Clark French One of the hardest working people on the UK, if not European, cannabis scene, Clark French made time to talk with us on a recent visit to Amsterdam. In this, the first part of our interview, he discusses his personal experiences with cannabis and the difference in quality of life that it makes to him and to others.
As always at Sensi Seeds, we like to give you the best of both worlds; above, you can watch the video of the first part of our interview with Clark French, and below, you can read the text version with handy links for more information on certain topics.
Clark French, welcome!
Clark: Thanks for having me.
What brings you to Amsterdam?
C: I currently have some important meetings with Sensi Seeds to discuss the United Patients Alliance and the work that we’ve been doing. I’m also taking a little break because I’ve been really, really, really busy, and it’s nice to have a little time out and relax and not do too much, so that’s been good as well.
What kind of things does the United Patients Alliance do?
C: The UPA is a group of patients that have come together. Every single one of the founding members has, or had, a chronic illness, be it cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, rheumatoid arthritis, anxiety, MS; so many different illnesses that I couldn’t possibly name all of them right now. It’s incredible how many different people are helped by cannabis. So it’s a group of people who have come together and said, we find that cannabis helps us as a medicine. We know from experience that the government’s scheduling of cannabis is wrong. The UK government classes cannabis as Schedule 1, “no known medicinal benefit”. Well, we know it has medicinal benefit because we feel it work every single day. So we decided that we were going to do something about it.
The first aims of the UPA were to raise awareness of the benefits of medicinal cannabis, in both the public and the political spheres. We’ve achieved both of these things very well. We’ve been in every single major newspaper and news channel in the UK, and we also lobby a lot of politicians. We’ve made some very good ground on that side of things too.
There’s a third thing now, which actually we didn’t expect it to become when we first founded it: it’s a support network. It’s a support network for sick people who are finding they live in this world of prohibition, they’re potentially stigmatized by their friends, by their family, by their healthcare professional sometimes. It can be really difficult living in that kind of situation when you’re already sick, when you’re already like struggling, you know? I mean life’s a struggle, and then you find something that helps you and you’re told that you’re a liar, it’s difficult. So it’s become a support network for sick people who just want to live a better life, basically.
We do quite a lot of different things. We do events, we have social events as well as in-depth admin meetings where we’re talking about politics and all the heavy stuff; we have the light stuff as well. We meet up and go out and do things, we hang out. We just spend time together. We don’t talk about cannabis prohibition all the time!
Why is a support network so important?
C: It can be so isolating when you’re sick. Not being able to get out as much, not being able to do as many things, it can be difficult. And then you find something that helps you to do more things, but it’s difficult because not everyone’s going to accept that you’re doing this. Some people, they’re like, ‘yeah whatever, fuck it, I’m on my way, I’m just going to do it anyway’. But not everyone’s able to do that. Not everyone has that kind of strength of will to just fight through it. So it can be difficult, and that support network is something that I’m really, I guess, proud of. Proud that the United Patients Alliance has become that, and has helped people. It’s a really good thing.
What was your first experience of cannabis?
C: My first experience of cannabis is vastly different to most people’s first experience of cannabis. The reason why is because my first experience of cannabis wasn’t me consuming it personally. And it was as a medicine. My stepfather unfortunately passed away when I was eleven, from complications due to severe MS. So you can imagine when I was diagnosed with it… and my mum has MS as well, so… MS: not fun. But Richard [stepfather], he was really smart, he was a nuclear physicist doing research and development. He would come back home from work and he would consume cannabis.
At first I didn’t know, because he kept it as far away from me as possible. But then he got so sick that he was wheelchair-bound, and he couldn’t go for a walk and have a joint, he had to start smoking cannabis in the garage. So my first experience of cannabis was walking out to the garage and seeing my stepdad smoking. And I was like, what are you doing? You’re smoking, that’s bad! Why are you smoking? And he said to me, Clark, this is different, this isn’t cigarettes, this isn’t tobacco, this is a medicine. This really helps me. I have it because it makes me feel better. He just explained it rationally to me, and I understood.
Then I started noticing, he’d come back from work, and he’d be… fucked. He couldn’t do anything, he could barely lift his head, he could barely talk. He’d go out into the garage, and he’d smoke a joint. And his hands were so bad that he had to have – this was how important cannabis was to his life – he had his handyman make him a special joint-smoking rig so that he could smoke joints even though he couldn’t use his hands. I can remember it clearly. It was attached to the garage wall on a hinge, so it could go back against the wall and then come out again. It was a long bit of wood, and then another bit of wood on the end that had loads of different-sized holes in it. Now I know the holes were for different-sized roach ends. Someone would roll them for him as well, he would get a big bag of pre-rolleds. He would manage to basically get the joint in the joint hole, but he couldn’t light a lighter, so he had one of the gas hob lighters, a long one, and he could put his fingers in and push down on it so it would light. And he’d light his joint, and then sit there smoking it as it was in this holder. So he went to lengths to make sure that he could consume cannabis, it helped him that much.
Was there a visible difference after he smoked?
C: Yes, you’d see a huge difference. He’d come back home from work, and he’d be slumped over, you know, no… no nothing. I’d say hello, how are you, and there’d be really nothing back, he had just nothing left, no energy left whatsoever. To be honest, he shouldn’t have been working as long as he did, but that’s how determined he was. He wasn’t going to give up, he wasn’t going to let MS beat him. So he’d go out [to the garage], and he’d come back, and he’d hold his head up. And he’d talk to you. He’d say I’m alright, don’t worry; and then he’d say oh, actually there’s a tv programme that I want to watch, so he’d be actively wanting to do something. You could just see that he got his sense of self back. It [MS] took a lot from him, and cannabis gave him a lot back.
Would you say he was a role model for you?
C: Yes, he is. He is.
S: He really sounds like a source of inspiration. When you were saying he wasn’t going to let it beat him, I see that in you as well, that you’re not going to let this take over.
C: I miss him.
S: Of course.
What was your first experience of consuming cannabis personally?
C: Well, the first time I thought I consumed it, and the first time I actually consumed cannabis, are different times! The first time I thought I consumed cannabis was when I was 12, and now I realise it was a cigarette. [laughing] My friend told me it wasn’t, but it was.
After that, when I was 16, and I was still in school, one of my friends had a little bit on him and I said, Ah, I want to try that. So he split it in half. I took it home, and went for a walk down to the woods with one of my friends and we smoked a joint. It was good, it was fun. I can remember the colours, I remember it being so colourful. It was in the daytime, and the sunlight was coming through the leaves, and I remember thinking, “wow. This is so vibrant.”.
I guess that’s something I think maybe people forget about cannabis. When you consume it a lot, you forget that actually it does make life more vibrant, it does make colours more vivid. It does make every little intricate detail more there, more noticeable, more bright, and you’re like wow, there’s a leaf, look at the shape of the leaf, look how the leaf is, look at the little bits… And you think wow, there’s so much to life that you just don’t notice. A colourful, vibrant, happy atmosphere.
What cannabis strains do you favour?
C: I know a few strains that I really, really love, which really help. I find anything with Afghani origin does wonders for pain, so there’s a particular strain called Purple Afghan Kush which is a cross of Purple Kush and Afghan landrace, which is just incredible, I love that strain a lot. It’s controversial to say this, but Skunk #1 is incredible for pain as well, and I really like it. I really love the flavour of it as well, it’s got such a nice, earthy, deep pungency. It’s very pleasant to consume and I think the high THC levels are actually brilliant for patients that are sick, they’re incredible.
What is your favourite method of consumption?
C: Vaporising. By far. It used to be smoking, but now it’s vaporising because of the instant effect. When you’re in pain, you don’t want to have to wait an hour, to have a pill and then wait for it to be effective. I think it’s really important to say that each patient is different, and so for me vaporising is the best way. For some people, maybe they don’t want to vaporise, maybe they have lung issues, maybe it’s not for them. Maybe they want to eat it, or put it on creams and put it on their skin. Maybe they want to consume it in another way, maybe they want to use suppositories. There are so many different ways that you can consume cannabis, and I think it’s very important that everyone has access to all of them, and has the ability to try which one is right for them.
So vaporising is my preferred method. I also like topicals a lot, so I make a balm out of the Purple Afghan which I put all over [my sides]. I get a lot of pain around my sides and it really helps, it reduces the pain so much. I eat it quite a bit, I’ll eat it if I’m looking to definitely feel the effects, you know? Eating it, generally, if you have enough, you notice it far more. So that’s more at the weekends, more for fun, I guess. I consume cannabis in pretty much every way that I can, because I find the more I consume, the better I feel, so it makes sense to consume more of it.
This concludes the first part of our interview with Clark French. Stay tuned for part two, in which he explains more about the United Patients Alliance, their struggle to achieve registered charity status, and their work with the All Party Parliamentary Group for Drugs.