Originally published on The Georgia Straight.
With his long hair, bandana, and unrelenting desire to talk about cannabis, those familiar with the Alan Park of his Royal Canadian Air Farce days might not recognize the comedian today.
Park, whose Air Farce highlight reel includes impersonations of Clint Eastwood, Barack Obama, Stephane Dion, and, my personal favourite—the salesman from the Slap Chop commercial—answers with an unequivocal “yes” when I ask him if cannabis saved his life.
These days, he eschews imitation for poignant skewering of politicians and their not-so-hot takes on cannabis on his podcast, Green Crush with Alan Park. His prowess as a satirist is funneled into the weekly 60-minute show, which he uses to share his cancer survival story and bust myths about the plant that put him in remission.
Over the phone from his home in Toronto, Park told the Straight that while he was a cast member in the hit CBC series, cannabis wasn’t something he used regularly. “I partook in a post-season wrap party joint, perhaps,” he said, “but it wasn’t something I was doing very much.”
In the years following the finale of the show’s regular run in 2008, Park did standup and played in a few TV roles, trying to build a profile outside of Air Farce’s purview.
When he pulled a rib at the gym at the end of January 2013, he thought nothing of it, but after almost two months of nagging pain, a series of (blood and urine) tests, revealed nothing. By late November, a trip to the emergency room revealed that the discomfort in Park’s ribcage was actually symptomatic of something much worse: At just 51 years old, Park was diagnosed with Stage Four prostate cancer.
Doctors advised that he undergo treatment to suppress the manufacture of testosterone, which fueled the cancer in his prostate, before he was scheduled to see a specialist.
After his diagnosis, Park recalled a conversation he’d had earlier that year with a friend about cancer and medical cannabis. He searched the internet for possible cannabis treatments for his cancer and learned about Rick Simpson, a former engineer-turned cannabis extractor who was able to clear up his basal cell carcinoma skin cancer with the topical treatment of cannabis oil in 2003.
Since then, Simpson has developed a somewhat controversial regimen for patients to create their own high-potency cannabis oil, dubbed Rick Simpson Oil, or simply RSO. Simpson is notorious among health experts for his claim that cannabis “cures” cancer, and while no studies have been conducted on his method of treatment, anecdotal evidence from patients and survivors who have used his and other similar methods to get rid of both internal and external cancers can be found in great numbers. Doctors and scientists aren’t keen to support his claims for obvious reasons.
In 2013, cannabis products, especially oils, weren’t as readily available in Toronto as they are now, so Park took it upon himself to create his own. The process, which requires a pound of dried flower to make 60 grams of oil, isn’t a simple one.
“It really was this big operation, but my feeling was, ‘I need to get this done so that I can live’.”
He began taking the oil daily, not informing his doctor that he had undertaken an alternative course of treatment and hoping that his upcoming appointment with a prostate specialist might lead to other options for more conventional medicine.
Five weeks after his initial diagnosis, the specialist uttered the words Park hoped he wouldn’t hear.
“I was ‘too far gone for chemotherapy, too far gone for surgery, and too far gone for radiation,’ as stated by the prostate specialist,” he said.
At this point, he’d been using the oil for over a month, and noticed that he was in less pain than when he had been diagnosed.
“The specialist told me I didn’t have any options, but I had already experienced an incredible markup in my quality of life,” he remembered.
“I asked specifically: ‘Are you seriously telling me there are no other options that I could use?’ I just knew that to be wrong.”
For five months, he kept the treatment from his doctor.
“I knew I was onto something,” he says, “but to be honest, I didn’t think he was going to be okay with it.”
He finally came clean about the wildcard at play when his doctor admitted he was surprised by how well Park was responding to what the doctor thought was a simple testosterone treatment.
“His response to the cannabis? ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea. I would recommend against that.’”
Frustrated that he was being advised against something that seemed to be improving his health, Park spent hours combing through studies dating back to the 1970’s on the relationship between cannabis and cancer. He shared it with his new specialist, who has since warmed to Park’s alternative treatment.
Four years after his diagnosis, Park is cancer-free. His last quarterly check-up revealed “perfect” markers on every test, he said. (He made his own oil for the first few rounds of treatment and now accesses it through an extractor.)
“When it started working, I realized that it wasn’t even an option to keep this a secret,” he said.
He shared his story with friends and family, and it didn’t take long before he was being bombarded with messages and requests to share on a broader platform.
When those requests started to demand a lot of time and energy, he thought a podcast about his experience might be the answer. Park began with the intention of focusing on cancer, but eventually branched out to discuss other issues related to cannabis.
“I need to come up with some kind of name, and I didn’t want to use the words ‘cannabis’ and ‘cancer’ in the title, so that’s how Green Crush came to be,” he says.
“Green is the cannabis, and crush is what it does to cancer.”
Park’s “life-or-death” interest in cannabis has made him passionate about the way it’s being legalized.
In his mind, legislation proposed both federally and provincially “flies in the face of what you really should be able to do with this plant,” especially in light of Ontario’s recent announcement, he said.
“Are we really going to do this again? Put people in prison for having 31 grams of cannabis instead of 30? I say that we don’t.”
Park will continue to put his skills on the mic to use until Canada sees legislation that considers the benefits of cannabis, he said, from a broader prospective.
“I know this works so I really can’t tolerate and sit quietly by,” he said.
“I was refused all three doors and I found another door, and I want to show people there is one more—that you can get to this other place, and it’s not dead.”