On July 6th 2021, our close friend, colleague, and world-renowned addictologist Tomáš Zábranský left us. This text, written by his friend and well-known cannabis activist Jindřich Bayer, is dedicated to him. It asks the question, how did it all start? What was the context for Tomas’ decision to contribute to reforming drug policy on a global level?
Written and translated by Jindřich Bayer
I met Tom during my studies at Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic, at the beginning of the 1990s. Probably via music or English, and most likely somewhere around the Student Centre bar. He used to use me there as an interpreter for his lengthy debates with our main “bearers of truth” about the Western world at that time: English and American lecturers. He usually started arguing with them and when his English started to fail him, he found me at the bar or took my guitar from my hands. So, instead of singing with the intention of impressing the girls around, I would interpret wild discussions about topics which I knew nothing about then, including politics, which was one his main hobbies.
I used to play in the Ponorka Band, and Tom had his Saymore Q band. They used to rehearse in the basement of their violin player Roman Cerman, not far from where I used to live, so I went there every now and then. I still love to think of that smoke-filled hole lined with egg cartons. We used to play cover songs then, whilst they played relatively progressive music laced with influences from the British scene, which Tom used to like a lot.
I remember their first gig. It took place in the U-klub in Olomouc. Tom had such severe stage fright that he played the whole gig with his back towards the audience. He simply stood by his guitar combo and watched it for an hour. I thought it was some new form of stage presentation, but he was simply too scared to turn around.
As guitar players and good friends, of course we used to tease one another quite a bit. Constructively, in good terms, sometimes slightly over the top, but in good nature. I first went to the US for a one-year student exchange stay, then he did the same. There he improved his English, so I no longer had to interpret for him at the pub. Then we moved it up one level. When he started being interested in drug policy and set off to create a “scientifically based” form of it, I explained to him as an English major that he will need a translator and interpreter who knows at least something about this field of science. That resulted in many years of collaboration. We had to create many new terms, as Czech terminology for many expressions and concepts simply didn’t exist. It was a lot of work, but someone had to do it.
The PAD (Impact Analysis Project of New Drugs Legislation in the Czech Republic) and the Phare Twinning Project 2000 were probably the most noteworthy of all the work we did together. I also used to translate for Tom within the framework of the National Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addictions. The work was rather adventurous and quite demanding. He usually delivered the texts late and wanted them back sooner than agreed.
Around the year 2000 we translated a book: Myths and Facts About Marijuana by Lynn Zimmer and John P. Morgana. Well, “translated” meant that I supplied a rough draft and then he dryly rewrote it all. He was better than I at translating to Czech, I will give him that. I naively thought that info from that book would be sufficient to change the laws around cannabis. However, that didn’t happen.
Cannabis Extract and Its Potential
After about ten years of translating, I burned out and entered the world of cannabis cosmetics business. The goal of the so-called Bayer plan was to create at least five competing companies that would produce cosmetics which would serve as an ice-breaker for older generations. Because if the elders apply the cosmetics on their knees and their knees stop hurting, they will most likely not be so anti-cannabis. They will most likely let their children or grandchildren grow a few plants in their garden, etc.
Then came our biggest stunt. To promote the Bayer & Romsy company, we invited a then almost completely unknown Rick Simpson to the Czech Republic and did a tour with him, in order to in-crease his credibility and to attract attention to cannabis extracts as a treatment for cancer. It was quite personal for me because my Mom died of lung cancer in 1999. Even back then we made cannabis oil for her and I wanted her to eat it. But, as there was not enough “scientific proof” available, Mom left after six months of totally unnecessary rounds of chemo and radiation. That wasn’t good.
Simpson then stayed with us in the Czech Republic because the police had raided his house in Canada for the third time, and he would go to jail if he went back. That started one of the biggest adventures of our lives. I started functioning as Rick’s “right hand” and took care of communication with patients and the public. We couldn’t manage to get him into mainstream media, so after initial hesitations I started a social media campaign for Phoenix Tears, later RSO, today JBO. This was rather courageous and bold at that time, I’d say.
Tomáš promised to bring me oranges to jail if needed. In return I kept informing him about our successes, and about those dozens, later hundreds, and then thousands of successful cases of treatment of cancer and other illnesses with cannabis extracts. To avoid all those e-mail dog fights between us, I started posting what I would e-mail him on Facebook, and he replied to me quite often.
Science And Life
As a doctor, of course he kept babbling about how “scientifically irrelevant” such “anecdotes” are, and that nothing is going to move forward and nobody is going to pay attention to it unless studies are conducted. I usually responded with irritated sizzling, which he maliciously enjoyed. Then I just resorted to telling him that if he wants studies, he will have to conduct them himself, which he didn’t like all that much either. Maybe that was partly why the ICCI (International Cannabis and Canna-binoids Institute) was founded with Tom’s great contribution.
In 2015, Tom invited me to the Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Politics, Science and Medical Practice conference in Prague. Coincidentally I had the “last word” there (we were the last part of the program). So I told my fairy tale about what we managed to cure or solve with the use of cannabis extracts, and I added several notes on how illogical the unavailability of cancer prevention and cure is. Tomáš kept marching around the room during my talk, and I saw he was close to wrapping his head in his hands and running away. Or possibly that he would kill me on the spot. But he took it bravely and managed to stay in the room. Then he closed the conference, thanked everyone for their participation, and the world kept turning around.
It was really quite difficult back then with those cannabis extracts. Judging by what we know now, they work much better than any of us was able to imagine. Of course they are not an elixir of im-mortality nor a cure-all, but they often can do things that make you wonder.
End of Medieval Times
After that we didn’t see each other that often, but we stayed in touch. I kept supplying him with stories from the back stage of cannabis oil treatments and with my revolutionary outcries. He usually didn’t respond to them much, and kept going on his “scientific” line. We maintained respectful distance, honoured one another, but we did continue teasing each other. And as the number of those “anecdotes” kept increasing, he somehow slightly started running out of ammunition. But of course he kept singing his song about the need for official studies, that’s simply how it is.
Tom started and, more importantly, finished many projects. His efficiency and performance was admirable, if there is anything to admire about workaholism. But he did an awful lot, and without him the current Czech and European drug policy would most likely continue to be rather medieval. I guess I don’t need to write about how many people his work and support saved.
There aren’t many dudes who managed to change the world. But Tom certainly was one of them. He was the man. And actually still is. Because his work, for instance in the field of cannabis therapy, has and will have an impact on the quality of life of each of us.
So, Tom, please know that JBO (a term first used in the media by you) is partly TZO, too. And that it wouldn’t happen without you.
Thanks for everything.
Originally published in Czech Magazine Konopi
Photo: Tereza Jirásková
Tomáš Zábranský (April 5, 1969 – July 6, 2021)
In 1999–2001 he participated in the creation of the drug information system in the Czech republic, and helped found the National Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addictions. He lead the PAD study which verified impacts on new drugs legislation in the Czech Republic after 1998, which then result-ed in recodification of drug-related crimes in the new Penal Code from 2009. In 2005 he helped establish addictology as a new scientific discipline, and helped found the Addictology Clinic at the 1st Medical Faculty of Charles University and General Teaching Hospital in Prague (originally the Ad-dictology Centre). He also used to teach there. He managed the ResAd research and counselling company. He worked as an expert in many countries, where he participated in introducing systems for monitoring the drug situation and changes in drug policies. He was especially active in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (projects BUMAD, SCAD, CADAP). He collaborated with UN agencies. In Europe he mainly worked with the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, and after nomination by the European Parliament in 2016 he became a member of the EMCDDA Management Board.