Cannabis has once again taken me to a distant place that I have never been to before. The requirements of this plant can beat a dedicated hemp at any time. It was not in my strategic plan to visit a Nordic country this year, but then Zoom zoomed in, and I was invited to speak at the first medical cannabis conference in Stockholm. The next thing I know is that I am literally zooming off on a plane to Sweden for the Stockholm Medical Cannabis Conference (SMCC 2022) which took place at the Clarion Hotel on 27 May.
I was asked to start the conference, and I wanted to make everyone involved feel safe learning about cannabis medicine and be inspired to remain politically active so that they can build on the momentum they have created so far. It’s challenging in Europe – cannabis stigma is oppressive – and there is still a widespread perception that weeds are a dangerous drug that turn users into dysfunctional outcasts and criminals. All participants took great personal risks to be there.
The patient defense group Aureum liv bravely facilitated the event and invited the Swedish press to cover the conference. After packing the house with over 300 participants, the co-founder and CEO Angelica Örnell was hopeful. “We are proud to have organized the first medical cannabis conference in Sweden,” she said. “It is a step forward in informing the public and healthcare professionals about the many benefits of cannabis as a medicine.” Aureum Life went beyond hosting. A harpist pasted on beautiful music during dinner.
When I went up on stage at the beginning of the conference, I looked out and saw patients, doctors, professionals, activists, creatives and grass lovers. When I came to terms with my comments and told my story, I could feel that the room was relaxed and concentrated. There was a lot on the program and we had to keep things going. I told some jokes when I could think of them, when I moved through the agenda. The jokes were thankfully appreciated. And I could listen to other speakers and learn all about the medical cannabis situation in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe.
I was particularly impressed Dr. Tina Horsted and her work with patients with chronic pain in Denmark. I was told by her that 20% of all adults suffer from chronic pain. In addition, many of the ravages of opioids and other drugs suffer with terrible side effects. Dr. Horsted has introduced cannabis as an alternative to thousands of people across Europe. She does a bold job with inspiring results for patients, whose stories were too familiar to me after my employment at Harborside. I had been on this road before and I knew I was among the pioneers of medical cannabis in Sweden, and it made me feel at home.
The conference also presented similar patients and their stories of healing with medical cannabis. This is where it all started Pop-. The patients spoke in their mother tongue; so even though I could not understand their words, I could grok their impact. All you had to do was look at the audience and see them react emotionally to the stories. They were moved to tears by the courage of these patients. I have heard thousands of these stories throughout my career and each one still inspires me to continue this work. It is the patients who will put an end to the stigma in Sweden and inspire more people to adopt this medicine.
One of the first patients to be prescribed cannabis in Sweden is Alex Östling, who has suffered from acute arthritis for over 20 years. He contracted this disease as a young man. “I know for a fact that medical cannabis benefits arthritis patients and alleviates the symptoms without side effects,” he said. “I’ve only had positive effects on my body and I have my blood test to prove it.” His life has been changed by the availability of medical cannabis and he is now a strong advocate for others in his country to try it.
Sweden is a country with 10 million people but has less than 5,000 patients – that figure should be well over 1 million for chronic pain alone. Medical cannabis is legal and you can get it at pharmacies at low or no cost because all medical care is free in Sweden. The government does not allow domestic production so everything has to be imported, mostly from Denmark or the Netherlands. But no one knows it is legal and doctors are reluctant to prescribe medical cannabis. They prefer to treat patients with opioids or other drugs.
Healthcare may be free in Sweden, but big pharma is the same and without the doctors you cannot get the patients. Doctors do not learn about the endocannabinoid system in school, nor do they have any further training on cannabis medicine. Most of them do not want to risk their reputation by writing weed scripts.
The government strictly controls what can be said about medical cannabis in society. There is a blackout of information and this prevents people from demanding the medicine from their doctors. And it prevents doctors from learning the truth about weeds. The conference was a smart way to try to break this circle.
I was happy to see more aggressive activism happening in Europe around medical cannabis. Things are moving at a different pace in Europe sometimes. Rules, boundaries, power structures and institutions are not the same as in the United States. Most of the participants thought that good progress had been made in Europe and that legalization would take place eventually. When I suggested that it would take 5 years for full legalization, most people thought that it would probably be closer to 10 years.
I was very happy to smoke a little older cannabis of high quality in Stockholm. Some of it came from Denmark, but most of it was domestic. The tribes were modern and the merchants even had edible goods and RS Oil. The quality was excellent. It made my jet lag go much easier. That sweet ganja calmed the nerves of this OG and allowed me to play my role with energy and power – which brings me back to where I started. The cannabis plant has once again taken me to new friends in new places that spread the seed that will heal people.
I am convinced that these brave pioneers will inspire patients and their doctors in Sweden to transcend the stigma and embrace cannabis medicine once and for all. As an American visiting for the first time, I was told that Sweden is a country that seems to work. There is competence in everything. Medical cannabis knocks on the door and it’s only a matter of time before the people let her in. I see a bright future for cannabis healing in the land of the Northern Lights.