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Courtney Greenberg

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Extended interview with Shamus O'Reilly

Extended interview with Shamus O'Reilly

Last month I spoke to Shamus O'Reilly for a Metro News article before he came to Toronto to enjoy a cannabis-infused dinner with nine other Canadian veterans. Here's what he had to say about how medicinal weed has helped him and why he speaks out about it.

Weed butter used for the veterans' dinner.

Weed butter used for the veterans' dinner.

What were some of the problems you faced after serving in the military? 

The thing I say to people all the time is if you break your finger, you’ll savour your finger. But if it’s your brain that’s broken, your brain is going to tell you to do all kinds of crazy things because nothing else is going to tell you to savour it. With  me, the biggest thing was anger. I would just get over-the-top mad. My response was not appropriate. It became with my wife at the time and my son, fear was more what my relationship (with them) was turning into. They were afraid of me. Nobody would cross me or dare say anything to me because “I didn’t have PTSD” quote unquote. I’m just mad.

 With that overall feeling where I guess I live in such a state of paranoia—the last thing I felt with the cannabis was that it took me somewhere where I hadn’t been in a long long time... That’s just the state of calmness. Then as my progress went forward with therapy, and the countless medications that I was on, I’m very fortunate that I had an open-minded family doctor.

When I spoke with my doctor...she said, 'I know you’re self-medicating. What are you doing?' I said, 'I’m drinking and I’m doing cannabis.' She said, 'OK how about we back off of the drinking' and then she said 'let’s talk about the cannabis.' It kind of went from there. The change in me has been miraculous.

How do you deal with the stigma of smoking marijuana?

Once I had my license, I still didn’t tell people that I was smoking cannabis because you still get this 'oh you’re getting stoned, you’re just a pothead. Now you’re not working AND you’re smoking.' It took me a while.

I’ve had my license now for four years and it took me a while to dig up this kind of strength that I found in the last year or so. I think it’s probably a lot to do with the company I keep now...But when you’re dealing with the severity of our condition, in order to prevent our life from being just peaks and valleys all the time, this is what  has been the only thing—including pharmaceuticals I’ve been on—that is keeping me on an even keel.

I no longer carry mountains I was meant to climb. It’s really turned my life around so dramatically that I felt the need to speak about it.

As it turns out, the response to (the Shamus O'Reilly Show) is just overwhelming. I’m being followed right now (by people in), well of course Canada, the US, England, the Netherland, Portugal, Australia and Israel. 

What has using medicinal marijuana done for you?

PTSD there’s a lack of motivation. You don’t take enjoyment in the things that you used to enjoy doing. If I could just make it so some guy realizes you’re not alone, you’re not by yourself. Here I am in St. John’s and I feel the exact same way. There’s such a strength in numbers and of course knowledge is power—so when I’m solidifying things that people are doubting their own feelings and their own thoughts, when I tell them that unprompted that I feel the same way, too, it really does open their eyes. “You know something? I’m not alone in this. It’s ok to tell people I use cannabis.” Nowadays, I would rather tell people that I use cannabis than go on a fentanyl patch.

What do you feel is the difference between smoking cannabis and eating it as an edible?

You’re going to get kind of a more intense feeling from the edible, depending on the strain... you know. But the thing about it, with smoking a joint, you get that initial euphoric rush and then it levels off. With edibles that’s not there. It’s a very, very slow subtle climb and then you level off. For people with respiratory problems, that is their only option. That’s why I think it’s such a big thing. What I love about this dinner is that they’re taking gourmet food, a seven course meal and infuse it. It’s not like everyone is seeing the brownies and cookies. It’s going to reach out to a different demographic.

Will the legalization of cannabis change anything for you?

I’m not sure how that’s going to change the medicinal system. I’m hoping that it has no effect whatsoever. I preach to people that cannabis and alcohol are so far apart it’s mind-blowing. I find it hard to comprehend that people are ignoring science. Yet the provinces are going to be pairing it with liquor stores. They’re saying that even here in Newfoundland. So that is not helping what we’re doing in my opinion. It’s more or less portraying it as 'Party time, Friday night after a long day at work sitting out in the shed with the guys, throwing some darts, let’s go smoke some recreational weed and drink some beer!' 

That is what I’m trying to open people’s eyes to… I smoke weed all day long and I would challenge you to tell me when I had one and when I didn’t because I don’t think you’d be able to tell the difference because I’m very functional on it.

As it relates to getting rid of that Cheech and Chong stigma, this new thing that the federal government is rolling out is not going to help. This is just where we or I need to be a little bit more vocal. I put all my positive energy into people, not that I can sway—I don’t mind agreeing to disagree with somebody, but you can’t dismiss the fact that I almost killed myself three years ago and today I’m hosting a Facebook page closing in on a thousand likes and I do videos everyday.

You cannot tell me that’s coincidence. You cannot tell me that it’s not because of the cannabis. I won’t allow you to. People just need to stop listening to all the negative stuff and really do some homework. If it’s something that interests you, arm yourself with the knowledge or read about it. Ask legitimate questions.

Will you ever make the switch to edibles instead of smoking?

Smoking is my preferred method, however, inhaling smoke whether it’s nicotine or’re still inhaling smoke. There’s supposedly big differences because of the chemicals and stuff but edibles is where I see myself going just for health reasons. That’s why this is so important to me. Like I said, this just blows the “here’s a pot brownie” or “here’s a cookie” for you right out of the water, where you can sit down for a five star meal and you’re still ingesting your medication with no aftertaste. It’s extremely, extremely exciting as to just how many very intelligent people are thinking forward.

Some photos from the dinner showing various foods infused with cannabis.

Extended interview with mental health advocate and nonprofit founder Loizza Aquino

Extended interview with mental health advocate and nonprofit founder Loizza Aquino

Plant-based paradise in downtown Toronto

Plant-based paradise in downtown Toronto