Rebellion against the System - Interview with Tuomas Karhunen Part III
In the past weeks, we covered Tuomas Karhunen's musician life, how his his ayahuasca experiences changed things up and his journey towards MMA. Today, it is time to dig deep into another major part of his life in his role as a medical cannabis advocate and, to go along with that, rebellion against the system.
The Metal Phenomenon: It seems that you are facing fears and different obstacles basically on all fronts of your life, going towards a new version of you and probably one of the most challenging and time-consuming things has been you becoming a medical cannabis advocate. How did that come about?
Tuomas Karhunen: It started all of a sudden in November 2015. I was in Kuopio and I read the local newspaper [Ed. Savon Sanomat, the 6th largest newspaper in Finland], which I usually never do, I don’t follow the news that much. In that newspaper I read a whole bunch of bullshit articles about cannabis, I mean extremely biased propaganda, and it was a shock. Until then I had no real knowledge about cannabis or interest to talk about cannabis, I was just a recreational user. I wasn’t interested in legalisation, I knew almost nothing about medicinal use or anything like that.
But that horseshit in that single newspaper changed all that.
I was writing a blog for the same newspaper regarding me starting this MMA thing in Kuopio – ‘a local rock musician is going to try cage fighting,’ you know? So I used that blog, meaning their own blog platform, to criticise them and point out each error in those articles. It was a 5,000 word blog post that went viral. And then they censored my blog.
Then I published it on my own homepage and it got like 40,000 views in a couple of days. I had thought that the entire cannabis situation and attitudes towards it in Finland were better, but I realised that this is really archaic, we’re still in the 1960s. So much wrong information and bullshit in the media.
I felt this momentum, meaning the viral momentum of that writing. I am not sure why exactly, but I decided to keep that forward momentum going and see how far the ball will roll, and it is still growing bigger and bigger to this day, over two years later.
My writings became a small movement and then evolved into a Finnish cannabis news site, a Finnish cannabis podcast, and now it has expanded into a patient organization as well. I’ve been having small first appearances on mainstream Finnish media regarding the patient organization.
It’s funny how things turn out, but like you said earlier, after these Ayahuasca sessions I’ve been consciously creating my new job only around things I love to do: writing about different things and in different forms, like a novel and short story and another kind of a non-fictional book. Also, the cannabis work includes a lot of writing – and way too much coding, by the way – then there’s writing about that MMA training. Writing just became a part of my new life, my new job as the head of my own company.
But it was definitely nothing planned, it was just a part of the rebellion against the whole system. So the cannabis work for me, although I get a lot of feedback saying that I’m helping people out, I do that partly because of selfish reasons. I noticed that I can actually bring something to the table and make some kind of a difference in this country; because this is a relatively small country. So a part of the juice for me is the fact that I make a living supporting illegal stuff, openly breaking the law and the status quo and rebelling against this corrupt system.
Ultimately this “one man’s war against the system”, this Nietzschean antinomianism, if you will, is the initial spark – manifesting from the symbolic and artistic realm into the mundane world. It just so happens that this is also for a so-called “good cause.”
Backstage at Helsinki Hemp & Herb Exhibition 2017, where Tuomas was the host / narrator. (Photo by Irin Taras)
TMP: Do you think that war can be won?
T: Hmm (pauses), that’s a war that goes on many levels. The battle for cannabis can and will be won but it’s going to be interesting to see how soon that happens.
The war against the status quo is different; it doesn’t matter if it can be won. All that matters is to put up a good fight.
TMP: Regarding the cannabis activism, probably at some point you need allies, you can’t do everything yourself.
T: Yes, the entire concept has expanded so much that I cannot keep up with it. I’ve been networking a lot abroad and in Finland, and it is going to get really interesting. I’m going to start distributing CBD, this non-psychoactive, medicinal ingredient of the cannabis plant which is being used a lot by MMA fighters in the States, and also by other athletes. Even WADA (World Anti-Doping Association) allows it. Regular people, and people with different kinds of illnesses use CBD all over the world as a supplement with a lot of health benefits.
Finland is basically the only place in the European Union where it’s not sold anywhere and it’s kind of banned. The Finnish authorities classify CBD as a pharmaceutical drug, and the reason is just to keep it behind locked doors. So, I am defying that and saying, “Fuck you!” and start selling and distributing it here. If I need to, I’ll bring it here from abroad with a freaking truck. Let’s see what the authorities will think about that.
TMP: Can you tell how the concrete work looks like because on one of your channels you mentioned e.g. helping families with sick kids but you also give interviews, raise awareness....
T: There is all kinds of stuff: writing, translating English cannabis news from to Finnish and publishing them, coding and developing stuff with a programmer for the online community but also interviews. This week I did an interview for a cannabis book, last year I was on mainstream TV and national radio.
It’s also a lot of coordination. With the patient organisation I get contacted by parents of severely sick small children a lot and also by the close ones of some terminally ill cancer patients. I feel there’s a lot of responsibility and I have to be really careful that I don’t start pretending to be a doctor or anything like that So I try to limit my role into just providing information and consultation from specialists from abroad, like neurologists and so forth.
One of our aims is to provide ways or treatments that are not even used or considered here for the wrong reasons, but which are being used elsewhere. Through civil disobedience. These are some pretty hardcore topics, and I don’t have the education for this kind of stuff, I just began to receive more and more messages from patients and their families.
We now have a closed peer support group that has about 2,000 members, most of them patients and it is hardcore stuff – people dealing with chronic pain, considering whether to commit suicide or not every day, because of the unbearable pain. Parents of severely ill small children. And if they try to treat their illnesses or their children they are considered criminals, so it is pretty fucked up.
Spending your days around these topics can be mentally very dark. And that’s something I just realized after I began doing this, and it’s essential that you take care of your own well-being as well. If you just dwell and dwell on these topics, this human suffering and illnesses, juridical murder. It deals with very heavy topics and it can be surprisingly dark. And not having the experience, not having the education and not having colleagues in that sense to talk about those things, like educated health care professionals do, it’s kind of an odd job, an odd place.
The abyss indeed stares back at you, if you look into it for too long.
Tuomas Karhunen (Photo by Maija Lahtinen Photography)
TMP: I was just about to ask; how do you deal with this emotional toll?
T: You kind of learn – not that you don’t care, but you develop this kind of wall that you don’t think about it too much. That when you’re talking with a mother about the condition of her small girl who is in the ER because of seizures, you do not go down that rabbit hole thinking about it emotionally.
You kind of just try to focus on the work and keeping it non-personal. You kind of develop this switch, almost like an autopilot, not exactly but I guess I’ve learnt from doing it. But it was a surprise and I had to react – first going in too personal and emotional and then noticing this really eats on your energy and your well-being. My time is already very limited and there is so much work, so many messages, that I’m personally in contact with only a couple of families at a time.
TMP: Do you think that despite the wall you put up, these dark emotions find an outlet in the fire for extreme metal or MMA?
T: The music stuff has in the past been a way to rebel against everything. But I guess for me that’s not enough anymore to just sing about rebellion, or play aggressive music. I feel that it is purer now, that all things fall into their place.
The majority of metal musicians are perfectly normal people, having their job and daily life being actually very conservative and not rebellious in their actual personal life at all. They have a day job and they do as their told, they can have very conservative views. But then on stage and in the lyrics, it is something totally different. And for me, the older I get the more of this rebellion comes out of this need, or out of the disgust with the system. So at least now I guess I have new ways to actually rebel on a societal level with openly being on the radio, in different media saying that “Yeah, I’ll break the law. What the fuck are you going to do?” The music for me is more of an artistic outlet for that.
Of course it’s therapeutic, it feels good to let off steam playing aggressive music. But rebellion with metal music in that context is more metaphorical and it dwells on these esoteric themes. It’s like a spiritual rebellion, when I practise actual rebellion in actual life, I do that for a living now.
One form of releasing that aggression is also the interest towards cage fighting. I guess there is a lot of anger since I need so many outlets (laughs). I had to make it so that everything that I do serves a purpose for me and is somehow in relation to these views. So, I see all these things going hand in hand, this MMA and metal music and cannabis stuff. For other people it might look like a big contrast and, in a way, there of course is, they are at least in Finland very polarizing topics… Satan worshiping music, bloody cage fighting and illegal drugs.
So there is a lot of hate mail coming as well. Also some criticism within the Finnish music scene, I see that cannabis is still such a taboo in there as well. I think it’s not such a taboo in the States or even in other parts of Europe. But here I have noticed that some people take it very negatively. In Finland, cannabis is a very controversial topic and it raises a lot of emotions.
Clip from an interview with CITY Magazine on Tuomas' work as a cannabis advocate (in Finnish; CITY is an innovative, urban and liberal magazine with a strong online presence including discussion forums. The print version is available for free in Finland's major cities.)
TMP: Why do you think others in the metal scene, as you mentioned, do not feel the need to have rebellion in every aspect of their life like you do?
T: I don’t think about it too much, but sometimes I wonder about that. First of all, I’m not that concerned about what others do, and I’m not criticizing others. Everybody can do what they want, but I feel that it’s the good old herd mentality, as a lot of people in the metal scene are the same kind of sheep as in any other subculture.
It’s also kind of a safe choice to become a metalhead nowadays, there’s not that kind of violent underground atmosphere that much anymore as there used to be. In Finland metal music is a thing for the whole family now. And also, if you’re not following the rules of that cultural subgroup, then you become an odd character there and people are afraid of people that do things differently.
For me one conscious goal is to man up, become a man instead of being a boy and a part of that is to learn how to deal with power. Like Plato says, the measure of a man is what he does with power. For example, I cannot think of something more necessary than helping children, I think every man should consider that important.
Maybe there’s a different concept of what a man is. Nowadays it seems that (young) men do not have role models, values anymore. I’m very disgusted by what I see: men are being these kind of internet trolls, anonymous haters and just being sarcastic without putting themselves on the line at all. Just being negative, criticizing others.
If your only way to survive among other men is to make the most ironic, negative and cynical remarks about everything and everyone, never giving anything from yourself, I find that really weak.
TMP: Why do you think that is?
T: Insecurity and fear. Not knowing yourself. Not having role models, I guess. Today’s society is changing so fast, and this technology is going forward so fast, but socially we’re developing so much slower. I think it’s a negative side effect of social media as well. So it’s a sum of many reasons, I think.