From Derry to a shop in Leith


Posted by in November's Magazine

Every time someone asks me what I do for a living, I face a dilemma, because there is no easy way to describe my work. I am the director of a social enterprise; a not-for-profit business that exists to improve the health and wellbeing of our community by offering the best variety of products and advice that we can. It just so happens that all the products we sell are made from cannabis.

My story starts over 30 years ago. I was born and raised in Northern Ireland in the city of Derry. When I was just a toddler my Dad was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). In case you aren’t aware, MS is a disease of the central nervous system, where immune cells attack the insulation surrounding the cells of the brain. There are lots of symptoms and various treatment options, but there is no cure; over time MS only gets worse. Many MS patients use cannabis to manage their condition, but my dad was very principled and would not have taken any substance without medical oversight.

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Following his diagnosis, my Dad resolved to do everything he could with the gift of life; he went to the gym 4 times a week, and accessed every legal medical intervention available to him to slow the progression of the MS. He worked with vulnerable communities in Derry, including people affected by homelessness, poverty and substance abuse. 

His health was in a constant state of ebb and flow, and over the years he used dozens of prescribed drugs to maintain functionality. Overall he gave it a fair crack of the whip and every time I visit Derry I can see his fingerprints on a range of initiatives in the city that were before their time and still provide benefit today.

In 2016, my dad was rushed to hospital for the last time. His MS had suddenly, and very aggressively flared up leaving him with severe brain damage. Within a few minutes, he had lost the ability to walk, speak and eat. The consultant neurologist said the MRI scans were the worst they’d ever seen. 

The author outside his Great Junction Street shop

The next 2 and a half years were spent in 24hr hospital care. Drifting in and out of consciousness, existing in a dreamlike state. Awake enough to observe his surroundings but thankfully not cognizant enough to realise the severity of his condition. My family had no choice but to watch and to wait, and to patiently love this man from whom so much had been taken. 

It was during this rather exceptional period that I discovered CBD. With my dad laid up in a hospital bed, I found myself in a peculiar predicament; there was nothing I could do to help him and seemingly nothing I could do to ease my own discomfort. The sudden shock of my dad’s situation became a slow, arduous grind for my family. Every day the same; with no indication of when his life and our trial might end.

On a whim I bought a small bottle of hemp tincture. Within a couple of weeks of taking the CBD oil, I noticed my mood brighten…no blinding light on the road to Damascus, rather the flicker of a small candle in the distance. Slowly but surely I continued with the cannabis oil, and the longer I kept going, the more improvement I noticed. Within a month I had started toying with the idea of starting a CBD business. 

It was too late for my father – even the miraculous cannabis plant has limits, the extent of the trauma his brain had suffered was almost total. There was a sliver of himself left, but little anyone could do for him. In August of 2018 he passed away and was buried in a hilltop cemetery overlooking the city that he loved. 

Whenever I visit Derry I can see my father’s fingerprints on a range of initiatives in the city that still provide benefits today

Meanwhile, there are millions of people out in the world who could avail themselves of CBD products, if only they had a place to get them. More importantly, they would need someone to support them through the process. My goal became, and has remained, to afford people the choice and opportunity to try cannabis products from an ethical, local business. To open their eyes to the variety and potential of CBD products sourced from companies we know and trust. If there’d been a Hemp shop in Derry back my dad might still be with us. 

Running Hemp Community Interest Company hasn’t been easy; as a social enterprise AND a cannabis business, we have struggled to access support and funding. My job description routinely raises eyebrows and it can be an uphill struggle to assure people of our intentions and legality. The constant and confusing news reports about cannabis and CBD often muddy the waters rather than clarify and we have to tread the tightrope of giving people the right information without succumbing to the marketing hype that many companies employ. 

Instead, we opt for humility and infinite patience, quietly plying our trade in our shop on Great Junction Street. The advice we give is based on customer questions, science and the experiences of our growing customer base. In a recent survey two thirds of them said they regard the shop as a very important part of their CBD journey and a 100% of them would recommend us to a friend. I like to think we’re doing something right.

Dan Collins

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