There are many ways to learn about the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. But it takes time to read the professional literature and to search the Internet. However, there is another alternative: the annual international Cannafest trade show, taking place in Prague. We spoke with its director and founder, Lukáš Běhal, about what visitors to the trade show can expect… and more.
Let’s say that I have just gotten interested in cannabis this year and found out that there is going to be a cannabis trade show in Prague. How would you describe this event for me?
Cannafest is an international trade show on cannabis and therapeutic herbs, taking place this November for the ninth time. We take pride in our subtitle: the “World’s Largest Cannabis Trade Show”, which is true in terms of the amount of exhibition floor space. We always try to present the most diverse selection of firms and industries which deal with cannabis in some way. For example, we have an entire section dedicated to natural products, presenting people working with technical hemp and making cannabis cosmetics, clothing apparel, foods and building materials. We also have a spotlight on vaporizing, which has become huge in recent years. At our Cannafest Vapo Lounge we introduce visitors to every sort of vaporizer and the advantages of vaporizing. Visitors can also try other therapeutic herbs – legal ones, of course.
As well as the trade show, everyone talks about the professional conference which accompanies it.
That’s right: in addition to the trade show, we also provide a program featuring talks by professionals in various cannabis industries, open to the public. The topic in greatest demand is the use of cannabis in medicine. Over the past nine years we’ve been able to develop quite an impressive conference, one well-known and appreciated in cannabis circles. Each year, experts in the field, scientists, doctors and patients come here from abroad – mostly from Israel, the USA and Canada, which are the countries setting the pace in cannabis research.
What personalities and themes can we look forward to this year?
We’re still working on the final shape of the program, but for example we just got news that Lumír Hanuš, one of the leading scientists in the field, a Czech who is now working in Israel and who has attended every Cannafest, cannot make it this year, but at least his colleague, Ilja Reznik, can. One of the hottest topics, to which we will devote a panel discussion at the conference, is the therapeutic use of cannabis extracts – i.e. cannabis oil, sometimes called Phoenix tears. Every year we feature patients and experts who have had years of experience using cannabis extracts, including many patients who have been cured of various diseases.
Recently, we have been witnessing a huge boom in cannabidiol (CBD), which is non-psychoactive and has a number of positive effects on human health. Will there be attention paid to that at Cannafest?
CBD is a huge theme, and probably the hottest discussion topic of the past two years. The reason is that patients who want to use cannabis legally have no other possibility than using CBD. And so there are lots of companies who are taking advantage of this and riding the CBD wave. I’m not able to say whether this is merely a fad or a real advance in medicine. What I want to do is to give space to all those who are interested in CBD and are experts in the field. From my own experience, for a time I was taking cannabis extract drops with a high CBD content, and I had a feeling of revitalization and energy, so in my opinion they do work in that respect. At the conference there will be experts reporting on the latest research into this cannabinoid and its effects on the human body.
Don’t you think that all the attention given to CBD is at the expense of THC, which has proven therapeutic effects?
From the medical standpoint, we know that CBD has significant positive effects in the treatment of epilepsy in children, which is great, as it is non-psychoactive. Cannabis products with a high cannabidiol content are actually the only possible path in using cannabis to treat children. In that respect, the attention on CBD is certainly warranted; on the other hand, CBD is not a cure-all and is not a replacement for tetrahydrocannabinol, which does have proven therapeutic effects.
You mentioned using CBD – have you used other cannabis products in treatment?
Personally, I haven’t yet had the need to do so; I took CBD drops when I was under the strain of physical activity due to sports. I also wanted to see for myself how CBD works. As far as other cannabis medical products, I’ve tried various ointments which work wonders on the skin. Thanks to Cannafest, I’ve been able to meet people from all over the world who have serious medical problems but who do not have huge faith in modern medicine, not to mention those whom it has not helped in the long run. These folks are trying to cure themselves with cannabis, repeatedly trying a treatment course with extracts with a high THC content, and they have proven positive results. Of course it’s not possible to generalize this kind of treatment; it’s important to keep in mind that cannabis is not a cure-all: it doesn’t work on all diseases. There are a lot of factors which influence a medicine’s success. Nevertheless, thanks to its practically zero-percent toxicity, even if cannabis does not induce a cure, neither does it do any harm.
When we say cannabis, we usually are thinking about younger people taking it for recreational use. But you have been placing the emphasis on patients and the older generation, who use cannabis as medicine. What specifically have you got in store for them at Cannafest?
That’s right, since its very inception Cannafest has been aimed at patients and seniors. Aside from the fact that we are all growing old – I myself am slowly edging into the senior group and getting farther from the teenagers – with cannabis today we are looking at something different than recreational use and the enjoyment that comes with that. We’re really happy that so many seniors come to the trade show every year. In that way we are different from the majority of cannabis trade fairs I’ve had the opportunity to attend. I think it’s because that we are trying to meet older people and patients halfway – those on a disability pension have free admission and for those who have proof they need caretakers, the caretakers also get in for free. Unfortunately, we don’t have a discount for seniors because it hasn’t been so effective in the past. On the other hand, the entrance fee hasn’t gone up in the past few years – if you buy a ticket in advance, it’s 150 CZK (5 euros), or 250 CZK (8 euros) for all three days of the event. That’s a price affordable to anyone. And that’s not even taking into account the expert information about cannabis – I’m talking about what you can take back with you physically. Visitors customarily take home bags stuffed full of useful items given away for free from a number of vendors.
Can patients and seniors count on wheelchair access?
Of course. The Letňany fairgrounds are located just a short way away from the Letňany metro stop. Last year we had to move there in a hurry due to an act of God at the intended location, and in the ten days we had we were not able to adjust the space fully to our plans. That was apparent with the queues at the entrance, because thousands who bought tickets in advance plus thousands more came right at the opening, in order to visit everything in three days (and if you’re really serious about it, not even a week would suffice to see everything at Cannafest). This year, however, we have a bigger team and we have increased the number of people at the door and at the box office. We also rearranged the entrances to minimize the time it takes to get in. It’s especially important not to make seniors have to wait in line.
What should people be careful of? Is there a pat-down or bag check at the door? What is forbidden to bring in with you?
Cannafest has the same rules as any other cultural event. That means that it is forbidden to take anything illegal in with you, but we are not going to frisk visitors. Any visitor who takes cannabis in with them is taking the risk that any manipulation of cannabis can be met with police punishment. Police presence, both in and out of uniform, is at the event. In the past it was, and we also expect it this year, that open use or manipulation of cannabis will be instantly punished – at least by a fine.
Keeping that in mind, what would you tell visitors?
Everywhere we explain that Cannafest is best visited as an education event. We are not a festival where people get together to get stoned. Our goal is to spread information on what is happening in the cannabis field. It would be a shame to ruin the event by lighting up a joint in the queue before even getting in and having to pay a fine which might reach 5000 CZK (160 euros). It’s usually 500 or 1000 Czech crowns (14 or 30 euros), but even that is not a negligible sum. In short, it’s better to leave your cannabis at home, where you can do what you want with it. Or to leave the trade show and go off somewhere, but certainly not to break the law in plain sight. It’s sad: of course I can imagine a Cannafest that ought to be free and easy, where anyone could consume what they desired, where they could try out different strains, or where we could hold contests for the best harvest specimens. Unfortunately current legislation does not allow us to do that, so the only thing that we can do is to keep up the good fight in various ways in order that the prohibition on cannabis ends as soon as possible.
Is that fight one of the reasons for Cannafest’s existence?
The idea of the trade show is primarily to educate the public and to rehabilitate cannabis in the eyes of the both laypersons and professionals. Our goal is to show that this is about a really useful and versatile plant which can help us and which we ought to learn how to use. And we ought to invest in it. This philosophy is shared by the many cannabis firms which make money in order to support for example research into the use of cannabis in medicine.
Is Cannafest itself connected with any research team of experts, or university? Are you planning to start a foundation which would support specific trends or research aims?
A Cannafest foundation is something I’ve been thinking about for a few years, but we are not there yet in terms of organization. At present the way things work is that we’d like to support anyone who comes up with a worthwhile cannabis project. If we like it, we can provide some financial support or at least make a proposal for it which we can distribute to the partners of Cannafest. The most visible project which we have supported recently is the Medical Cannabis Bike Tour. It’s a charity bike tour across Europe which has been going on for a few years to collect money in the form of sponsorship contributions. The money goes to support research at Complutense University in Madrid on the efficacy of cannabis in fighting cancer.
Where do you see cannabis five years from now? Things are changing all over, not just in the USA….
Attitudes to cannabis are changing rapidly in Canada, where they understand that they can take advantage of the plusses that legalization brings. Legalization will go into effect on October 17th, and once the market is operating smoothly, the USA will see what it is missing out on. There will be a competitive environment between the cannabis sectors in Canada and the USA, from which everyone will profit. Eventually all of Central and South America, where there is much talk at the moment about how legalization of cannabis is the way to go, will get into the act.
What do you think this trend will bring, in addition to medicinal use?
Thanks to legalization, we’ve been able to shrink the size of the black market. Of course it’s not so easy: the criminality connected to the illegal production and sale of cannabis will have a tendency to shift elsewhere, but legalization offers the possibility to conduct business legally and generate tax income, create jobs and improve healthcare. In short, cannabis has benefits in many diverse areas of life. This is undeniable.
And how do you see the situation in the Czech Republic? Recently we marked the fifth anniversary of the legalization of medical cannabis in the country.
When you look at the Czech Republic, it’s rather sad. Those who were against the law on medical cannabis and were pessimistic from the start have been doing everything in their power to make sure the system won’t work, so then they can say: “See, we let you do it, but it failed, because there’s no interest in medical cannabis.” Everyone who is interested in the subject knows well that the problem lies solely on the legislative side – the Czech Institute for Drug Control and other bureaucratic watchdogs which were responsible for starting and developing it. Instead, they started creating every kind of legal hurdle imaginable.
It’s not due to a lack of interest by Czech citizens in cannabis treatment?
No, it’s definitely not because of a lack of interest on the people’s part, but rather what information they are given. Here there is either disinformation, or no information – respectively, an information embargo. Nobody is going to tell someone openly how cannabis helps in treatment, because they are doing it illegally. And because everyone is scared, the entire development is being hampered.
That’s seems to be a shame for the country as a whole.
When the program of medicinal cannabis started in Czechia a few years ago, people were saying that we ought to inform people about trends in the area of its medicinal use. In terms of Europe, everyone could have learned from our experts and the country as a whole could have reaped a huge boon, economic success and even increased prestige on the international level. But instead, we intentionally – or perhaps out of ignorance – sabotaged the whole thing and buried it dead. Today medical cannabis is systematically spreading to surrounding countries, like neighboring Germany, which in a few years will be at the point where we already were first. In the end we will have to learn how to do it from our Western neighbors – and at a higher price – instead of them learning from us.
In general, I’m an optimist, I predict a happy future. We’re seeing how in the past few years world-wide, repressive anti-cannabis laws are being eased, how countries which in the past established and pushed through senseless repression are admitting that the war against cannabis is coming to a close. The most diverse countries are beginning to discuss what form legalization of cannabis should have, and what should be accessible to their citizens. I believe that it will be legal throughout the USA in a few years. Even if this is being somewhat delayed under the Trump administration, the cannabis movement there has advanced so far there that it cannot be stopped. In addition, the individual states which have legalized cannabis – whether for medicinal purposes and/or recreational use – have seen nothing but positive results. They are gradually realizing that legalization is incomparably better and simply brings more benefits to society than the prohibition which has been in place since the 1930s.
Ing. Lukáš Běhal (*1977)
Lukáš has a degree in Economics with a focus on marketing from Silesian University in Opava. He worked for six years at the PVA Expo fairgrounds in Prague-Letňany as the Director of Foreign Relations. In 2010 he put his experience of running large events and his interest in cannabis to good use by organizing the first Cannafest. In addition to that, he also organizes a series of conferences in Prague, Los Angeles, and Montreal under the name EuroAmCBC, the goal of which is to connect traditional European expertise and experience with cannabis to the rapidly developing sector in North, Central and South America. He is single, with two children. For the past five years, he’s been working on projects together with his partner Nikol.
TXT: Robert Veverka
Foto: Tereza Jirásková
Článek najdete v novém magazínu Konopí, který je zaměřen takřka výhradně na konopnou léčbu.
Magazín je jedním z hlavních mediálních partnerů veletrhu Cannafest.