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Striking Oil

There’s long been a legend

circulating in the cannabis crowd about a supposed “miracle cure” marijuana medication called Rick Simpson Oil. As the story goes, a Canadian engineer named Rick Simpson purportedly cured his own skin cancer by homebrewing batches of super high-THC cannabis oil and dripping the oil onto his bandages.

His supposed success, and the rumors celebrating his alleged cure, have given Rick Simpson Oil a cult following despite its lack of retail availability.

But Rick has rolled into San Francisco. SF Evergreen has found that the oil that Simpson himself dubbed “RSO” has been added to the shelves of four dispensaries since mid-January: Grass Roots, both locations of the Barbary Coast dispensary, and the newest dispensary in town, the California Street Cannabis Company.

“RSO was included in one of our first orders,” California Street Cannabis Company Drakari Donaldson tells SF Evergreen. In terms of its popularity fresh out of the gate, Donaldson says, “We have sold nearly 30 RSO units in the last month.”

But is this RSO the real Rick Simpson Oil? And can we really believe these cancer-curing medical claims anyway?

Rick Simpson’s official website PhoenixTears.ca is still around selling his books and detailing his homebrew oil recipe, but the site’s contact did not reply to request for comment. The site says the oil “can be used with great success to cure or control cancer,” but doesn’t sell the oil and insists “the only way to know that you have the real thing is to produce the proper oil yourself.”

The problem is that many of us are too incompetent to brew cannabis oil at home without a serious risk of blowing up our apartments. We’re happy to buy a commercially available product bearing the name RSO, but Rick doesn’t sound pleased that people are selling it.

“There are many criminals who say that they are producing RSO, and who are using Rick’s name,” the site cautions. “Rick Simpson has no connection with these suppliers.”

“There are good people out there who are producing good extracts, but I have no way of knowing who or where they are,” Simpson adds in a 2018 YouTube video embedded on his site. “For every one you see that actually is producing good extracts, you’ll find ten that aren’t. And these people are simply out to steal your money.”

The line of RSO products that just arrived in town are all under the brand name of a Nevada City-based distributor called Emerald Bay Extracts. The company did not return comment as of press time. The words ‘Rick Simpson’ do not appear on the packaging of any of their four different RSO varieties, and there are no medical claims on the label.

But we wanted to size up some of the internet claims made about Rick Simpson Oil, so we  reached out to one of San Francisco’s trailblazing medical cannabis researchers. UCSF professor Dr. Donald Abrams performed one of the first National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded studies on medical cannabis for HIV in 1997, and directs us to some of his recently published research on the topic.

“The internet abounds with anecdotal reports of patients who have cured their own cancers using cannabis-derived products alone eschewing standard cancer therapies,” Dr. Abrams wrote last year in the journal Current Treatment Options in Oncology. “When patients forego conventional cancer care in hopes that this unproven intervention will have therapeutic benefit, the results are often horribly disappointing with previously curable malignancies progressing to metastatic disease.”

But in that same analysis, he reports that cannabis can be helpful for treating the symptoms of cancer, while not proven effective at killing the tumors themselves.

“A single intervention that can assist with nausea, appetite, pain, mood, and sleep is certainly a valuable addition to the palliative care armamentarium,” he said in his analysis, matching similar results he found when working with HIV wasting syndrome patients in the late 1990s.

Abrams also points to his recently published viewpoint acknowledging possible anticancer cannabis benefits among genetically engineered mice. But for real human people, there is no clinical proof of this, and no one can make legal medical claims unless there is.

“We cannot provide medical consultation,” says California Street Cannabis Company’s Donaldson.

And ironically, the packaging of this RSO product comes not with a medical claim, but instead with the mandated California cancer-causing chemical warning.

All four varieties of Emerald Bay Extracts RSO come in syringes from which you squeeze out a black, incredibly sticky oil extract. Your recommended dose is to drop just a rice grain-sized serving of this goop in some tea or on top of food, and prepare yourself for the fact that it will taste terrible.

This new oil bearing the name RSO is a potent concentrate for a perfectly fine recreational buzz. But the medical research still says that anyone claiming to cure terminal diseases with cannabis recipes is just blowing smoke.