Above: Sharon with French activist, Fared Ghehioueche, at his book shop. Photo: Alecia Sacre Coeur
Though both medical and recreational cannabis are prohibited in France, the scent of tolerance is heavy on the streets of the city of lights. As in every illegal city, county, state, and country I’ve been in prior, the fragrance is as unmistakable as butter melting on a baguette. In its city streets or in its countryside, the plant continues to dominate as the world’s most beloved illicit herb.
Punishments for buying, selling, growing or possessing range from a few months to one year in jail, with fines ranging from hundreds to thousands of Euros a pop. Minimal compared to America’s Federal mandate of a minimum of five years in prison under its failed War on Drugs; still, it’s harsh to be thrown in the slammer for just a joint.
While French doctors are allowed to prescribe cannabis for real illness, if you can find one to prescribe, the plant is not available for sale legally in the country. Laws allow patients to travel to the Netherlands (Amsterdam, specifically) to purchase flower, hash and other products.
Just as in the states, the French government doesn’t yet agree with the treatment of cannabis as medicine or recreation, and continues to persecute its people for the plant. This leaves the process of medicating precarious, at best, and education on the subject subsequently non-existent within the medical community of its many benefits.
Being Well Abroad
As a full-time cannabis patient travel can be challenging, as I’ve completely replaced pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter medications with cannabis and other plant-based remedies. I need to keep the medicine of the plant in my system on a regular basis – just as you would that prescription medication your doctor prescribed. And even though my doctor has authorized my use, I’m only a legal patient in California. While your prescription can be carried with confidence anywhere in the world, my tinctures, salves, and smoking products are restricted from crossing state lines, let alone across the sea into an illegal country.
There’s a huge level of unfairness here, as I’m warding off breast cancer put into remission via the oil several years ago (see Educated Stoner, Cancer), while replacing everyday pharmaceuticals, such as Thyroid medications, hormone replacements, sleeping pills and pain killers. My cannabis use is serious, I’m not just getting high, I’m medicating for real ailments.
If I’m without the plant in my system on a regular basis I get symptomatic pretty quickly, with myriad complications from both Thyroid Disease combined with Menopause; not to mention the very real threat of cancer rearing its ugly head again.
I can’t sleep without my cannabis oil and I can’t walk the streets of Paris without my topical salve for a partially disabled knee. For that matter, without ingesting the oil at night, I’d wake up in the morning in pain, with two stiff legs and possible sciatica issues in my lower back – as my medical history dictates.
Keeping the plant in my system not only keeps the inflammation and infection down, it subsequently keeps the pain away, as well.
Cannabis keeps infection at bay, while building the immune system, helping to keep ailments at bay during strenuous travel. For even if you are having fun, travel is stressful on the body – add time change, and it adds the likelihood of ailments slowing you down, or taking away much needed energy.
I typically pack some type of topical that can also be ingested. For this trip I mixed a strong cannabis oil (alcohol reduction), in a cannabis infused coconut oil and put it in a repurposed commercially labeled container. This compound was ingested at night for sleep and applied topically in the daytime on my knees, feet, lower back, and other areas of inflammation and/or pain.
I never travel with pungent and bulky flower, and luckily, due to the nature of my work – traveling and writing about cannabis – I’ve been fortunate to find a sesh where ever I’ve gone.
As a footnote, my bag had been inspected, with a note left behind – but the tub of salve remained intact, albeit for a little seepage within its zip-locked bag, due to altitude changes in the plane, as is expected.
Flower & Hash with a View
Small amounts of flower and hash can be purchased for a high price on the steps of the historic Sacre Coeur, the Sacred Heart Cathedral, where the French and tourists partake with a spectacular view of the city.
With the help of my American, French-speaking friend and temporary resident of Paris, Alecia Sacre Coeur (no coincidence on her handle, she has the soul of a French woman), we bought a tiny bag of flowers.
The tiny buds looked like what we’d call “smalls” back home in Humboldt, too insignificant to trim. The purchase set us back about $90 U.S., with the Nigerian who sold it to us throwing in a little hash to sweeten the deal.
The French mostly smoke the plant in its concentrated form, adding crumbled hash to hand-rolled tobacco cigarettes. Having never smoked cigarettes, that worked for my friend, but wasn’t an option for me. The small amount of flower purchased was stretched by rolling one pinner in the morning and one at night, with a little hash added for good measure.
Our five story walk-up room came with a window and ledge comfortable for a session. The window looked out over the backside of three other buildings, allowing me and my friend to smoke freely from our room. And as any weed traveler worth his weight in papers knows, windows that open are always a welcome addition to any hotel room.
Parisian Puff, puff & pass
It’s easy to say the plant’s daily use is tolerated within the city of lights, as partaking in Paris is in full swing along the Sein on a Friday night, where locals hangout on the steps to the famous river and musicians hold open mic.
A whiff can also be traced into the underground Metro, following a young man sporting a baseball cap with the sign of the leaf on its brim; while another walks by with a flurry of leaves printed boldly on his tee.
That same scent wafts over the lawn at the Eiffel Tower, where vendors sell bottles of wine, chocolate and baguettes to sightseers – with a little flower on the side.
While sitting at a sidewalk café in the neighborhood of Martemonte, where we were staying, a couple next to us shared their travel experience from London that morning. When I told him I wrote for magazines on cannabis as medicine, they laughed, as the man had been making, what they called “shoe hash,” since leaving London. It’s the old-school method to modern-day rosin – wrap bud in wax paper, then tin foil, and place in shoe for several hours. The outcome is a smokable honey-wax. Yes, the plant is everywhere, regardless of the laws allegedly created for our own good.
Plants a La Pharmacie
Most Parisians I spoke with about cannabis were unaware of its medicinal value, all were aware of it for recreation. But that was no surprise, for after covering six states – even legal ones – there is always a lack of understanding of its healing properties, even within the cannabis community at home.
A visit to a Pharmacie was encouraging, though, as plant-based extractions sat side-by-side with homeopathic medicines and other alternative treatments, in a place created for pharmaceuticals – or did they incorporate the synthetic drugs into an already established apothecary setting?
In the U.S. herbal remedies are not recognized as medicine, with plant-based remedies replaced by petroleum by-products as recent as the 1940s. You will not see any alternative or herbal remedies at an American drug store.
The fact that France’s pharmacies carry plant-based medicines alongside its pharmaceuticals was heartening in this regard. I have hope for the country when and if cannabis is allowed, as they already have a sense of how plants work.
This includes using suppositories, getting the medicine of the plants into the blood stream faster for quicker healing. Where cannabis is concerned this method bypassed the liver, hence it delivers with no psycho-activity, which is an advantage for many who’d rather bypass the high.
The discussion with a technician ultimately disappointed, as she had no idea about the healing properties of cannabis – only that it was regarded as one of the bad drugs to stay away from. When I shared my own story of healing with her she was amazed and was eager to do a little research on her own.
While in the shop I asked her about plant-based remedies for sleep and to use topically for pain. The typical Valerian root and sleep blends were present, but I already knew they weren’t as strong as cannabis concentrates for my menopausal sleep disruptions.
There were some topical testers at the counter and soon I was slathering some lotion on my sore knee. The pain was quelled some, but its effects did not last – maybe two hours, tops. I was grateful I had my own cannabis salve with me back at the hotel.
Some cannabis patients limit travel for fear of being without their medicine. Imagine if you suffer from chronic pain and were asked to leave your pain pills at home? Until cannabis as medicine is given the respect it deserves globally, traveling will always be challenging.
Savvy cannabis patients have had to teach themselves how to procure, transport, and partake in the confines of a rented space – just as they have learned to be well without the synthetic treatments sanctioned by the powers that be.
One thing is certain, the plant prevails around the world. We no longer need to draw a leaf in the sand for mutual understanding – it’s already understood. The majority of cannabis patients are merely waiting for legislators to be educated and allow us to move forward in wellness.
(This essay was originally published in Dope Magazine, 2014)