A FEW WEEKS BACK, I got a text.
“I wanted you to know she passed before you saw it online,” it read. The “she” was a well-known artist and patient I had been working with for the last year, whose cancer had finally overcome her. I performed a sad ritual that’s been repeated so often over the past few years that at this point I could do it blindfolded. I lit a candle, closed my tear-filled eyes, and silently recited a passage from the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
When I became a caregiver through the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program nine years ago, it was to help my mom, who has severe insomnia that can become seriously debilitating if not treated. After some trial and error, we found that my recipe for homemade, uber-strong cookies handled the problem perfectly [“How to Make ‘So Damn Strong’ Canna Cookies,” Cannabuzz, Aug 10, 2016].
I had assumed that would be the extent of my career as a caregiver, but it was quite the opposite. First, it was a friend in my mom’s exercise class who had hip replacement surgery, only to find she was deathly allergic to almost every painkiller the doctors provided. She asked if I had any type of cannabis-infused topical that might help. I did, and she raved about the relief it afforded her.
Next came treating the aches and pains for the bands I managed on tour. When I returned home, the requests started coming with a greater frequency and sense of urgency. “My uncle has Parkinson’s...” “My wife has Crohn’s disease...” “My child has a seizure disorder, and I just saw this piece on CNN about a little girl in Colorado with the same thing, she’s being treated with an oil that doesn’t make her high, can you get us some of that?” (I did; shout-out to Green Bodhi’s John Bayes.)
Sometimes the need for relief is complicated by concerns over how the cannabis can impact other areas of a patient’s life. A friend with stage 4 cancer was very interested in Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), which has numerous medical benefits and is purported by Simpson to have cured his cancer. My friend, although a 30-year cannabis user, was deeply worried about the impact a full course of RSO treatment would have upon her remaining days. “I want to see my son one last time, but I don’t want to be so stoned that I can’t enjoy it,” she told me. “And just how effective is it?”
A great question, and one I couldn’t answer—because I’m not a doctor, and no doctor that I know of is doing studies on RSO, or how the powerful sedative effects of the RSO can be mitigated. Remember: cannabis is still a DEA Schedule I drug, which is defined as a drug “with no currently accepted medical treatment use.”
Is RSO effective? I’ve acquired it for two patients with prostate cancer, and they are both cancer-free now. Was it the RSO, the chemo, or a combination? I don’t know. I do know that the child with seizures responded so dramatically to high-CBD oil that his mother called it “nothing short of a miracle. He’s speaking for the first time in months, and is able to go back to school.” When there was an interruption in the supply, he reverted back to his pre-CBD oil state. But as soon as he started it back up, he was once again laughing, talking, and seizure free.
RSO is expensive. It’s possible to spend between $1,500 and $3,500 for a full course of treatment, which is a bargain. I helped a friend in the Bay Area get a course of treatment that ran her $5,500. And three months after the treatment, she still passed.
So I do what I can, working with ill individuals in a trial-and-error method. I feel a tremendous sense of guilt that I can’t offer more concrete answers to the reasonable questions about how cannabis products can impact different patients during a course of treatment, or if RSO will absolutely, positively cure cancer.
Drive-By Truckers have a song called “Puttin’ People on the Moon” that includes these lines: “Mary Alice got cancer just like everybody here/Seems everyone I know is gettin’ cancer every year.”
Sadly, those lines become more and more prophetic as time goes by.