Penn Chan is the British Willy Wonka of weed. Working in and around London, he creates an array of delicious sweets and infuses them with cannabis – perfect for any medicinal users who don't like relieving their pain by inhaling burning plant matter.
His medical edibles – or "medibles" – are on a par with what's being produced in weed-legal states in the US, as any of his 1,600 Facebook fans would probably tell you. Only, it's not like you can just walk into a dispensary and pick up one of his creations; because actual time and money is still being spent on enforcing the UK's primitive cannabis laws, Penn has to ensure that he only helps those he knows and trusts.
He also, for obvious reasons, can't go by his real name; "Penn Chan" is a character in Japanese mythology who appeared to be high all the time, which seemed kind of fitting.
I met up with Penn recently to find out more about him and his confectionary.
10 mg indica OG Kush chocolate drops, used for insomnia and sciatica.
VICE: Hi Penn. Can you take me through what you do?
Penn Chan: I make medicated cannabis treats for people with ailments, helping people sleep or relax, or for recreational purposes. I'm not a chocolatier or a chef in any way, but I really enjoy creating medibles. It began about six years ago, when I started to help my mum with her sciatic pain; I made some chocolates for her, and that was that: I was on my way.
You medicated your mum?
Yeah. I remember when I was 17 and my friend turned up with some purple buds. I found two seeds, which I planted, and my mum found this little cress growing in a 35mm film case on my window sill. She went ape-shit and kicked me out the house. Fast forward 15 years and she was on loads of painkillers for her condition – all these horrible things that were messing her up. They turned her into a vegetable. She was always really anti-cannabis, but she's kind of come to accept it more over the last ten years because I've been using it for so long. She's come to see that I haven't lost my job, I'm employed, I'm married and have a family – a complete functioning member of society.
Anyways, I made her some cannabis-infused chocolate to have before she went to bed. Now she's only on one medication; before, she was on 12, and she's on about an eighth of the dose of painkillers from the beginning.
Did you have any contacts in the UK's medicinal cannabis activism scene when you started making your sweets?
Not really – I've always been a bit of a lone wolf. Because of the nature of what I do, I like to keep to myself. And because of the current laws in the UK, I can't operate here, even though I don't sell any of the sweets I make.
Because the sweets contain THC?
Yeah. It can be cannabis or any of its derivatives that are illegal, and THC falls into that category.
What kind of clients do you have? And how does someone go about getting meds from you?
Firstly, I wouldn't call them clients, as I don't make meds to make money. I also wouldn't really say they were patients, either. I'd say they were friends I know on a first person basis and have been introduced to, or acquaintances. It always has to be on a first person basis, just for my own safety.
Yeah, it's not like you can just put your name out there.
That'd be suicide, especially in our community – I'd be bombarded by everyone who wants to try it, and I don't have the resources or the materials to do that.
What kind of help do you provide, specifically?
I've helped people from all walks of life with all sorts of conditions. A lot of my patients are friends with my mum, then there are my older relatives and acquaintances, because they suffer from a lot of age-related aches, pains and illnesses. I've also helped people who suffer from motor neurone disease and MS; there are three people with MS who I help regularly. There's a multitude of different things that my sweets and cannabis can be useful for.
Do different sweets help with different things? Say, if someone suffered from aches, you wouldn't give them the same thing you'd give to someone with insomnia?
Certainly. Everybody will have personal preference. With some people I try three or four different strains or combinations and it won't have any benefit at all, but suddenly we hit one on the head. It's trial and error with a lot of people. I can try to guide them when I hear what their ailment is, to a certain point, but you have to play and tinker with it a little bit.
There's a chap who has a nerve problem that I've been trying to help for about a year and a half. He hates the feeling of being stoned; it makes him very paranoid. I'm trying a high CBD [cannabidiol, a substance in cannabis singled out for its medical properties] dosage at the moment, but it's not working – he finds it's too much of a psychological experience for him.
I guess you have to be careful with the dosage.
Yeah, you have to be very careful with dosing; people often have negative experience when they first try it. They eat too much, or they're greedy. They'll eat a piece of cake or a piece of fudge and say, "Oh, that tastes beautiful!" and go and smash another four pieces, then it's game over.
I like to keep the dosage fairly low so people can medicate without having a big psychedelic experience.
One of Penn's instructional videos
How do you keep your "dispensary" viable if you're not being paid for anything?
I have people who grow cannabis and will give me their trim, oil or hash. And I will then use that in my recipes and they can have some tasty treats in return.
What types of sweets can you produce?
My first foray into making sweets was medicated chocolate, because it's just so simple. Then it went from chocolate to different fudges, toffee, boiled sweets – imagine: pear drops, rhubarb and custard, cola cubes, pineapple chunks. There's the toffee, which is a bit like a Werther's Original. There's also stuff like medicated cinder toffee covered in medicated chocolate, which is like a Crunchie bar.
That's quite a selection.
Yeah, there's a massive range and I'm still building. At the moment I'm just playing with everything, trying to figure out how things are made; a lot of it requires industrial equipment.
Do the doses vary depending on the sweet?
That's the thing I'm trying to figure out, looking at what's going in Colorado, as they're kind pioneering this new way of thinking. They're saying that chocolate doses should be about 10 to 20 milligrams for a whole bar of chocolate, and the same for different edibles. So if people are looking to have a pick'n'mix experience, everything should be around 10-20 ml, meaning you can have a piece of chocolate, or jelly, or fudge while being able to gauge the dosage.
When you say 10 ml, how would that compare to smoking a joint?
It's always different. The up and down with smoking is relatively quick, but with an edible it's going to keep you happy for about four to eight hours. At a guess, I'd imagine that 10 milligrams would be like three big hits on a "big" joint. That's the high you'd get, but it will last about five hours.
What's the demand like in the UK for your edibles?
I get dozens of messages from different people every day. There are people who obviously have a lot of medical issues, who I really wish I could help but just can't because of the supply and demand thing, plus the legal side of things. It's kind of hard to separate the people who are trying to just use my candy to have a fun time and those who really need it medicinally, which is why it has to be on a first person basis with me.
Have you ever had any trouble with the law?
No. The only troubles I've had are with people I've medicated who haven't taken my advice and have ended up sleeping for 14 hours straight, waking up and destroying the fridge – demolishing everything in there. I've been a cannabis user for 25 years and I've not had any trouble with the law. I've never sold anything; I've always given edibles away.
Finally, what are your three favourite products?
For me, personally, sea salt and chocolate ganache. Everybody who tries those instantly thinks they're amazing. I've even done a wedding reception before with those; 50 medicated, 50 unmedicated – they went down a storm. They're probably number one, plus they look quite glam, like the petit fours you'd get after a posh meal.
Cheers, Penn – keep up the good work.
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