Cannabis is finding a foothold in the modern medical world.
Across the globe, many have rediscovered the ancient plant to treat all kinds of conditions, from anxiety to arthritis.
One of the earliest investigated uses of medical cannabis is a treatment for the side effects associated with cancer and its traditional therapies. In particular, a concentrated form of cannabis known as Rick Simpson Oil, or RSO, has a wide variety of medical uses.
While formal research about the benefits and risks of RSO is sparing, a wide variety of non-peer-reviewed online claims support the use of this oil to combat various ailments. Despite these anecdotal reports, RSO actually has no objective clinical evidence to back up its purported claims.
So, who is Rick Simpson? And what makes his oil so unique?
- What is RSO?
- About Rick Simpson
- What are the Benefits of RSO?
- How to Use RSO
- Risks of RSO Use
What is RSO?
Essentially, Rick Simpson Oil is concentrated oil derived from cannabis.
However, unlike normal solvent-extracted oils, RSO contains most of the plant’s natural compounds–including its trichomes, cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. In particular, RSO has high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis.
Because it contains so many of the plant’s natural compounds, RSO has a distinctly pungent, plant-like taste and appears nearly black in color.
RSO can be consumed orally, though Rick Simpson himself used it topically to combat his skin cancer. As such, RSO exists in the gray space between edible, tincture, and topical remedy.
RSO is historically used as a treatment for symptoms of cancer and side effects of chemotherapy. RSO may offer pain relieving effects, as well as appetite stimulation and reduction of insomnia and nausea.
Anecdotally, patients with conditions like multiple sclerosis, asthma, chronic pain, epilepsy, and insomnia have used RSO for its potential therapeutic benefits.
Nevertheless, these therapeutic benefits are strictly anecdotal: there is very little peer-reviewed research on the medicinal properties of Rick Simpson Oil.
About Rick Simpson
Rick Simpson begins this story as an engineer in a Canadian hospital in the 90s. At the time, his world and the world of cannabis did not intersect. But after an accident in which Simpson fell from a ladder and sustained head trauma, he began to suffer from chronic dizzy spells and a ringing in his ears. Though his doctors tried to help, medicine had little effect on these symptoms.
Simpson’s hope was renewed when he saw a documentary about medical cannabis. He acquired some cannabis of his own and saw significant relief with its use.
Years later, Rick Simpson was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma. Remembering his previous success with cannabis and having read a study in which THC was effective against cancer in mice, he decided to try treating his condition by applying concentrated cannabis oil topically.
After four days of constant exposure to cannabis oil, Simpson’s cancerous growths had disappeared. The experience made a believer out of Simpson, and he distributed his cannabis oil and spread the word about what had happened to him.
What are the Benefits of RSO?
Rick Simpson used RSO to treat his skin cancer and tinnitus. However, because cannabis remains a Schedule I substance on the federal level, the medical community lacks consistent evidence to scientifically back up RSO’s therapeutic benefits.
Nevertheless, anecdotally, RSO can be used to treat chronic pain, insomnia, arthritis, and nausea, among other ailments.
Rick Simpson Oil for Cancer
Though peer-reviewed evidence is slim, RSO oil has been used to treat the symptoms of cancer, as well as side effects from common cancer treatments like chemotherapy.
Some studies have shown that the combined effects of cannabidiol (CBD) and THC can slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. Since RSO contains both CBD and THC (though THC is more concentrated), anecdotal evidence exists that suggests RSO may combat the spread of cancer throughout the body.
Though more research needs to be done on the effects of RSO on cancer symptoms, a 2022 clinical review demonstrated the vast use of medicinal cannabis for cancer and treatment-related symptoms. However, the study also indicated that healthcare professionals did not have significant insight into how to integrate cannabis-related care into regular treatment. A 2018 nationally representative sample survey found that 70% of oncologists did not feel equipped to give clinical cannabis recommendations, and only 46% had recommended using it.
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The 2022 review also specifically addresses RSO, stating “Although some believe the topical application of RSO products may cure cancers, this is only supported by anecdotal stories.”
As such, while the use of RSO for cancer symptoms holds promise for future treatment, more research must be conducted before doctors can recommend RSO for this ailment.
Rick Simpson Oil for Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is one of the most common medical conditions across the world.
When THC enters the body, it binds with CB1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system mostly operates within the brain and nervous system but is present in every organ system. When cannabinoids bind with receptors within the endocannabinoid system or eCBome, the cannabinoids from the cannabis plant help the body regulate processes like appetite, motor learning, and pain sensation.
When THC binds to CB1 receptors, it changes the sensation of pain in the body. Specifically, it can help lessen pain. THC and other whole-plant compounds in RSO like terpenes (e.g. beta-caryophyllene) can also bind to CB2 and decrease inflammatory signals that otherwise amplify or sensitize pain.
RSO contains high levels of THC, other cannabinoids including CBD, flavonoids, phenolic and sulfuric compounds, and organic, whole-plant molecules. That is why it can help to combat chronic pain–particularly in combination together. They may contain their own natural, pain-relieving properties.
How to Use RSO
Rick Simpson Oil can be used topically as well as consumed orally. Though Rick Simpson used it topically to cure his skin cancer, his physician has never confirmed this method as an official cure for his ailment.
Nevertheless, RSO may have numerous therapeutic benefits when consumed orally or applied topically because the THC is activated during the extraction process.
Rick Simpson used his oil topically to treat his skin cancer (though scientific research on the validity of this claim is still in its early stages).
To use RSO topically, apply a rice grain-sized dab to the ailment. Cover it with a bandage to ensure maximum absorption. Reapply and re-bandage every other day.
RSO may be ingested orally to treat internal pain and immunity conditions. This process often requires a large dose to feel the full benefits.
Rick Simpson’s personal website contains a treatment plan for patients to follow to maximize the benefits of his oil. According to this plan, it typically takes the average person about three months–or 90 days–to ingest the full 60 gram oil treatment. Simpson recommends that patients start with three doses about the size of half of a grain of rice.
Before taking the full dosage, medical marijuana patients should build up their tolerance to the highly concentrated oil. After building this tolerance, patients should then use the oil every eight hours, in the morning, afternoon, and evening.
As such, because RSO has such a high THC concentration, patients should gradually increase their dosage over 12 weeks. The following informational dosage chart may be used to increase tolerance and maximize the effectiveness of the oil.
|1-3||½ a grain of rice (or 1/4 a syringe drop) every eight hours|
|4||Double dosage to a full grain of rice (or ½ a syringe drop) every eight hours|
|5||Double dosage again to two grains of rice (or one full syringe drop) every eight hours|
|6||Four full grains of rice (or two full syringe drops) every eight hours|
|7-12||Spread one gram of RSO (approximately 8 syringe drops) across three dosages per day|
|Continued Usage||Simpson’s website recommends one to two grams a month to maintain an influx of cannabinoids after reaching the highest daily dose.|
Patients should note that this chart is not validated by peer-review to treat, diagnose, manage, mitigate, or prevent any disease. Additionally, ingesting such high THC levels may cause adverse cognitive and other side effects like impairment, anxiety, fast heart rate, and more.
Smoking or Dabbing RSO
You can smoke or dab RSO–but be careful adding it directly to your rig.
Smoking or dabbing RSO directly can lead to a sticky disaster that could ruin your piece. Instead, add RSO in horizontal lines to your joint paper or blunt wrap. Alternatively, you can add a rice grain-sized amount to a packed bowl.
When dabbing RSO, make sure to use cannabis extract oil that’s been third-party tested by an accredited laboratory. That way, you’re ensuring that you’re consuming the safest, highest-quality oil. This vetting process is usually standard at most licensed dispensaries.
Risks of RSO Use
The risks of RSO are similar to those of any highly concentrated cannabis product: if users consume too much at one time, they can experience an unpleasant high accompanied by nausea, paranoia, and a racing heartbeat.
Additionally, although RSO can be made at home, this process often includes burning off a solvent such as isopropyl alcohol or ethanol. This step can sometimes cause the release of chemical irritants, combustion, and leftover residues that can lead to blindness or other unwanted effects.
As such, purchasing RSO from a dispensary is often the safest practice. Look for a certificate of analysis that accompanies the oil to ensure you’re buying the safest, highest-quality cannabis concentrates for your needs.