Beardy cuts a solid figure. He has the beard to go with his name and the classic undercut which go with the neo-Viking mould. He plays in a band, but is currently out of action due to an accident at work which shattered a knuckle. Despite his recent injury, he has a relaxed presence, and conveys a kind of earthy wisdom.
In this interview, we focus on how he has benefitted from the use of cannabis and its substitutes to manage social difficulties presented by his autism, and how the substance affects his creative process.
DMJ: To start off, can you tell me a little about yourself.
Beardy: Born in Birmingham and grew up there. I was diagnosed with autism at an early age. My eldest brother Dan was autistic, and because of that – because it’s a genetic thing – we were monitored quite early on. He’s 7 years older than me. He ended up going to a school in Nottingham – he didn’t live with us for the first ten years.
He moved back in when he was 16, which was quite a strange thing for us growing up, because he was sort of almost like he wasn’t part of the family, which has changed in recent years I’m happy to say. I think because of that my mother fought very hard not to have that happen to me. So I was at home and went to a pretty normal school. But I had to go to a place called the Charles Burns Clinic. It’s a specialist clinic for people with all sorts of different learning difficulties, and different levels. My brother and I are very different – and he has also never used Cannabis, which is interesting.
DMJ: That’s an interesting point to discuss- whether there’s differences in your lives now as a result of adopting different strategies to manage your conditions.
Beardy: He’s very, very social – and he always was, which is probably why he never felt the need to use any kind of substances. I sort of had to use alcohol and cannabis and other things as almost a social crutch.
DMJ: Many people have had similar experiences. Often it’s found that the initial high, or having an ‘espresso’ (a regular cigarette sized joint) is enough to trigger social events.
Beardy: It’s a very communal thing as well, isn’t it? Because if you’re with a group of people smoking, and you’re the only one who’s not, then there’s that kind of social pressure. This definitely sparked me smoking cannabis when I was about fourteen. A couple of friends of mine, we’d finish our school stuff up for the day and go round one of my friends who lived quite close to the school.
DMJ: I guess you get into a similar headspace by sharing that activity. It seems you discovered cannabis through a usual route – friends, and that helped you socially.
Beardy: and at that age it was kind of a low point. Going into a normal school, with a special needs department, even though it’s a normal school you still have that kind of underlying worry that everyone knows that you’re a little bit different, because you go into the special needs department, and you’ve got a helper with you. When you’re about 10 or eleven, people don’t notice, but as you get older and into your teenage years they start to pick up on that sort of thing – And you can feel it. About 14, my condition started to depress me a lot lot more, and the cannabis was there initially. Not even as a medical thing, it was just a recreational thing to get yourself out of your own head.
DMJ: So it helps with anxiety – what about other symptoms? How does it change your life?
Beardy: From 14 to about 18, I used to smoke quite a lot. In my time, the government used to do that scheme where if you attended over a certain amount of hours you would get 30 pounds per week.
DMJ: Education Maintenance Allowance
Beardy: We almost used college as an excuse to get that money.
DMJ: Yeah- 30 quid’s just the right amount, isn’t it!
Beardy: Pretty much every day, and after that when we were working, we would still meet up and have a smoke. I’ve heard of studies where – particularly in younger people who have aspergers and autism – that the long term use fires up neurons and activates parts of the brain which are less active in some people, particularly creatively, which is why you have these bizarre conversations and people can often seem quite out of character. So I think the effects of that period are still in my head today. I’m certainly a more creative and articulate person now.
DMJ: It’s definitely an interesting long term effect if you feel it has made you more creative.
Beardy: It kept me on track with music. I did 3 music courses. Now music’s a very big part of my life- it’s definitely been a substance that’s pushed me toward that field.
These days I take CBD capsules to help with anxiety. These are George Botanical capsules. I found these to be quite good. They’re 10 milligrams. I can take 2 of those if I need to sleep or I’ve got a much on. I have the oil drops for under the tongue. They’re quite a rarity to use.
DMJ: so you’re just using it when you’re sure there’s a real necessity for it. Where do you get those? Online, Holland and Barret?
Beardy: There’s a vape shop just down from where I live. They also sell disposable CBD e-cigarettes. I was considering getting a full vaporiser, but once you have that kit, you use it more.
DMJ: That’s an important point to raise – that you can become skilled in self-medication, and realise when is and when isn’t a good idea to use substances. Do you know what the breed or strain used in your capsules is?
Beardy: Sativa L. flowers
DMJ: Interesting that this is used as a sleep aid, as Indica is usually associated with relaxing properties, whereas Sativa is more for creativity in most people’s reckoning. The culture being what it is in England – we don’t have dispensaries – so you have very little control over what you’re getting. A dealer could claim it was anything.
What do you think of the case for deregulating in the UK and going towards an American model?
Beardy: My stance has always been that people should be allowed to put what they want into their own bodies, the counter to that being that we have a National Health Service- and do you want to be paying for other people’s ill effects? But it’s never been the case for cannabis – no-one’s ever died or overdosed. Can you overdose on cannabis?
DMJ: there was some research, and the quantity is so great that you couldn’t smoke that much. And even then, it would be asphyxiation which actually killed you!
Beardy: what about ingesting? What if you were to take that to an extreme level?
DMJ: toxicity is a bit of a risk, mostly because of effects on the heart. Cannabis can accelerate heart rate and cause arrhythmia in very high concentrations. Again you need a lot, and it’s hard to get a cannabutter mix consistent. You might have one cookie that leaves you on the bed sweating and listening to the same album on loop for 3 hours.
Beardy: if we had dispensaries, you could guarantee your products would be the same.
DMJ: Have you heard of some of the health risks from cannabis come from the tricks that dealers use, such as spraying with fibreglass to make the plant heavier?
Beardy: similar to base – when people used to sell base, if it was damp it would be heavier. This is also a point to make – that cannabis is a billion pound industry, and drugs in general are very valuable. Instead of that money going to organised criminals, that could be taxed. That money could be used for social care, it could be used to fund schools.
DMJ: in your opinion, what are the reasons within our culture, and with our governments, that we have not done that, and may continue to drag their heels?
Beardy: Our governments always want to be seen to be doing the right thing, and our governments – particularly conservative governments – they have their supporters. Their voters are particularly against cannabis. If the Conservatives were to legalise cannabis, then they might lose voters. I believe the liberal democrats want to legalise cannabis, but whether they will is a different matter. Parties often say these things to get into power. If you were trying to convince a government to legalise, economics would be the way to go. Alan Davis does a joke where no-one’s ever put out a joint and gone ‘right, come on then!’ and started a fight, but with alcohol people do. Alcohol’s legal, cannabis isn’t.
My partner has a lot of back problems, and she takes a lot of painkillers. Because they’re opiates, you build up tolerance, and they are very addictive. When did they approve CBD for medial use in the uk?
The first cannabis-based medicine became available in the UK under prescription in 2015. This was made possible by The Misuse of Drugs (Designation). This brings us to where we are today where CBD products are legal but they must have a THC level no greater than 1mg and extracted from hemp below 0.2% THC.
We went on to touch on the herbal highs market, Chinese MDMA analogues and the problems of Spice use in the midlands and North, but that would be a lot to cover in this space…