Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Does Rick Simpson Oil Cure Cancer?

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For decades we've heard whispers that cannabis has cancer killing properties.  At worst, it doesn't appear to cause lung cancer even in long-term heavy smokers the way tobacco does.  At best, it's been shown to have anti-tumor properties in petri dishes & lab animals.  But the biggest anecdotal reports have come from a man named Rick Simpson, the Canadian who invented Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) and the documentary "Run From the Cure".  In it, he claims his cannabis concentrate cures everything from skin cancer to concussion symptoms to HIV/AIDS.  These claims are backed by glowing anecdotal reports of his clients who use the oil.  These people undoubtedly are 'true believers' in the power of cannabis--I don't begrudge them that one bit.  Ditto for Simpson.

Run From the Cure (2008)
I recently bought my first batch of RSO at a local medical dispensary & am quite impressed with its full-bodied effects.  Unlike most other weed products, it has an opium-like feel that relaxes the body without causing a racing mind or pounding heart (as long as you keep the dose exceedingly low).  It turns my muscles to jelly & eases any pain or tension right out of my bones, making it a perfect nightcap.  I've even reduced my sleep aid intake since trying it.

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Typical sample of RSO
But what of the cancer-curing claims?  Thankfully I've never had this dreaded disease & pray I never do, but if that should occur I would definitely reach for RSO & other cannabis medicines as an adjunct to pharmaceutical therapies like chemo or radiation.  My beef with Rick Simpson the man is that he denounces these scientifically proven treatments on his website, even going so far as to claim that the patients who couldn't be saved by RSO were actually killed by too much chemo/radiation rather than their primary terminal disease.  This is offensive to anyone with two brain cells to rub together.  He also throws around words like "toxins" & "natural" which is a major red flag for quackery.  This is known as the Appeal To Nature fallacy, in which anything that comes from nature is erroneously deemed safe while anything synthetic/man-made is dangerous.  
Yes, radiation & chemotherapy ARE harsh & caustic and can even increase your risk of developing other types of cancer down the road.  This has been known as long as they've been in use.   But they're currently the best treatment we've got (along with immunotherapy, surgery & some emerging treatments like stem-cell therapy).  As scary as the side effects of these treatments are, they pale in comparison the the horror of wasting away from terminal cancer.  However, it's often too late when patients have this revelation.  Bob Marley, Steve Jobs & Andy Kaufman are among the many cancer patients who succumbed to their diseases due to a combination of denial & choosing "alternative medicine" over evidence-based treatments for too long.  Since cancer is a time-sensitive disease, they were too far gone by the time they decided to endure science-based treatments.  

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Fear-selling propaganda of the "alternative" medicine industry

One interesting & possibly unrelated factoid is that Rick Simpson himself developed skin cancer--the basal cell kind which is far less deadly than melanoma--after using his miracle oil for a head injury.  That in no way proves the oil causes cancer but it certainly didn't do much to prevent it in his case.  And therein lies the biggest problem with the whole 'cannabis cures cancer' debate: the only proof of efficacy in humans are anecdotes--i.e. individual stories with no controls to compare them to.  None of them know exactly how much of the active ingredient they're getting per dose, they're often getting oil made from different "strains" with different terpenoid levels, etc.  Plus, there's so much variability in the human body that, just because something kills cancer cells in the lab, that doesn't mean it'll work in vivo.  Hell, soap or a gun kills cancer in a petri dish... won't work so well in the human body.  

Without a placebo controlled group, there's nothing to compare the RSO group to.  Everyone's just going in with a hopeful heart & wishful mind.  That makes for some seriously skewed results even with the best intentions.  There's also the fact that many of these patients have previously had chemo or radiation, which is likely the real reason their disease improved.  And sometimes cancer spontaneously remits.  That's the problem with the lack of controls--there's no way to prove the RSO should be credited for "curing" anything in those who in fact improved.  

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Snake oil cancer cures are as old as the printing press.

To be clear:  I don't begrudge these very sick people the right to use ANYTHING that eases their suffering or might increase the quality (or quantity) of their days, be it cannabis, Dilaudid or crack.  Terminal patients should be allowed to do with their last days what they wish (as we all should, but terminal patients would be a great place to start).  We all have the innate right to pursue a pain-free life & death.  

When it becomes dangerous is when someone without any sort of medical degree or scientific training comes along & fills dying people with false hope based on essentially nothing.  We've seen it with apricot pits ("vitamin B17"), oleander (yes, the extremely poisonous variety), urine-drinking therapy, coffee enemas & countless other quack "cures" guaranteeing to rid the body of cancer while doing no such thing.  Many are useless or outright deadly.  Some kill directly while others do so by letting the disease advance to a metastasized degree where it can't be cured.  RSO would fall into the latter category.  

These treatments prey on the public's (understandable) desire for a cure for one of the most dreaded diseases plaguing humanity.  We all know someone who's died from cancer; wouldn't it be amazing if there was a NATURAL way to cure it?  And wouldn't it make sense that Big Pharma--whose #1 priority is profit--would try to suppress it?  There has been a dearth of cannabis medical research in the last 80 years due to prohibition, so there's a lot of catching up to do in that regard at least.  While weed is a promising adjunct therapy for cancer & other serious disease, there's not currently enough evidence to suggest it as a standalone therapy for these conditions.  Doing so would lead to certain death.  Perhaps when we can surgically open up patients & slather a concentrated form of cannabinoids directly on the tumor it will be considered a legit remedy, but currently not.  

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A common refrain from fraudsters

The question that repeatedly comes up is, "If they're dying anyway, what's the harm in letting them try anything that MIGHT work?"  The harm is that you're feeding a system of quackery with your money, thereby helping fund these fraudsters.  There are stories of dying people being essentially tortured in their last days, spending every last dime of their children's inheritance on the "privilege" of dying without dignity.  Entire families are driven into poverty over this tripe.  And there is no chance for a cure--only additional suffering & bankruptcy.  Americans (and others) need to come to grips with the concept that life is finite & some diseases simply aren't curable.  Doctors focus on prolonging life at any cost even when quality is zero.  That too is a problem.  End of life care is something we should all talk more about before we get to the point of needing it.  Preventative medicine too.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes.  

When a patient is declared terminal, that would be a time when foregoing chemo/radiation or other harsh treatments might be justified.  If there's no hope for a cure, then choosing cannabis or other palliative medicines is an acceptable route.  But not when a cancer is in Stage I or II and typically responds well to proven treatments.  Cancer is not one disease so there will never be one cure for all types.  Even "chemo" isn't a single drug but many different ones.  Anyone who tells you they've got THE cure for "cancer" is selling snake oil.


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Learn to spot bullshit claims like this one.

What we do know based on actual evidence:  cannabis has legit effects on the symptoms of many diseases including cancer & its harsh treatments.  Nausea, wasting, pain, spasticity, insomnia, anxiety & neurological symptoms like epilepsy & migraine to name a few.  It keeps the appetite up, which is vital during chemo which often causes dramatic weight loss.  These things alone are reason enough to suggest it for cancer patients.

But that's a very different thing than claiming cannabis alone CURES CANCER.  Claims like that do more harm than good to the cause and certainly to the individuals who opt out of real treatment that could save their lives.  In some cases, cannabis might actually do a bit of harm.  CBD is a cytochrome P450 inhibitor, meaning it can reduce the effectiveness of some medications also metabolized by this enzyme.  So check with your doctor before supplementing with weed or anything else.  




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