Rick Simpson Oil: breaking down Cannabis 101 for the layman
Ten years ago, if you had heard the word cannabis, you may have had a preconceived notion in your head who might be using this crazy plant. Maybe the vivid picture in your head was of Cheech and Chong in a cloud of smoke hanging out with Willie Nelson passing the symbolic joint around.
However, in today’s society, cannabis has lost a lot of the stigma surrounding it for decades. When you hear that same word, cannabis, you may think of CBD; maybe even medical marijuana crosses your mind. CBD is legalized nationwide, and the use of medicinal marijuana is not far behind. The marijuana industry is currently taking the world by storm, and we have more information available to us than there ever was.
Cannabis has been used in traditional eastern medicine for almost 5000 years. It is regaining its popularity in natural medicine mainly because of advocates toting the medical benefits, and current research is promising. Cannabis might also have a place and be a piece of the puzzle in the fight against cancer. We will break everything down from the lingo, Rick Simpson Oil, to what the science is currently saying.
Cannabis 101: CBD, THC, and Hemp
Hemp, THC, CBD, strains, and hybrids are enough verbiage to make any sane person's head spin. We have you covered and will give you the 101 on the basics.
The cannabis plant comes from the genus Cannabis. All living things fall under taxonomy, which is made up of; kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species. Got it? Good (if not keep reading, it will make sense later).
Three species make up the cannabis plant: 
- Indica (known for full-body effects including increasing deep relaxation)
- Sativa (known for its energizing effects)
The species Indica and Sativa, along with their hybrids (crossbreeds of both species), make up the typical products you will see for medicinal and recreational uses. Some popular hybrids include Pineapple Express, Kandy Kush, and Blue Dream.
The species Ruderalis is the weed of the weed family. It is a ruderal species, which means you would typically see in the wild and is naturally low in cannabinoids. 
Now you’re probably thinking, “Ok, so what is a cannabinoid?” Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant that act on the endocannabinoid receptors throughout your body.
Two of the most known cannabinoids are Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the cannabinoid that is the main psychoactive component in marijuana that gets people “high,” and CBD does not. So far, experts have found 113 different cannabinoids within the cannabis plant, which each cannabinoid having a different effect.
Your endocannabinoid system (ESC) hosts your endocannabinoid receptors and is very complicated. Experts think the endocannabinoid system is believed to be the main component of keeping your body in homeostasis and is linked to the following functions: [2-3]
- appetite and digestion
- chronic pain
- inflammation and other immune system responses
- learning and memory
- motor control
- cardiovascular system function
- muscle formation
- bone remodeling and growth
- liver function
- reproductive system function
- skin and nerve function
Your body possesses an endocannabinoid system even if you do not use cannabis.
CBD oil vs. Hemp oil
Hemp oil and CBD oil are, in fact, not the same, it's like comparing apples to oranges. Why does that matter? If you have cancer or are looking to take CBD oil for medicinal uses and you happen to search for hemp, you may find some very outdated information or possibly the wrong products. There are hundreds of old articles that refer to CBD oil as hemp oil. This is because of the lack of education in the past.
In 2018 The Farm Bill passed legalizing CBD; hemp, however, has been used in everyday products for decades. With both products being closely related, they are regularly compared side by side, and it’s no wonder they are often confused. Both hemp oil and CBD oil come from the cannabis plant, and both come from the same species (Indica). However, they come from different strains. Hemp plants are naturally low in cannabinoids with 0.3% or lower THC and 3.5% or lower CBD.
However, CBD oil can have a wide range of cannabinoids with THC content varying and as much as 20% CBD content. Hemp oil is also produced from the hemp seeds, while CBD oil is produced from the flower. 
The everyday uses for hemp and CBD are also drastically different. People typically use CBD oil for its medicinal purposes because of the active cannabinoids that it possesses (CBD and THC). Hemp oil is often used as a food product like olive oil or coconut oil and is high in vitamins and minerals. It is also used for industrial purposes and can be found in shampoos, soaps, lotions, fuel, paint, and plastics. 
Rick Simpson Oil
If you have ever looked into cannabis for medicinal purposes, chances are you may have heard of Rick Simpson Oil or RSO for short.
Rick Simpson is a Canadian marijuana activist and engineer. In 1977 while working in a hospital broiler room, he fell off his ladder and hit his head. He lost consciousness, and when he woke up, his coworkers took him to the ER. This accident caused him years of dizzy spells and ringing in his ears. His doctors had prescribed him various medications, none of which help his symptoms, with some only making them worse.
He had later stumbled upon a documentary highlighting the different benefits of medical cannabis and decided to give it a try. He first approached his doctor to get a prescription, which was prompted with a hard “No.” Only then, he decided to source it on his own and saw a significant improvement to his ailments, which he claimed had dissipated. 
Then in 2003, Rick was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer. He did some research and found a published study from 1975 that tested mice with adenocarcinomaCancer that begins in glandular (secretory) cells. Most cancers of the breast, pancreas, lung, prostate, and colon are adenocarcinomas. (lung cancer) and the effects that THC had on cancer. The study resulted in a tumor reduction after a 20-day oral administration of THC. 
That is when Simpson created the cannabis oil concentrate, now known as Rick Simpson Oil, and started applying it to his cancerous spots topically. He claims that after only four days of topical use, the cancerous spots had gone away.
Simpson states on his website that he does not sell RSO because of complications with legality issues and recommends users make their own.  The main component that makes the RSO different from other cannabis oils is that it contains a higher level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than other medical cannabis extracts. According to Simpson, to make the oil correctly, you have to use cannabis from the Cannabis Indica strains, to produce a more sedative and relaxed state that helps the body heal.
RSO advocates also claim it can help treat cancer and treat other conditions such as:
- multiple sclerosis
- high blood pressure
- drug addiction
Cancer and cannabis: What does current research say?
While there is a lack of research on Rick Simpson Oil, there are plenty of preclinical studies (test tube and animal) that have been done on cannabinoids. There is still a lack and a need for clinical studies, but with the mild and temporary side effects of THC, and the legal and social complications, it is hard to use in a medical setting.
An increasing amount of preclinical studies show that THC and other cannabinoids inhibit the proliferation and growth of cancerous cells. In vitroThis means "outside the body" – or in the laboratory. and in vivoThis means "in the body." animal studies have shown a selective anti-cancer activity in a wide range of cancer cell lines including, leukemia, lymphoma, prostate, breast, cervical, colon, and brain cancers. 
Alas, there are always contradicting studies; in 2004, a test-tube study showed cannabinoids accelerated cancerous growth in glioblastoma and lung carcinoma. 
With cancer, some patients experience debilitating side effects, including pain, nausea, loss of appetite, cachexiaWeakness and wasting of the body due to severe chronic illness, also known as Wasting Syndrome, is a sign of diseases, such as advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), AIDS, cancer, or heart failure., and unfortunately, there can be a laundry list of other possible other cancer-related symptoms. Symptoms could be from cancer itself or side effects from prescription drugs and other therapies.
According to research, between 50%-80% of cancer patients have some form of cachexia and is responsible for 25% of cancer-related deaths.  Many times, cachexia is undertreated and undiagnosed. Cachexia symptoms can include weight loss, lack of appetite, muscle loss, decreased strength, and fatigue.
Research shows that cannabis has the potential to improve body weight, body fat, improve appetite, and mood.  More specific clinical research needs to be done, but it may be another tool to help patients who suffer from cachexia or other related symptoms.
There is also evidence that cannabinoids can support the reduction of inflammation in cancer patients. This is important because 20% of cancer-associated deaths are related to cancer-induced inflammation. 
Research has only touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cannabis and cancer. With the stigma lessening and legislation changing in favor of the legalization of marijuana, the much-needed clinical research will be available.
For John and Corinne Malanca finding themselves advocating for medical cannabis was something out of the left field. It all began in 2011 when Corinne’s father (77 years old) had Stage IV lung cancer with metastasisThe spread of cancer cells from the place where they first formed to another part of the body. In metastasis, cancer cells break away from the original (primary) tumor, travel through the blood or lymph system, and form a new tumor in other organs or tissues of the body. The new, metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are breast cancer cells, not lung cancer cells. to the brain. He was malnourished, on oxygen, declining rapidly, and only had weeks to live.
John had recently heard about medical marijuana and reluctantly brought the subject up to their physician. With what John describes as trial and error (or lack of error), they blindly researched and found the information and products they would use.
2011 was still a time when marijuana of any form was widely frowned upon. They initially used a raw Indica cannabis with a coconut oil base, in a pill form with a low content THC and a high CBD content. Within 24 hours, their father was eating again, and remarkably after day eight; he was out of bed without his oxygen.
John jokes and remembers telling his father-in-law not to be “too cocky.” They were thrilled with the results they witnessed. After six months, he was released from hospice. They then switched him to a higher THC content but ended up giving it to him at night to help him sleep through any side effects the THC might render.
At the nine months scan, they got the news that every cancer patient wants to hear. He no longer showed evidence of recurrent disease and was cancer-free. To this day, his father in law is still alive and living cancer-free.
Corinne and John decided that they needed to help and educate others on cannabis. They founded The United Patients Group to help educate patients, doctors, and pharmacists on cannabis. They were the first cannabis organization to be asked by the government to speak at the capital during a United Patients Group day of education event.
Currently, they are partnering with pharmacy and nursing schools to help further education on the subject. John always shares with people that he doesn't want to give any false hope and that this is not a cure-all.
Unfortunately, Corinne passed away in 2017, four months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. John has seen the plant work in some cases and not in others. This is his passion, and he continues to help further research and educate others through his organization.
Side effects and risks of RSO
Since there is a high content of THC in RSO, there are some side effects that should be noted. THC is the primary psychoactive substance that gives people the “high” that people associate with the use of marijuana, and some people are more sensitive to THC than others. Like drinking alcohol, you should not operate machinery when you are using RSO, THC can cause temporary mental impairment. Some other side effects include:
- paranoia and anxiety
- dry mouth (aka “cottonmouth”)
- red eyes
- impaired memory
- increased hunger (aka “the munchies”)
- lethargy and sleepiness
- low blood pressured
- impaired motor control and reaction time
This list of side effects is typically only temporary and should last only a few hours after the THC leaves the body.
There is no clinical evidence that shows Rick Simpson Oil can cure cancer. The most significant risks that are associated with RSO is the actual production itself. When creating the oil, the process involves using solvents, and an open spark could easily cause an explosion.
Furthermore, the solvents can leave behind cancer-causing residue if they are not appropriately handled. Some local dispensaries sell RSO, and you may consider buying a premade RSO if available.
RSO is a cannabis concentrate that advocates claim can cure cancer.
There is not enough clinical evidence at this point to definitively say cannabis can cure cancer.
Since the THC content of RSO is high, it will give you that “high” feeling
No, CBD and hemp oil are vastly different substances. CBD is typically used for its medicinal purposes, and hemp generally is used in food products and for its industrial purposes.
- Help Oil vs. CBD Oil: What’s the Difference? https://honestmarijuana.com/hemp-oil-vs-cbd-oil/
- A Simple Guide to the Endocannbinoide System. https://www.healthline.com/health/endocannabinoid-system#functions
- Cannabinoid Receptors and the Endocannabinoid System: Signaling and Function in the Central Nervous System. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5877694/
- Who is Rick Simpson and what is Rick Simpson Oil (RSO)? https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/what-is-rick-simpson-oil
- Antineoplastic activity of cannabinoids. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1159836/
- Message from Rick Simpson. http://phoenixtears.ca/message-from-rick/
- Can hemp help? Low-THC Cannabis and non-THC cannabinoids for the treatment of cancer https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7226605/
- Cannabinoids Induce Cancer Cell Proliferation via Tumor Necrosis Factor α-Converting Enzyme (TACE/ADAM17)-Mediated Transactivation of the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor. https://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/64/6/1943.long#sec-10
- New Prospect for Cancer Cachexia: Medical Cannabinoid. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6360413/
- What Are the Side Effects of High-THC Cannabis? https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/what-are-the-side-effects-of-high-thc-cannabis