An Inside Look At Sweden’s First Medical Cannabis Conference

An Inside Look At Sweden’s First Medical Cannabis Conference

SMCC 2022

Courtesy of SMCC 2022

Cannabis has once again taken me to a far off place that I’ve never been to before. The demands of this plant can strike a devoted hempster at any moment. It was not in my strategic plan to visit a Nordic country this year, but then the Zoom zoomed, and I was invited to speak at the first medical cannabis conference in Stockholm. Next thing I know, I’m literally zooming off on a plane to Sweden to the Stockholm Medical Cannabis Conference (SMCC 2022) that took place at the Clarion Hotel on May 27th.

I was asked to keynote the conference, and I wanted to make all involved feel safe to learn about cannabis medicine, and to be inspired to stay active politically so they can build on the momentum they have created so far. It’s challenging in Europe — the cannabis stigma is oppressive — and there’s still a wide perception that weed is a dangerous drug that turns users into dysfunctional outcasts and criminals. All the attendees were taking a lot of personal risk to be there.

SMCC 2022

Courtesy of SMCC 2022

The patient advocacy group Aureum Life bravely facilitated the event, inviting the Swedish press to cover the conference. After packing the house with over 300 attendees, co-founder and CEO Angelica Örnell was hopeful. “We are proud to have organized the first medical cannabis conference in Sweden,” she said. “It’s one step forward in informing the public and healthcare professionals about the many benefits of cannabis as medicine.” Aureum Life went above and beyond hosting. A harp player strummed beautiful music during dinner.

When I took to the stage at the start of the conference, I looked out and saw patients, doctors, professionals, activists, creatives, and weed aficionados. As I settled into my remarks and told my story, I could feel the room relax and focus. There was a lot on the program and we had to keep things moving. I told some jokes, when I could think of them, as I moved us through the agenda. The jokes, thankfully, were appreciated. And I was able to listen to other speakers and learn all about the medical cannabis situation in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe.

I was particularly impressed with Dr. Tina Horsted and her work with chronic pain patients in Denmark. I learned from her that 20% of all adults suffer from chronic pain. Furthermore, many suffer from the ravages of opioids and other pharmaceuticals with horrendous side effects. Dr. Horsted has introduced cannabis as an alternative to thousands of people all across Europe. She is doing bold work with inspiring results for patients, whose stories were all too familiar to me after my tenure at Harborside. I’d been down this road before and I knew I was amongst the pioneers of medical cannabis in Sweden, and that made me feel right at home.

The conference likewise featured similar patients and their stories of healing with medical cannabis. This is where everything began to pop. The patients spoke in their native tongue; so while I couldn’t understand their words, I was able to grok their impact. All you had to do was watch the audience and see them react emotionally to the stories. They were moved to tears by the bravery of these patients. I’ve heard thousands of these stories in my career and each one still inspires me to keep doing this work. The patients are the ones who will end the stigma in Sweden and inspire more people to embrace 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 was struck by this disease as a young man. “I know for a fact that medical cannabis benefits arthritis patients and subdues the symptoms without side effects,” he said. “I’ve had only positive effects on my body and I have my bloodwork to prove it.” His life has been transformed by access to medical cannabis and he’s now a fierce advocate for others in his country to give it a try.

Sweden is a country of 10 million people but has less than 5,000 patients—that number should be well over 1 million for chronic pain alone. Medical cannabis is legal and you can obtain it in a pharmacy at low or no cost because all healthcare is free in Sweden. The government doesn’t allow domestic production so it all has to be imported, mostly from Denmark or Holland. But no one knows it’s legal and doctors are reluctant to write prescriptions for medical cannabis. They prefer to treat patients with opioids or other pharmaceuticals.

Healthcare may be free in Sweden, but big pharma is the same and without the doctors, you cannot get the patients. Doctors don’t learn about the endocannabinoid system in school nor do they have any continuing education about cannabis medicine. Most of them don’t want to risk their reputations by writing weed scripts.

The government strictly controls what can be said about medical cannabis in society. There’s a blackout of information and this prevents people from demanding the medicine from their doctors. And it prevents the doctors from learning the truth about weed. The conference was a smart way to try and break this cycle.

I was thrilled to see more aggressive activism happening in Europe around medical cannabis. Things move at a different pace in Europe sometimes. Rules, borders, power structures, and institutions are not the same as in the United States. Most of the attendees thought there had been good progress in Europe and that legalization was going to happen eventually. When I suggested that it would be 5 years for full legalization, most thought it was probably going to be closer to 10 years.

I was thrilled to smoke some quality legacy cannabis in Stockholm. Some of it was coming from Denmark, but most of it was domestic. The strains were modern and the traders even had edibles and RS Oil. The quality was excellent. It made my jet lag go a lot easier. That sweet ganja settled the nerves of this OG and allowed me to play my role with energy and vigor—which brings me back to where I started. The cannabis plant has once again brought me to new friends in new places who are spreading the seed that will heal the people.

I’m confident 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 learned that Sweden is a country that seems to work. There is competence in all things. Medical cannabis is knocking 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.

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