once people have passed beyond that age check, the age gate. Whether it’s in-person or online. There are some online environments as well with that age gate that you can advertise on, but that’s usually limited to adults’ sites, whether it’s cannabis sites, porn sites, you can advertise there. But it’s not a great way of capturing everybody. Of course not, you’re limited in what you can achieve there.

Do you think the price or quality of legal weed has influenced some consumers to seek out the black market to make purchases, or are there other external factors at play? Yeah, so that I guess ties into the previous question too. I’ve had people come into my store and say: “I buy my hash from an illegal retailer, an illegal dispensary.” And there’s one in particular in Toronto that’s just notorious. They’ve been busted tonnes of times and they just keep popping up. And I really cannot blame the consumers. I am on the board of NORML, which is a consumer advocacy organisation, and you can’t argue with logic. If people want to save money and they feel like they’re getting better value for a cheaper price at an illegal dispensary, it’s common sense.

They’re going to go there. So unless the government can amend the regulations and allow legal operators like myself to compete a little bit better… For example, I cannot open up a container of hash and show this person what it looks like. But he can go to the café and they have it right on display for him and he can touch it, he can feel it. I mean it’s maybe not Covid friendly, but he likes that experience a lot more. And with the legal space, everything is sealed, shut, contained, locked, child-proofed. So some people just don’t enjoy that experience as much. 

Do you have any interesting stats through NORML Canada perhaps, of the rates of people who buy it illegally versus people who buy it legally at dispensaries? I don’t have any hard statistics off the top of my head, but I will tell you that the number is shrinking. We’re getting closer to being able to win those consumers over and I’ve witnessed it myself. I’ve had a customer come in and say: “My shipment comes in tomorrow, but I’m here to have some tonight.” Farrell laughs And I saw the same guy in my store a second time. So maybe the convenience of being able to come to a store instead of waiting for his package might eventually win him over and I hope it does.

And I guess one observation I made when it comes to sales trends is that the sales at recreational stores like mine are much higher and are doing much better in smaller towns. I’m not sure if it takes longer to get packages there maybe, than it does in cities? Have any noticeable challenges emerged for people in the wake of cannabis legislation? Yeah. A big challenge right now is being able to compete with other retailers that are offering discounts. I’m biased from the retail perspective, because I am a retailer. So something that I’m running into right now is that our regulator on the provincial level has told us that discounts are permitted. However, the federal level has issued a bulletin saying that all discounts count as illegal inducements

So, I’m literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. Having a law degree, I don’t know whether I should be permitting this. I see other retailers giving discounts. I want to be competitive, I wanna compete with that, but I would also rather they get their hands caught first before me, so… I guess it’s a kind of an ongoing battle between federal and provincial laws. Yeah, exactly. Farrell giggles So long as common sense wins out, I suppose that’s the main goal at the end of the day. Yeah, 100%. All the best with Erbn Green and with all of your efforts. And thank you so much for devoting a little of your time to this interview. All the best moving forward. Thank you so much, cheers!

References:

1 NORML Canada website: https://www.normlcanada.org/home 

2 Erbn Green website: https://erbngreen.com/ 

3 Wikipedia information on Métis people: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Métis 

4 Wikipedia information on the Little Red River Cree:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Red_River_Cree_Nation 

Brandee Hewlett | Los Angeles, California | 13.11.2020

Brandee Hewlett worked in bartending for 14 years, starting at an Irish pub. She then worked at a gay nightclub for 8 years, before moving on to fine dining and bartending competitions. It was at this point in life she began to feel a ‘massive pull’ to shift away from ‘serving poison’. Nowadays, she teaches Zen Yin yoga and incorporates sound healing therapy into her classes. She advocates strongly for cannabis, something she thinks of as plant medicine. Instagram: @108hopedealer

When did you first become interested in weed, and why personally do you use it? When I was about thirteen is when I started getting interested and it was more the mischievous side of me. I found a bong in the park, so – You found a bong? Richard giggles I did, and it was only a cardboard tube, so… in hindsight now maybe, someone was trying to hide it there. Brandee giggles But it was like a pot of gold, so I grabbed that. And my friend’s mom didn’t care, so we went over there and we tried to smoke out of the bong.. I mean we did, ‘cause we got super high. Right. But that was my first experience getting high. Cannabis and my relationship with it has evolved exponentially since then. It’s changed into medicine and being able to dose myself appropriately. And what influenced you to take up yoga? So, I worked at a nightclub for eight years and it had just closed. And I had just turned thirty and I had a really hard time with hitting thirty. It was this point in my life where I was just lost. And I was at a few different jobs that I wasn’t enjoying, different bars, different restaurants.

And I was really just seeking something, something maybe outside of myself to get me out of this misery. So I was getting my hair done at this salon and next door was this yoga studio. And I walked in and she invited me in that night and I came back for class and that was it. No looking back. Yeah. How does cannabis improve yoga for you? I think because cannabis and yoga have sort of the same side effects. It’s helping you to get deeper in your body, a little bit more out of your mind. And for me, when I’m consuming cannabis and I’m moving, I’m so much more able to be out of the head. Thinking further into the body, rather than just staying above the shoulders. I just think that it’s this symbiotic relationship that feeds off of each other. It’s relaxing or it’s invigorating depending on what strain you use, so it’s pretty versatile and amazing. How did you become involved with Dee Dussault‘s 1Ganja Yoga collective? How did I? On Instagram I found Dee, because that’s how the algorithm works. I like yoga, I like weed and it just like, magically appeared. Ta-da!

In one or two weeks she was having yoga teacher training and I was like: “Oh, this is so cool, I wanna do this!” I hit her up and the price was a little bit more than I could afford at the time. So I let it go, I was like: ”Whatever, it’s not gonna work for me”. And a week before the training started, she messaged me and she goes: “I wanna give you a discount on the training if you’re still interested.” And I was like: “Great!”, so I did that. And she’s just super supportive as a mentor. She’s great. Have you got any interesting stories from your involvement with Ganja Yoga? Let me think. So there’s a couple things. Interesting people that I’ve met, I don’t know, I wonder if she’d get upset with me if I… Oh, okay, I have a really good one. She got invited to a cannabis party, so it’s this house that got rented out by Airbnb, totally illegal to do something like this. They threw a massive party and Dee was invited and I was her plus one, so we went! And it was crazy, to go up the canyon. It sat up (at) the top of the mountain.

The traffic was insane because everybody was getting dropped off in cars at this party and so the neighbours were pissed. So we go to the party and we’re like: “Oh my gosh!” And everybody’s an Instagram influencer. So, everybody’s all done up and they’re so LA. And they’ve got their cameras and their Instagram pulled up, or Tik Tok, whatever they’re doing. And people would talk to us like: “Are you two influencers?” So her and I were like: “Wait, where are we? This is so weird!” So we smoked as much weed as we could and then we took off that night and.. It was like a nice adventure, but it was not our vibe at all. It was cool though, because we were on the same level at least! So she was like, “Are you ready?”, and I’m like: “I’m ready”. Laughter Sounds like it was a little bit intense with all the influencers everywhere! It was. It’s a different world, to be around them. Have you ever been stigmatised for using cannabis? Yeah, for sure. Yep.

I come from the middle of America. St. Louis, Missouri is my home town and I think there was a lot of stigma there. When I moved here… It was in the ballot the November after I moved here to become legal. And so I think there was really no stigma with it out here. People would smoke wherever they wanted to and it was just a free-for-all and I was like, “This is amazing!” So then, I start doing Ganja Yoga and I take this Ganja Yoga retreat and I start promoting it at the yoga studio that I worked at. And yoga people at that studio specifically (I don’t know about all of them).. They were not feeling it and I felt pretty ostracised. The experience really changed for me after that, because I didn’t realise how much of a stigma it still held with some people and especially in the yoga community. Would you say now that there’s a lot more yogis out there who have embraced it, that they would use it pretty often as well as practicing yoga? Yeah, I think a lot more people do it and I think that a lot more people don’t say that they do it. Right.

Because there’s a lot of us that will meet at these Ganja Yoga events and realise that we’re that one lone toker outside of the yoga studio before class and we’re trying not to smell like it when we go in, you know? So then when you make a space for all these people to come together, they’re like: “Yeah, I’ve had that same experience”. So I think that there’s a big group of people, it’s just a subset or a little niche of the yoga community that are stoners. Brandee giggles Do you think legalised cannabis has been a success overall in California, to you personally? Oh, to me personally? Hmm.. I don’t think that I’ve been affected by it personally. I don’t go to dispensaries. Yeah, not to me personally. But I do know that it’s done good things for some people, it’s more accessible for some. But it’s also really hurt a lot of small farmers and stuff, so there’s some good and there’s some bad that’s come from it for sure. 2Sienna Moodie would’ve mentioned that a lot of people who would’ve been making a living from it for a long time were then shut out, once it became legal. How would you suggest improving weed laws there?

Number one, every cannabis conviction, everyone that’s in jail for cannabis needs to get out today, yesterday, four years ago. So that needs to happen right now. And I would say social equity programmes for the people who do have past felonies for cannabis.. Let them get licences. They already know this business, let them have a licence to do this legally. Those are two of the main things that I’m passionate about that I think should happen immediately. Do you think the MORE [Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement] Act to federally decriminalise marijuana in the U.S has a good chance of being voted through the House of Representatives 3next month? Yeah, I do. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, time will tell. I know that our Vice President elect (Kamala Harris) has sponsored the bill. I think it has a good chance, yeah. And how do you feel cannabis and drug policy reform will fare nationally, under Joe Biden and Kamala Harris? How will reform do? Hmm… I think politicians say a lot of things and we hope that they’re gonna follow through with that, but both have been opposed to cannabis being legal in the past.

So I tread very lightly with believing in politicians before I really see what they’re gonna do… I’m hopeful! Laughter Well fingers crossed! When did you and Sienna Moodie first meet and how did Spaced Out become a reality? Sienna and I met through a mutual friend, who made a support group for yoga teachers. She just made this little chat on Instagram at first and added a bunch of yoga teachers she knows, all across the country. I think she was another one of the cannabis yoga teachers, that’s what it was. We were kinda like, “Oh hey!” And so, we took each other’s classes, and I think that we both teach very similar styles, so we like each other’s classes a lot. Our technique, or the things that we say are very similar. We like a really strong vinyasa practice, but we also like a really mellow, chill yen practice. So it’s cool to practice together and teach each other. And then we started talking about doing events. We met up in the desert.

There’s this cannabis-enhanced mineral springs spa and so we hung out there and really got inspired by that place. What’s that place called? Oh, I don’t wanna tell ‘cause then everybody’s gonna go to it! Oh it’s a secret, okay. No, it’s called The O Spa and it’s in desert hot springs. Wow, I didn’t know such a place existed. It’s amazing. It’s so great, it’s so cool. So then Spaced Out was just born because we kept having ideas step by step, one by one. We would reach out to people and be like, “Hey do you wanna sponsor this?” So we have two sponsors for the event. Stone Road Farms? That was one, right? Yep, and they supply us with their amazing pre-rolls. They’re sort of like this small farm. They don’t have a massive grow. The dad and the son put their heart into the business. And then Kikoko teas, which is a women-owned company that sources their cannabis from women when they can and they make these really beautiful teas. We have these 4Spaced Out socially-distanced cannabis yoga sound bath things. And it’s grown into having merch and it’s been really awesome to collab with someone. Like I said, we have a really similar style of teaching so we just flow together really well.

The sound bath concept, how would you describe it? So it’s me, someone in the middle of the group. And I have a 5rainstick, I have different shells that make noises, I have these Japanese chimes… Sienna told me about your crystal singing bowls, they sound really cool. Yeah, and each one is tuned to the different 6chakras, so I basically start with a big massive bowl, the root chakra, and it helps to ground everyone in and it helps to get them settled down. So there’s definitely a way the class flows. So sometimes where she’s teaching a pose, where it’s a heart opener, like a back bend or something supportive where the heart is lifted, I’ll play the heart bowl. And it just emits this frequency where it’s healing, it’s calming, it can reduce pain in people. There’s so many benefits and it just sounds so trippy, it sounds like you’re in another dimension. And where did you find out about sound therapy, was it through a yoga contact or something you stumbled across? When I first moved to LA, I was super broke and I was looking for free events to go to.

And they had a free sound bath one night at the yoga studio up the way, and so I went to it and it was my first experience (of this kind) with sound. And it was one of those experiences where I was trying not to open my eyes, because I wanted to stay immersed in it, but I wanted to see what was making the different sounds ‘cause it was so trippy. Brandee giggles You were working in the bar and restaurant industry for 14 years. You said that you felt as though something pulled you from that lifestyle, you’d had enough and you were tired of serving people poison. What made you gravitate away from that into new territory? I don’t necessarily know why, but it just started becoming this feeling that I wanted to do more in this world. I wanted to help people instead of just serving people booze. And it wasn’t always the case in fine dining, because it was cool to serve great food too, but there was still something that was just feeling really empty about that. So for me it was just a need to feel like I was fulfilling a purpose in this life. Okay.

Ireland has got a big drinking culture, bars everywhere, and the authorities have got no problem with people getting together and getting drunk and all the craziness that comes from that. But they’re very reluctant to move ahead with introducing some meaningful legislation for cannabis, even medicinally. So we are years behind ye in California. We’re hoping with the trend towards legalisation recently in America and globally that they’ll be nudged into starting something. But for whatever reason, they buy into the Reefer Madness stuff and the old fashioned thoughts about how cannabis can lead you to other terrible things. It’s like Topsy Turvy World over here, you know? It’s crazy. Terrible things like munchies and getting sleepy. Brandee laughs Have you any last words you’d like to leave with people in Ireland about cannabis or yoga? Yeah, I for sure do. With cannabis, the stigma that’s around it is such an old thought pattern. It’s such an outdated way of thinking and science is now backing this up.

If you see some of the videos that have gone viral about cannabis, about how much it’s helped people that needed it… In some of these instances, you can see physical symptoms of someone. I don’t know if the guy had Parkinsons, he was just shaking and he could barely light the bowl, have you seen 7that? Yeah. It goes to show how powerful this medicine can be and I just don’t understand why the stigma is still around, because there’s so much proof that it is medicine. If everybody could just take a step back and see that it’s helped so many people, I think that some minds would change. If people were just more open to seeing another side of the story. And with yoga, it’s super powerful. Just like any sort of medicine, yoga is the same where you use your breath to cleanse your body of stress, of emotions, of any kind of bullshit and it’s for everyone. Every shape, every gender (if you still live under that construct). Every size. It just stands for anyone.

There’s chair yoga, there’s veteran yoga, there’s cannabis yoga, there’s any kind of yoga that you could think of. And so I just would encourage anybody that’s thinking about it to even get online and find something. If you’re older, if you don’t have great mobility, or maybe you’re in a wheelchair then get on Youtube and look up chair yoga. See what you can do. Because it’s so powerful and it’s really changed my life. I used to be so anxious and I used to be so unsure about myself and through yoga I’ve really found this inner strength and it’s just an ease to any kind of anxiety that I’m feeling. So I would just encourage everyone to try it. Thank you so much for your time, we really appreciate it. It was nice talking to you and getting to know you a little bit! Thanks for having me, take care!

References:

1 For more information on Ganja Yoga: https://www.ganjayoga.com/about

2 Check out our interview with Sienna Moodie at this link:

https://greenlensblog.com/2020/10/04/sienna-moodie-palm-springs/

3 The MORE Act has since been voted through the House of Representatives:

https://hightimes.com/news/house-representatives-votes-decriminalize-marijuana/ 

4 For updates on Spaced Out yoga, follow the official Instagram account:

https://www.instragram.com/spacedoutsfla/ 

5 Wikipedia info on rainsticks: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainstick 

6 Wikipedia info on chakras: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakra 

7 The viral video in question, from the documentary Ride with Larry:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNT8Zo_sfwo 

Dr. Órfhlaith Campbell | Belfast, Northern Ireland | 12.11.2020

Doctor Órfhlaith Campbell is a Belfast-based historian, wellbeing practitioner and drug reform activist with a PhD on the The Irish Temperance League of 1858-1914, which campaigned during a time of major political upheaval across the island. She has a background in community work, having worked in a range of positions in Vancouver, Canada, supporting adults with mental health and substance use issues. Since returning home in January 2020, Órfhlaith has worked with young people in inner city Belfast who are struggling with the same issues. / Twitter: @DrOrfh

When did you first take an interest in weed and in drug reform? Well, those are two very different questions. Órfhlaith laughs I first took interest in weed at 15 and smoked it on and off until I went to Canada. And then obviously it was very different over there. But my interest in drug reform would’ve been when I started doing my PhD and I started looking at the prohibition of alcohol. And alcohol is a drug. But, I probably at the time didn’t even realise the significance of what I was studying and it wasn’t until I went to Canada and lived there, through the debates on prohibition and the legalisation of cannabis at the time when I really started to understand the significance of what I had studied and how that then played into contemporary conversations on drug reform. And it wasn’t just that I had studied the fact that there were some people in Ireland back in the 1800s that decided we should all not drink here. So yeah, that’s when I would’ve got involved.

How has your community work over the years informed your opinions on drug and rehabilitation policies across the British Isles? Have your experiences changed your views on drugs and the people who use them? So for me, the question is probably “What drugs does that person use?” I think we have to change our definition of drugs. We have to stop looking at it from that war on drugs-focused lens, where alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals are good, and cannabis, cocaine, heroin are bad. They’re all drugs, and they all do a range of things and can be used for a range of different reasons. So, when you ask that question then, “What drugs does that person use?”, then your next question always has to be “Why?” and then once you’ve asked “Why?”, then you can start to understand and see the impact that the system has had on people for centuries now, at this point. For me, I obviously enjoy academic stuff, but if I don’t understand what’s happening on the ground or am not listening to a more person-centered approach, I have to put the two together. So in my everyday work you can actually see the pain that some people are living in and how that’s driving substance use. And you can see on a daily basis that substance use issues is a symptom of a much deeper cause.

Considering your historical research on Irish temperance, how do you feel about Ireland’s relationship with alcohol today? Do you think it’s changed much overall since that time? I think the thing about the temperance movement is they weren’t all wrong, although we’ve got to a place where the prohibition movement is now.. the more extreme elements of that took over. When temperance and prohibition started coming about in the mid 1800s, something needed to be done about alcohol. And I would say that something probably does need to be done about it again. Temperance reformers probably weren’t wrong that the drink business would step in and start using marketing campaigns. And that is taking advantage of what I think is cultural experience here where we enjoy the craic, we enjoy going wild. 

But because we’re told this substance is okay and this is the only one we can use, it’s overused. Alcohol and drugs are taken as two separate things. So, if you took the statistics for the medical and mental health issues that come from alcohol and put them in the drug one, you would see that alcohol is the most dangerous drug. But yet because the American government needed tax after the Great Depression and legalised it, that put the nail in the coffin for alcohol prohibition. Harry Anslinger, who was the head of The Federal Bureau of Narcotics, had been the head of the Department of Prohibition directly before that, so you know… He was experienced in that area! Absolutely. He doesn’t even change a thing, he was literally just like: “Right okay, so we were doing all that with alcohol. We’ll just scrape alcohol out and then we’ll put cannabis in here for now and we’ll just add all these other drugs as we go”.

1Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy was a Limerick-born physician who is said to have introduced the therapeutic use of cannabis to Western medicine and popularised it in England in the 1830s and ‘40s. Are there any other noteworthy historical advocates of cannabis from Ireland and the UK who you’ve become aware of? I liked that question, it did make me think of a couple. So, obviously there’s Doctor George Sigerson. I never know if I’m saying his name right. Sigerson – that’s an interesting name for sure! He was a Doctor, a poet, a playwright, a political activist. In 1866, he writes a pamphlet called 2Cannabiculture in Ireland; its Profit & Possibility. A cannabis activist today could take this and reprint it, and he was literally screaming it back in 1866! It mentioned the benefits of it for agriculture and what hemp could do here, it’s crazy… That’s incredible. So he was a fantastic activist.

(W.B) 3Yeats as well, has written of his experiences with the plant. He was said to have been introduced to it in France in 1890. But my favourite one was, not long after O’Shaughnessy started talking about the medical benefits of cannabis, I came across an 1845 Doctor. I think it might have been in The Belfast Newsletter. And there’s this young woman he’s helping and she’s suffering from menstrual cramps. Yeah. And he prescribes some THC drugs to her, but he over-prescribes it. Clearly he gives her too much and she has a whitey. Richard laughs And when you’re having a whitey, you know what’s happening. Everybody around her was like: “Oh my God, is she possessed? She’s convulsing!” And reading it back now, you’re like: “Oh my God, she’s just whitey-ing! I get what’s happening!” If that was in 1845 and they were even thinking of “How could this be used for women, for their monthly cycle?”, that was so pioneering back then! So when you asked that question, he came into my head straight away. ‘Cause we’re only starting to have those conversations now. With all the medical benefits, including women’s health, he’s probably my favourite. That’s amazing.

Have you discovered any historical information about drug use and prohibition in Ireland and the UK that has especially stood out to you? Yeah. What really stood out to me during my PhD was… I think when you think of temperance and the anti-drink movement in Ireland, you think of the pioneers and taking your pledge at confirmation and all that sort of thing. Yeah. But really, it was a whole range of experiences on this island that really shaped the temperance and prohibition movements across the British Isles. So we’re literally pioneers in what we came to prohibition movement now although that’s not what they intended at the time because the extreme elements won out. And everyday it continues to shock me that there are examples of best practice that we are choosing to ignore. 

The ITL, which was The Irish Temperance League, was the organisation I studied in my PhD. They still work in Belfast today. Yeah. The organisation still functions. And part of that is because they have a great board of activists that are still passionate about helping people in recovery. But they had their legislative prohibition section and they had this other section that was called moral suasion. And that was to persuade people to give up drink. It’s an odd little term, but that department of the movement then had two sections to it. One was their business section and they had fancy soirées and they were trying to bring in all the money from the middle and upper classes. But they have an outreach section as well. It’s basically this section that’s focusing on their reasons for demand. So it focuses on prevention, it focuses on recovery and it focuses on alternative recreation. That’s where we get cafés from.

So you didn’t just have to go to a pub where there was alcohol being served. You could go to the café and just have a coffee with your friends. It’s also where Thomas Cook comes from! He used to send people away on drink-free holidays so you could have a great time with your family and you didn’t have to go to the pub or whatever… Oh, I didn’t know that. Yeah, isn’t that crazy? Yeah. Wasn’t it this year that that company went bust? Mm-hmm. So when things like that happen, my little temperance brain’s going: “Nobody else understands… Remember where we came from!” Richard laughs That’s why he was set up, so… when you think of it that way, it was about giving the working class alternative recreations. So that was perfect, but now we just have this system where it says, “Focus on taking away supply”. We don’t even concern ourselves with the reasons for demand anymore, we’ve completely cut that out of the equation. And that’s the problem, ‘cause you’re not listening. When American prohibition failed in 1929, that’s the end of the movement. It’s a century old at that stage. So we have this whole century’s worth of things there that worked and things there that didn’t work and things there that we shouldn’t do. So since this is a working class issue, I think we need to reclaim our right to own our recreational and medical freedoms and have a safe and clean supply of drugs that there is a demand for and that people want to have.

It’s here. Why are we making a black market and then punishing people for things that have been sold? 4Theresa May’s husband has massive shares in GW Pharmaceuticals in the UK. It blows my mind! So you’re selling weed into Cali and then it’s coming back here and then you’re arresting people and putting them in prison for maybe fourteen years… And the UK is the world’s biggest exporter of cannabis as well, apparently. Yeah! The hypocrisy is absolutely mind-blowing. When you understand the roots of where this came from and you see that those extreme elements didn’t have to win out, there were other alternatives to what we have now ended up with, you can’t accept the system. Sorry, that was a bit of a rant! No it was brilliant though, I love rants. Keep going with those. Órfhlaith laughs

How strong is cannabis and drug reform activism in Northern Ireland at the moment, in your opinion? It’s pretty good at the minute, there’s a lot of great work being done up here. The 5Belfast Cannabis Group, the 6NI Canna Guy, 7Charlotte Caldwell. There’s the Save the Future campaign that’s been happening recently, they’ve helped some people out. They’re doing fantastic stuff. It’s really interesting I think, because I think you can track the conversation happening here both from a community level, like the Belfast Cannabis Group, who are building a community, to more family conversations, right up to more political-level conversations. So, I know we have an all-Party committee that’s been established recently to look at all substance use issues here which is positive.

I think the conversation’s going to take a long time, it’s going to be baby steps, and no conversation is going to be more important than the other. Even you, sitting in your living room, talking with your parents about this stuff, because… I think the generation above us are terrified. It goes against absolutely everything that they taught us. And we’re kind of like, “No, you’re wrong”. And sometimes I wonder if we’re arguing back with them and it’s almost like, “Oh, you’ve done this bad thing”, when they were almost doing it out of love. They were trying to keep us safe. So, these are hard conversations to have. Coming back to the North was a little bit of a culture shock for me ‘cause I lived in Vancouver. So, obviously the drug reform and drug culture over there is so progressive and lightyears ahead of here. So it did take me a little bit of time to settle in. I’m home a year now and as this year has gone on the cannabis movement and the whole drug reform movement up here in the North is just growing daily. So it’s absolutely fantastic. That’s fantastic to hear.

Medical cannabis was legalised in the UK for those with an “exceptional clinical need” in 2018, largely due to the media exposure of two severely epileptic children who used it – Billy Caldwell and 9Alfie Dingley. Peter Carroll of the 10End Our Pain campaign recently reported that at least twenty families have had to pay for costly private medical cannabis prescriptions for their children, after the NHS [National Health Executive]  repeatedly refused to fund it for them. Do you think that policymakers are listening to and engaging with End Our Pain and other advocacy groups across the UK and Northern Ireland? I think that they think they are. I think they’re like: “Okay yeah, we know there’s these potential medical problems that cannabis might help with. But we still think that we’re right and our fears are justified and all the research that cannabis is bad is still right. So we’re going to find this way of that one loophole that’ll make it okay for you”. But they’re not actually listening to the whole body of research that’s out there, that they’re claiming isn’t out there.

And that’s what probably does frustrate me the most about the drug conversation here and actually it did start to happen a little over in Vancouver as well. The argument that the research doesn’t exist… No it does, you’re just choosing to ignore it. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. Or we don’t have to say: “We’ll need to do this research” or “We’ll need to see if that will work”, when you’re just turning a blind eye to the thing over there that’s screaming at you, like Portugal, saying: “This works, this works!”

Portugal is the biggest one of all for me, in terms of what could be done. Absolutely. I think they’re refusing to listen. And that really, really stood out for me when I went to a seminar in Vancouver and it was 11Dr. Evan Lewis. And he was from the Toronto Centre for Neurology, I think. He’s a well-established Doctor in Canada and he was giving all the research that literally was the same, word-for-word, that Billy (Caldwell) needed. And I remember I was like, “How possibly can I get them in connection with each other. Billy’s mom at the time was on This Morning saying: “The Doctors are saying this research doesn’t exist, it would take years for them to do it, it’s too dangerous”. And then I had this professional standing there saying, “No, no. I’ve years worth of research. Here’s this great number of kids I’ve helped.” And it was almost like I was being gaslit, because I was thinking, “They’re choosing to ignore it.”

It’s in reach, but it’s just not being looked at. Yeah, I think they think they’re listening, but it’s that moral fear of intoxication. They don’t want to allow too much medical use, because then they think that’s normalising recreational use and people are still terrified of recreational use. Because again, we don’t have a true understanding of what drugs are, what substances are, why we use them for recreation. And that was one of the main problems with the legalisation process in Canada, they rushed it through, for a number of reasons. They didn’t deal with those underlying fears that were driving it and it set up more avenues for it to be criminalised. And the big business could then step in and take over and that money wasn’t being filtered back into the communities. 

Sorry, did you say they opened up more avenues to be criminalised after they legalised it? I think you can still get a conviction if you’re caught in possession within so many metres of a school. And some other things too. So it wasn’t just accepted on the same terms as alcohol, with the understanding that we need to look at our whole relationship with all substances. It wasn’t like: “Cannabis is legal, away we go!” It was: “Here’s some regulations”, there’s still a stigma towards it. “We’re gonna legalise it without normalising it”, I think was their entire slogan. “We’re gonna legalise it so we can make the most of this market that’s clearly here, but we really don’t want anyone else smoking.” So 12Jodie Emery and 13Dana Larson and a lot of the biggest cannabis activists in Vancouver would call this Prohibition 2.0. I would say at this stage we’re probably on Prohibition 4.0.

Until your return home earlier this year you worked in Vancouver for a few years, where cannabis has been fully legal since October 2018. How can Ireland’s governments on both sides of the border learn from Canada’s cannabis policies, and what should they avoid doing? The cannabis legalisation in Canada should almost be taken at this stage as a “What not to do”. Because big business stepped in way too quickly, It was shocking. It was businessmen who saw an opportunity and didn’t have a notion what they were talking about, who were trying to make money. And because there were still all of these avenues for criminalisation and stigmas and legalising without normalising, the cannabis community was still feeling the effects of that. We need to make sure that it’s focused on social justice, because it will be legalised at some point. 

We’re gonna enter a conversation, we need the tax money. So we need to make sure we fight and make them make that money go back into social justice, back into the communities who are most affected by the war on drugs. The working classes, who were criminalised and had criminal records for possession of a joint, who were stigmatised to the point where they had paranoia. We need to recognise the harms that drug prohibition has caused as well as making room to minimise the harms that come from drugs. We can’t let big business step in and take that money for profit. When legalisation comes in, it can’t be a capitalist system, it has to be for social justice.

A similar situation arose over in California with Proposition 64, when they legalised cannabis. From what I’ve been told, a lot of big business interests swooped in and a lot of people who would’ve made a living off of it for years, who would’ve cultivated it and known a lot about it… They didn’t have that same access to the new legal market. Absolutely. When I moved out there (Canada) in 2016, cannabis wasn’t legal but it was medicinally and socially acceptable. So you had these little stores everywhere that had communities built up around them. You could interact with the plants in them, you could go in and smell them. You knew who your budtender was. It was a one-on-one interactive experience. And then because they didn’t deal with that fear and because they wanted it for votes and they saw this real business opportunity, it didn’t work out the way they needed it to.

Do you see the Dublin and Stormont governments taking meaningful steps towards cannabis reform in the short term future, given the tidal wave of support for legalisation that’s evident across the United States and the near-majority support for legalising weed in the recent New Zealand referendum? I think it’s gonna be a lot of conversations here for a long time. I think particularly in the North, and it links in to our post-conflict status, people are absolutely terrified of this conversation. So I think understanding hurdles and a willingness to overcome hurdles and even to start this conversation has to be looked at. Those are the short term steps that we’re going to take. But in the North here, drug legislation isn’t a devolved issue, so it comes from Westminster. I think the global culture of cannabis at the minute is going to force that tidal wave of making Westminster change it. They can’t hold out to that hypocrisy any more. So I do think it’s gonna come in that way. I do think that it’ll be within the next 5-10 years. I think It’ll be difficult and it’ll be baby steps and there’ll be a lot of arguments, but I do think the more global context of cannabis at the minute and places like Portugal and all the drug reforms that just got through with the (U.S) election…

I think that that’s gonna force it, maybe more than we are politically and socially ready for. But I think that makes it more important for activists like us to just keep having these conversations. Even if people think we’re going on about it a wee bit too much. It impacts so many parts of people’s life. Especially now, as mental health issues do increase and lockdown is happening. If cannabis was legalised in the morning, the issues of the lockdown would just go. We’d be happy enough to all stay in our houses and watch Netflix!  And up here in Belfast when the students were up at uni here, we suffered with some issues in The Holylands. That’s the area in Belfast where all the students live. It’s a lot of alcohol-fuelled stuff, it’s over-consumption.

So if you legalised cannabis over there, the worst they’re gonna get is a little bit of the munchies! The benefit it would have for agriculture here, if people were growing hemp and cannabis. And medicinally, with a range of stuff! And considering all of the trauma that remains in Northern Ireland since 14The Troubles.. 100%. We have very high levels of substance use and of suicide up here and extremely high levels of PTSD. There’s evidence to show that cannabis is a great treatment for PTSD and trauma. I think that plays into the bigger conversation of how we heal up here in the North, from our conflict. Our generation is the 15Ceasefire Baby generation. We’ve all experienced pain and we all want to understand more, but maybe let’s change that conversation to being about how we heal and allowing more time for downtime and recreation and creativity and seeing what can come from that. 

Can we find a more creative way out of that? We all use substances, we all use drugs. Let’s offer a few alternatives and see what happens. Surely drug reform is something that all communities can get together on. 100%, and that is one of the things the cannabis community up here is absolutely fantastic at. It’s one thing that we all want to unite on. We can still have our differences and different points of view, but we want to focus on our healing now. That’s a really big part of the message of the cannabis community in the North.

We really appreciate you devoting some time to this Órfhlaith, thank you so much. Have a nice evening! You too, all the best. Thanks a million!

References:

1 The Dublin Hemp Museum’s article on Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy:

https://medium.com/@dubhempmuseum/sir-william-brooke-oshaughnessy-medical-cannabis-pioneer-c94798fd7722 

2 Doctor George Sigerson’s Cannabiculture in Ireland; its Profit & Possibility, via Google Books:

https://books.google.ie/books?id=jBjDmgEACAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

3 Here’s an article on W.B Yeats and cannabis by The Dublin Hemp Museum:

https://medium.com/@dubhempmuseum/william-butler-yeats-and-cannabis-fa8335789c37 

4 (Former UK Prime Minister) Theresa May’s husband, Philip May, has the largest amount of shares in

GW Pharmaceuticals, as detailed here by Researching Reform:

https://researchingreform.net/2019/09/27/company-majority-owned-by-former-pm-gets-uk-licence-for-cannabis-medication/ 

5 More information about Belfast Cannabis Group can be found here:

https://www.facebook.com/belfastcannagroup/

6 NI Canna Guy interview in Weed World Magazine:

https://www.weedworldmagazine.org/2019/08/02/a-friend-in-need-alan-robinson-aka-ni-canna-guy-by-psy23/ 

7 The Story of Billy’s Medicine, by Charlotte Caldwell on Volteface: https://www.volteface.me/14474-2/   

8 Here’s an article about Alfie Dingley and others in the UK who urgently require government action:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/uk-medical-cannabis-epilepsy-children-nhs-deadlock-a9578971.html 

9 More information about the End Our Pain organisation: https://endourpain.org/ 

10 A profile of Dr. Evan Lewis: https://neurologycentretoronto.com/team/dr-evan-cole-lewis/ 

11 Jodie Emery’s Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jodie_Emery  

12 Dana Larson’s official website: http://danalarsen.com/ 

13 The outbreak of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, as outlined by The Irish Times:

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/how-the-troubles-began-a-timeline-1.3987076 

14 An obituary for Lyra McKee, who wrote about what she dubbed the Ceasefire Babies generation:

https://bit.ly/3iKwJb8 

Vera Twomey | Cork | 21.11.2020

Vera Twomey‘s daughter Ava suffers from Dravet’s Syndrome – a rare and severe form of epilepsy which causes multiple seizures a day. Twitter: @Veras1

The attention your 2017 sit down protest and your 2018 protest walk from Cork to Dublin drew are seen by many in Ireland to have been highly influential in seeing the Medical Cannabis Access Programme established last year. What was your reaction to its announcement? When the MCAP was announced, we were so delighted. We thought that hopefully the efforts that we’d made for Ava, what we had done had resulted in some visible change. That action had been taken and that something positive would be on the horizon for us. Unfortunately, the compassionate access programme has really turned into a trojan horse. I feel like there’s certain people out there that talk about cannabis being a trojan horse, which isn’t true. But although nobody is suggesting that medical cannabis cures everything, it is certainly the most effective medication that we’ve encountered and I feel that the compassionate access programme is the trojan horse, not the cannabis itself. Because nobody has been granted a prescription under the compassionate access programme because it’s not up and running. And so an individual licence is the only way that you can access medical cannabis in this country. So, although we were hopeful that something would come from it, it helped no one. It’s just been a token gesture up until now by officialdom.

Has the Medical Cannabis Access Programme been somewhat successful in treating Ava’s condition? Absolutely not, not at all. The cannabis access programme has been of no consequence to our family whatsoever. Our licence was granted on an individual basis and all of the other patients who have been prescribed medical cannabis in this country are getting their medical cannabis via an individual licence. So not only has the CAP not benefitted Ava individually, it hasn’t benefited anybody broadly because there’s nothing there. There isn’t even a product that’s attached to the programme as of yet, in the sense that they haven’t agreed prices on the medication. So they can put it out there and say that there are four products now on the compassionate access programme. Yes, they could be on the programme on paper, but in practice, nobody is getting access to anything. So, none of this plan is very grounded in reality. I would totally agree with that.

If the MCAP trial is successful, do you see the government leaning more towards cannabis reform or do you feel there will still be considerable opposition? Well the thing is, if the Medical Cannabis Access Programme was operational, there might be an opportunity for change or for adjustments in the opinions of politicians, civil servants and the medical profession. But they have created a programme that isn’t switched on, essentially. So therefore, there’s nothing positive going to come out of the CAP as it stands. The only thing that came out of the CAP was… It planted the idea in people’s minds within the country that this issue was sorted and that people seeking medical cannabis were being helped. But that’s not the case at all, unfortunately. It seems to have swept it under the carpet, as far as I’m concerned. Weren’t they seen to be doing something? They had the press conference, they made the statements, they had the paper. What they’ve done has only been of benefit, possibly, to their own appearance to be doing something, because it’s not helping patients anyway at all.

The government has made their views clear that concern for adolescent usage is their main deterrent to recreational cannabis legislation, but what do you feel is the reason they’ve been so hesitant with medicinal cannabis? Golly, there’s a question! So I think it’s a lot of reasons. One of the reasons I suppose is that the word cannabis has an association with people using it recreationally. And I think at the beginning, when we started back in 2015, there wasn’t the knowledge in this country about medical cannabis and the many studies that people were doing in different countries. I think that people genuinely didn’t know, so that was an obstacle. Engaging with people at the beginning was difficult, because you almost had to explain that it is a medicine, that it is possible, that it’s proven to work. 

Also, the government is referring to Doctors then who are practising for many, many years, who have an ingrained opinion about cannabis. They’d have a certain bias against it, yeah. The bias is there. So unfortunately, a lot of the people that government Ministers would be listening to would be medical people with an opinion that pharmaceutical medication is the way forward. Yeah. Not cannabis. So that was difficult But also, in the background you’ve got the lobbying by the pharmaceutical companies which is very real. And you know there is a lot of industry surrounding pharmaceutical companies in this country. They have a lot of power, a lot of money to be able to push their viewpoint forward. And I do think that at some level behind the scenes, that was part of it too. That if they granted medical cannabis to one person legitimately, it would open the floodgates for other patients. 

Really, when it comes down to it, the pharmaceutical companies… they’re running a business. They don’t want to lose patients. And people like the epilepsy patients for example, are a very valuable source of income for pharmaceutical companies. Because, you could be a person that could be diagnosed with epilepsy at eight years of age. You may be on pharmaceutical medication for the next forty years. So you’re a steady source of income. You’re a steady source of income, and let’s be real about it. Ava has not been admitted to hospital since she started her CBD and THC oil in 2016. She has not been admitted to hospital in four years, Richard. That’s amazing. Isn’t it? And I mean, Dravet’s Syndrome, that Ava’s got, is the most hideous diagnosis of epilepsy that you could really get. I was listening to your interview with 1Mary Biles on the Cannabis Voices podcast yesterday. I remember you saying towards the start that Ava was getting over 200 seizures a day at one stage, when she was very young. 

Yeah Richard, she was. I never came out and gave the real figure of how many seizures Ava would have a day, I kept it at twenty and thirty seizures a day, an amount that people could understand. Because it’s very difficult to understand how a child would even have time in a day to have 200 seizures. But if you talk about the different kinds of seizures, there are so many different types. She had them all. I sometimes think Ava was having seizures that were probably unique to her, they didn’t even have a title. So yeah, they were vicious. And even when she was a toddler, she was having those? She started when she was four months old. Our first seizure, she was vaccinated that morning at eleven o’clock, ‘cause I remember it well. It was ten to eleven (when) we went in (and) she was vaccinated. She had a forty-five minute seizure that night, and she was four months old. And d’you know, I remember it… but it was so shocking. It’s a blur, to be honest with you. Getting back to the question, there’s a lot of reasons why there hasn’t been progress. And the unfortunate thing in Ireland is that there’s not an opportunity for the medical professionals to get proper education surrounding medical cannabis in this country at the moment. Yeah. I was speaking to Dr. Órfhlaith Campbell (for an upcoming Green Lens interview) recently and she said that it’s systemic in Ireland. Trainee third level Doctors and nurses are not being equipped with how to treat people with cannabis in any way, nor are they equipped properly with how to treat people who are arriving to them in the hospital having overdosed on dangerous drugs. They’re not being educated on the most progressive treatment options. 

I think in university… I spoke to Professor 2Michael Barnes one time and he said to me that there’s about two hours of education surrounding the endocannabinoid system in a Doctor’s education in college. That’s ridiculous, in an entire course? Yeah. How long is the course, seven years? That’s appalling. The education is very necessary, but it has to be provided by the right people. Somebody qualified to train the Doctors, but also somebody who the Doctors can be comfortable with and respect as well. How much of an impact do you see the Citizens’ Assembly having on reform? Why do you think they’ve delayed the announcement of an assembly date for so long? I thought that it was going to be a positive thing. I was a bit concerned that I didn’t understand how it worked. I said I’d give a buzz and ring them and I spoke to a lady there and she explained how it works and so forth. And I asked her, when did she think that our issues surrounding the cannabis would be raised. And unfortunately, she said to me that she thought it could be more than a year, at least. So it sounded like it could be up to two years, because there’s several other issues that the Citizens’ Assembly are going to be addressing before the cannabis issue. So regarding the Citizens’ Assembly, I thought it was very disappointing.

So it’s in the pipeline after several other assemblies. You’d wonder why they’d bother announcing it as soon as they did, if they weren’t ready to announce a date. I think it was to make a show that something was being done about it. It’s a good sound bite, it’s a good thing to be able to comment on at the Dáil (the Lower house of Irish legislature) that the Citizens’ Assembly was going to be done. But we need action now. We need assistance now. We need the CAP up and running now. We don’t need to wait another two years for the opportunity to talk and three more years for reports and findings and this, that and the other thing to be done. We need action, not talk. The governments of Ireland and the U.K both seem very reluctant to be proactive about cannabis. I think Matt Hancock over in the United Kingdom is a grave disappointment as well. And he has made promises to mothers over in England, Scotland and Wales regarding the delivery of prescriptions for their children and reimbursements for the medication and nothing has come to pass. It’s very, very difficult for people over in the United Kingdom. They’re nearly worse off than people here in Ireland, to a degree.

I suppose because there’s a far bigger population in the U.K that they would feel the urgency that bit more than they do here. There is a much more sophisticated organisation of people over in England than what there is in Ireland at the moment campaigning. They have websites, they’ve even set up tutorials and information for Doctors and so forth. But still, even with all that, the resistance is palpable. So it’s very grave, because you have patients on the medication whose families aren’t being refunded for the cost of the medication. You have other patients who need medical cannabis and can’t get prescriptions, so there’s problems on every level, for everyone. With us, we’ve got the prescription for our medication, but they want to take the delivery of Ava’s prescription away when the Covid restrictions are lifted. So I feel like… You’re persecuted at every step, with anything surrounding cannabis. It’s difficult to contend with at times, you know?

Your televised appeal to Leo Varadkar (the Tánaiste, or Deputy Head of Irish government) during your acceptance speech at the Irish People of the Year Awards 2018 also had a profound effect on many Irish people. How has Varadkar acknowledged that speech. Has he remained in consistent contact with you since then? I was never in consistent contact with Leo. I’ve met Leo twice. The night of the Person of the Year Awards is interesting actually. I had a few words prepared. They were similar to what I said when I came up on stage, but what happened on that evening was, I went out for some air. The room was very warm and I suppose you would be nervous, ‘cause there was a lot of people there and with all our finery I didn’t want to fall off the stage or anything like that, you know? Vera laughs So, I went out for some air and I came back in and I was standing inside the door just having a conversation with a lady and Leo walked along. I walked up to Leo and I said: “Hello Leo”. It was the first time that I had met him in person. And I said to him, “My name is Vera Twomey. I’m Ava Barry’s mum. I want to know what you’re going to do about the legislation regarding the medical cannabis”, because the bill was being stalled at the time. 

He put out his hand to me to distance himself from me. He told me that the bill was completely flawed and it was going nowhere. And he was on a very tight schedule and he had to go. And he walked away from me. That’s incredible. So, I was genuinely mortified. I was left there standing, he had just said his few words and walked away from me. And I actually just started to cry. The tears were in my eyes. I literally stumbled back to the table. My friends and family were saying: “What happened to you?” and I told them. So, I grabbed a pen and a piece of paper, ‘cause before I had met him, I had considered talking to him directly. But I think I was nervous to do so. But after he spoke to me like that, I decided that’s fine. If that’s the way he’s going to talk to me I’m going to talk to him from the stage. So I amended the few words I had made. So that’s how I got up on the stage and spoke to him directly. I also met him another time after, when he attended a meeting at the Castle Hotel inside in Macroom and on the previous day a mother had contacted me begging me for information for medical cannabis to help her child and she had sent me a message about the child who had had fifty seizures the previous day. And when I went into the meeting room, I went over to Leo and I asked him again for his help. And I showed him the message that the lady had sent me and he didn’t flinch. Really? So, he said to me inside in Macroom, “I thought the medical profession was dealing with that”. And that was all that he said. 

And I was asked to step away from him then after that. I’m so sorry that you were treated that way. Well, I can assure you Richard that I approached him as one should approach anybody. I approached respectfully. I was in no way threatening or anything like that. And that’s the response that I got. So Leo has been… he’s not somebody that I’ve been in consistent contact with. He’s not exactly been an ally to you. No. Certainly not, no. Your #TalktoVera hashtag has been trending on Irish Twitter. Can you tell us some more about it and what you hope it will achieve? I put up a few posts about the delivery of the medication and so forth. And somebody said to me, just last night, that it was fine to be putting up Twitter posts, but you needed a hashtag to get trending.

I know what she means, but I didn’t have a grasp on how many mentions you needed on Twitter for something to trend, d’you know what I mean? So, I asked people last night to use the hashtag #TalktoVera, because I’ve been trying to get on to Stephen Donnelly (current Irish Minister for Health). I’ve requested a meeting in any format; Zoom, a telephone call, at any location, whatever suits, you know? To be as reasonable as possible. And I’ve been trying to do that since September I’d say. That’s appalling. And he hasn’t replied in any way, has he? Well, to be honest with you. Before he became the Minister for Health, he had contacted me. I had spoken to him a couple of times on his mobile. I have his mobile number. But since he became the Minister, he will no longer engage with me or speak to me on the telephone. So that’s disappointing, because he would have spoken to me prior to being the Minister. So he would have easily had a measure of me and the way I speak and so forth. So I’m not new to him. 

But no, there’s been no meeting. I’ve tried contacting numerous other politicians to get attention surrounding getting the delivery of Ava’s medication made permanent. But we needed something on social media to highlight the issue. So we were using the hashtag #TalktoVera. And it started trending last night and I thought it was funny. Vera giggles It was trending last night with Joe Biden, Jesus Christ and Mary Robinson. Richard laughs That has to be a sign Vera, you’re up there with the greats! I just laughed and thought, “God, I’m in good company”, you know? Well that speaks volumes about how the everyday people of Ireland feel about you. Well Richard, I have an awful lot to be grateful for the everyday people of Ireland for. ‘cause without ‘em, I might be without my girl, you know? That’s the bottom line. ‘cause the support for her… Her birthday is this week, right? Yeah. And we got a card last week. Her birthday isn’t until the week coming, but a lady sent a card and I just thought: “After all these years, she’s still in people’s hearts. People are still sending her cards and thinking of us.” And I put up a photograph of the card and I mean the messages…. Message, after message, after message, and the support… It’s just incredible. And it makes you wonder, “What is it that is holding the government back?” Because the public support for the introduction of medical cannabis is there, it is there. I would say it’s a majority for sure Vera, yeah. I agree, I think so. It’s just taking such a long time and so much effort to move this forward and it’s moving so slowly. Surely if you have that much public support from people around Ireland, then it’s only a matter of time until you succeed. I hope so. Because we have a problem with delivery (of medication) at the moment. But I will always try my best to highlight the issue for as long as anybody is interested in talking to me about it. 

Because I’m proud of Ava and in a way, I’m proud of cannabis, if that makes sense? Because it saved her life. And you need to share the information, because there’s other little people. There could be somebody just today, at four months of age, that has their first seizure. And there’s another family starting on this road of dealing with chronic epilepsy. That could be starting as we speak. And so you’ve got to share the information and you’ve got to try and help people. I owe it to the people that helped Ava to continue and highlight things. Thank you for everything you do. You should be proud of yourself as well, above all else, for helping your daughter so much. Thank you very much for lending me some of your time for this interview, I really appreciate it.  Thanks for talking to us, bye.

References:

* Vera’s book, For Ava, can be purchased here from Mercier Press:

https://www.mercierpress.ie/irish-books/for-ava/ 

1 The Cannabis Voices podcast recently had Vera on for an interview which can be found at this link:

https://cannabisvoices.buzzsprout.com/989611/6461791-vera-twomey-fighting-for-ava

2 More can be learned about Professor Michael Barnes here:

https://www.profmichaelbarnes.co.uk/about