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The Lion of Judah Arrives in Brixton

The  journey metaphor is often used to describe the PhD process as it involves charting new territory and making new discoveries. The concept of the journey took on a different meaning when I commenced research into the entheogenic use of cannabis. Although I have lived in London for decades, I did not really know much about Rastafari and what was most shocking of all, is that I had never had a conversation about it with a Rastafarian. This post is the foundation of a presentation/workshop which I will be giving later in the year which discusses my oral history interviews about different aspects of Rastafari and the Rastafari in Motion exhibition.

My awareness about Rastafari was conflated with Reggae music, which on hindsight, I think I enjoyed swaying to the rhythm than paying close attention to the harsh reality of the lyrics.

Rastafari & Music

I had not questioned the prevailing stereotype of Rastafari and my  research provided an opportinity to examine Rastafari from the perspective of a Rastafarian.My preliminary readings provided me with a good baseline to initiate discussion and I gleaned that Rastafari was much more than hair. I began to build a vocabulary about the practice of Rastafari and this helped to shape my interview questions.Then it was time to put theory into practice and conduct my first interview.

 

I met Ras Cos Wadada Tafari at the Majestic Radio studio in North London and he explained what the Rastafari ‘Livity’ means.

I am looking forward to visiting the Rastafari in Motion exhibition as I will be able to examine the visual and material culture of Rastafari which will further contextualise and triangulate the findings from my oral history interviews.There is an air of anticipation about the exhibition as I have already recieved a few phone calls from friends. Images are already circulating on social media creating a buzz online. So, I am looking forward to attending the private view on the 14th of June 2016.

 

 

Medicinal Cannabis Masterclass:Small talk & big listening

 

“It is always a good sign if you return from a masterclass inspired and transformed. Take time to reflect on your experience because time potentiates a reflexive disposition. This is what makes you a true master.”  – The Masterclass Guru

 

First Impressions

“Hello, my name is Martin.

I am from Uruguay and I sold my car to get here.”

Martin’s introduction stopped me in my tracks, as I listened to fellow participants introduce themselves, at the 5th Masterclass Medicinal Cannabis. The event was run by Dr Arno Hazekamp, in Leiden, Holland.

Martin’s introduction told me so much about who he was. I liked his dedication, sense of adventure and directness. As I turned round to listen to Martin, I was drawn to, and implicitly trusted him. It was in that moment, that I realised the beauty of this masterclass was much more than the knowledge, insights and intellectual exchange which would transpire between us during the week. I had initially planned to write about the intellectual activities of the master class, however, I found the human relationship angle much more compelling. I have always been interested in how people relate to each other and build relationships within course and workshop settings. The process of relationship building and networking was of particular interest to me as I hope it will inform how I negotiate and position myself within the emerging global medical cannabis industry.

I found myself becoming a participant observer as I became immersed, and observed how the bonding process evolved during the week. I will muse on what I have called “moments of encounters” from the masterclass.

Who do they think you are?

Although attending the masterclass created moments of encounters via face to face activities, we had some intimation about each other as all 20 participants had to forward personal statements a month before the course commenced.In my statement below, I emphasised how I felt about my PhD, using this as shorthand, to capture where I was within the progression of my research.

“I feel there is definitely a great alignment with my life purpose and the cannabis plant, as my PhD journey is providing opportunities to meet and talk to custodians of the plant.

This makes the research process of my PhD rather unique as people in the cannabis world have been generous with their time and resources enabling me to capture memories from the past, discuss contemporary insights and visions for the future.  So, in effect, I am multi-tasking as oral historian, ethnographer and futurologist which is demanding and exciting.”

I found writing my statement of introduction a very useful exercise because it helped me begin to construct my career narrative. I am in the final year of my AHRC/Collaborative PhD program and it is important to start thinking about the best way to present my expertise to different audiences within academia and industry.

I flew to Amsterdam with my business cards, an open heart and mind; not forgetting a spirit of curiosity and a smile for good measure. Like a good student, I had read all the statements, connected with a few participants on LinkedIn and all that remained was to meet everyone in person. I secretly hoped the masterclass would be a catalyst for people chemistry as learning about cannabis chemistry was a given here.

What is the rationale for the masterclass?

It might seem rather cliché to note, but, in case you have been living under a rock for the last 2 years, medical cannabis is a hot topic. The emergence of cannabis as a medicine must be a life line for patients who want to include medical cannabis in their treatment regime. However, it must also be a bewildering time as there is a lot of incomplete, misleading and incorrect information about medical cannabis online. Arno called this phenomenon “copy and paste Wikipedia Science” and this is a term I will adopt to explain the distorted science narratives online.  The internet and social media have been dominant in advancing the case for medical cannabis; nevertheless competing interest groups have made it difficult to discern voices of credibility and authority. I think this is a major threat facing the emergence of medicinal cannabis. Opportunities are inherent within all threats and Dr Hazekamp’s initiative of designing a masterclass about the scientific theory and practice of medicinal cannabis is an example of pedagogic leadership within the industry.

The importance of creating a knowledge pool of credible information was reflected within the group.  Martyna, a doctor from Poland remarked that “It is an amazing opportunity to meet people from the professional cannabis world. I made a lot of contacts, people like me that want to spread reliable information to the world. This is basically what I dreamt the cannabis masterclass 2016 would be like.”  This sentiment was reiterated by Natalija, a doctor from Germany who commented that “the masterclass enhanced my knowledge about medicinal cannabis and it is good for me because I can perhaps share this with my colleagues.

CBD

Cannabidiol aka CBD is  a component of medicinal cannabis which is prominently featured in online discussions about medical cannabis and researchers are investigating its medicinal properties

Coffee Breaks, Small Talk and Moments of Encounters

Dr Arno Hazekamp and the Bedrocan team should be commended for creating a platform for us to have the space and time to wrestle with the questions, challenges and developments happening within the medicinal cannabis industry.  Interestingly, it was the social moments in between the presentations that gave the masterclass its special feel. The welcome dinner served as a good ice breaker as we put faces to names and had our first opportunity to break bread and drink wine together. This set the scene for the rest of the week as people seemed to be at ease with each other which created a genial atmosphere. The set up for lunch provided opportunities to sit with different people which allowed for a variety in conversation, as there is nothing worse than listening to someone repeat the same story or joke! The coffee breaks felt a bit like speed dating at times nonetheless I found it easy to strike up or join conversations.

I had not fully appreciated the power of small talk until I experienced how it transformed the group. Writing in The Network Effect, Newton and Perle encourage us to think of small talk like being given a window into a person’s life. As most people have varied professional and life experiences, small talk presents us with opportunities to explore and exchange so much more than information. I have never been a big fan of small talk as it demands everyone enters into the rhythm of the encounter. There has to be commitment and motivation or else it can feel contrived and awkward. I have a natural preference for the extended conversation as there is a consensus of commitment by the time you get to that stage. However I must say my experience and observations of small talk conversations on the masterclass has made me think differently.

coffes break and small chat

Coffee break chat at the 5th Medicinal Cannabis

Lasting impressions – small talk and big listening

My masterclass experience ended with Martin and Zena in a bar in Amsterdam. As we reminisced fondly over a bottle or two about our time on the course, I wondered why I felt a connection with everyone. I think this is because we all showed up – interested and engaged – with a motivation to relate.There was plenty of small talk; nonetheless there was also an abundance of big listening.

This enthusiasm, and appreciation, for the opportunity to be part of the masterclass is summed up by the sentiment expressed by Martin who remarked that: “It is a dream to be here. I was selected from 300 people, so it is a pleasure for me to be here to share with a lot of people.”

I hope the seeds of trust sown through small talk  and big listening will blossom into connected conversations. This should form a good foundation to develop an engaged professional network that will contribute to positive changes within this emerging field of medicinal cannabis research and practice. We hand the baton to the 6th Masterclass Medicinal Cannabis participants. Have a great experience and go forth into the world and make a difference.

You never change things by fighting the existing reality.To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. Buckminster Fuller

 

 Group photo

5th Medicinal Cannabis Masterclass Leiden Holland convened by Dr Hazekamp, who is on the far left. Dutch Harvest Hemp Tea tasting with Esther Molenwijk. 

The one week Masterclass Medicinal Cannabis, is organized by Dr. Arno Hazekamp for a selected group of professionals in collaboration with Bedrocan, the Dutch government approved Licenced manufacturer of medicinal cannabis

Patients and Self-Medication with Cannabis

Endocannabinoid

When I first started my research I found it difficult to convince some of my friends that medical cannabis was a bona fide research subject. It was even more difficult to talk about my research to strangers. I did not help the situation as  I always felt compelled to lower my voice and talk in hush tones when discussing my research.  I would some times get strange looks or the nudge, nudge, wink, wink, response which implied I might have a certain unhealthy interest in  recreational cannabis. It did not take long before it became obvious that I might have to change tactic.

After a while, I thought it might be a good idea to deflect connotations about recreational cannabis and talk about cannabinoids instead. After all cannabinoids were the active therapeutic ingredients in cannabis. This did not fare better as people glazed over as I spent too much time explaining the difference between  non psychoactive CBD (cannabidiol) and  psychoactive THC (tetrahydocannabinol).I even thought it might be a good idea to introduce people to the endocannabinoid system, as surely this will help to  differentiate between recreational and medicial cannabis use. Wrong. This complicated the issue as I was once accused of making up the endocannabinoid system.

I found I talked less and less about my research. Until, one day, some one asked me who the medical cannabis patient was?  How was the medical cannabis patient different from the recreational cannabis user? It dawned on me that people could conceive of the recreational user, albeit this might be the stereotype cannabis user shaped by the reefer madness narrative, however the notion of the medical cannabis patient was ambiguous.  I had an aha moment as I realised the patient was missing from the story. How could I talk about medical cannabis without drawing a vivid picture of the medical cannabis patient?

This quest helped to shape my research as I began my journey of discovery with three questions.

  • Who was the medical cannabis patient?
  • What was their story?
  • What can we learn from the patient story?

Research involves a complex network of relationships of ideas, and people and often times certain ideas seem to develop their own momentum. This seemed to be the case, as shortly after I posed the questions, I noticed my facebook friends started sharing medical cannabis patient stories from You Tube. The sheer quantity of patient stories on You Tube was daunting at first. How was I going to sort and  select the right patient stories? How should I categorise the stories? The volume and richness of this archive including  user comments made the depository an attractive research source. However, the data collection and analysis created a project outside the scope of my thesis. (one which I hope to return to at a later date) I decided to choose a few case studies and concentrate on the close reading, analysis and interpretation of the patient story. This approach fitted the research scope and methodology.

You call it marijuana and I call it medical cannabis

Sam Dyer was the first in depth case study I conducted to gain some understanding about the patient perspective about self medication.

Sam Dyer’s case came to public prominence in 2011. Original aired on the One Show and This Morning and available for further viewing and comment on You Tube, we witness a true life medical drama unfold between a father and son. Mediated by interview, our protagonist Sam Dyer who has a brain tumour rejects conventional medicine, including the expertise of his father, Dr Martin Dyer, a cancer specialist, in favour of using alternative medicines and medical cannabis in a bid to cure his tumour.  The rhetoric about biomedicine’s, inability to meet the medical needs of the chronically ill, has become part of the universal mantra, which has driven medical cannabis activism over time. Sam reiterates this in this interview when referring to his wellness strategy and comments that “We, have the right, to cure ourselves”.

The interview reveals the different models of thinking about biomedicine. Dr Dyer focusses on the fact that alternative therapies are untested and lack scientific validity and reliability. However, Sam’s tumour had shrunk in response to the cocktail of alternative therapies which further problematises biomedicine and alternative therapies. Although Dr Dyer posits a robust argument in favour of biomedicine his framing of cannabis is situated and understood within the social construct of marijuana – the prohibited substance deemed to have no medicinal value, stigmatised by society and policed by the state.

Dr Dyer is concerned about the illegal status of cannabis and although it was not mentioned specifically, Dr Dyer might have been concerned about the rising use of skunk, a high THC cannabis variant used by Sam’s generation. In other words Dr Martin Dyer calls it Marijuana. It appears that Sam however had a different relationship with cannabis and we can only speculate, that in response to his brain tumour, Sam became an engaged patient. He might have used the internet and patient forums as a resource to research and gain a nuanced understanding about the contemporary discourse on the medicinal value of cannabis. In other words, Sam calls it medical cannabis.

Sam Dyers case open up the discussion about the different points of view regarding the legitimacy of cannabis as a medicine and access to medical cannabis.  The trajectory of Sam’s story online gave some intimation about who the medical cannabis  patient is however this was just one aspect.

 

Sleep and Medical Cannabis

Anecdotal vs scientific evidence

Does cannabis help with sleep problems?

I love sleep.
My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know.
Ernest Hemingway.
Sleep is the best meditation. His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Although most people might take the ability to get a good nights sleep for granted. Let’s spare a thought for people who have sleeping problems. Some patients report that cannabis has a postive effect on their sleep and claim  cannabis helps them relax and sleep better.
Do we have scientific  research to substantiate these claims?
Cannabinoid Scientist will pose this question to the science communty for insights and discussion on up to date research.
Watch this space.