From the time he was 12 years old, Rick Simpson just wanted a job so he could make some money. He was smart enough to get by in school without having to open a book, so education wasn’t something he took very seriously. After getting in trouble for supplying his ninth-grade teacher with a case of beer as a Christmas present, he dropped out rather than face the consequences from school administrators. At age 16, he went to work in the steel mills in Ontario, Canada. Two years later, he moved back to his hometown in Spring Hill, Nova Scotia, and got married. Before long, he had a job maintaining boilers for All Saints’ Hospital. Then his cousin was diagnosed with cancer.
“They found a little bump on his rib cage and cut him open,” Simpson says. “He went from 200 pounds down to about 130. In 1972, we were having a drink and he collapsed right in front of me. I knew damn well it had to be the cancer coming back. They gave him six months to live, and he made it through three. I was 22 years old and didn’t know anyone who had died from cancer. He was down to about 50 pounds when he died on November 18, 1972. I used to shave him, and it was like trying to shave a skeleton.”
Two years after his cousin died, Simpson was listening to his car radio when he heard the results of a medical study at the University of Virginia claiming that THC reduced brain tumors in mice. “I stopped my car and just stared at the radio,” Simpson recalls. “At the time, I didn’t smoke pot or anything, although most of my friends did. The guy on the radio was laughing like a fool. Like this was all a big joke. I never heard anything more about it, so I thought it must be a joke.”
It was no joke. The Medical College of Virginia had been funded by the National Institutes of Health to find evidence that marijuana damaged the human immune system. Imagine their surprise when the results came back indicating the opposite: Instead of hastening the death of mice implanted with brain cancer, marijuana dramatically slowed the growth of their tumors and extended their lives. The DEA quickly shut down this promising research. According to Jack Herer, two years later, President Gerald Ford would put an end to all public cannabis research and grant exclusive rights to major pharmaceutical companies to develop synthetic THC.
Fast-forward to December 1997: Simpson had been working at the hospital for 25 years and was covering asbestos on the boiler pipes with duct tape. He was using an aerosol spray that allowed the tape to stick to the asbestos. He didn’t realize, however, that this spray was capable of causing a temporary nervous-system shutdown if the fumes were inhaled too deeply. And that’s exactly what happened.
“Luckily for me, the boilers were shut off, or I would have been burnt to nothing,” he says. “I fell backwards off the ladder and struck my head on a steel loading ring. Of course, I don’t remember any of that. When I came to, I was hung up in the pipes by the side of the boiler.”
Simpson slowly made his way back to his office and fumbled around for over an hour trying to call for help, but he couldn’t even make the phone work. Finally, another engineer showed up for his shift and took Simpson to the emergency room. When asked his name, Simpson had no response. He was taken to the trauma center and put on oxygen.
“It felt like my head was going to explode,” he says. “I remember it looked like people were moving funny -- they were kind of jerky. I told the doctor, and he just kind of shook his head.”
After three hours in the trauma center, the sensation went away and Simpson was told to go home. He doesn’t remember much about the next few days, including the drive home, but somehow he made it. When his next scheduled shift came up on Christmas Eve, Simpson reported for work even though he was still feeling woozy. At around 10pm that night, while still at work, Simpson’s head began ringing. The ringing got louder and louder. By 3am, he was back in the emergency room seeking treatment. When the nurse checked his blood pressure, she was so alarmed that she immediately gave him a pill and called a doctor. The ringing never went away.
“At lower levels, it’s about 93 decibels,” he says, “which is about the same as having a lawn mower running in your living room. I became very short-tempered. They tried every possible drug, but nothing worked. It got so bad I wanted to shoot myself.”
Within a year, Simpson was having trouble remembering anything because he was taking 1,000 milligrams of Tegretol a day. Reading was out of the question, because by the time he got to the end of a sentence, he’d already forgotten what the sentence was about. Then, one day, he watched an episode of Dr. David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things, Canada’s longest-running documentary series. The episode was about the enormous promise of marijuana as a medicine.
“I went right back to my doctor and asked if marijuana would help,” Simpson recalls. “Of course, he told me it was bad for the lungs and still under study. So I went out and got some pot and tried it, and it worked better than anything they were giving me. So I went back again and asked for a prescription, but they still wouldn’t give it to me.”
By 2001, Simpson was a chemical zombie from all the drugs he’d been taking. But he was still determined to get legal medical access to marijuana, so he asked his doctor: “What would you think if I took the plant and made an essential oil, and then ingested the oil rather than smoked it?” The doctor agreed that this would be a more medicinal way to take it, but still refused to write a prescription allowing Simpson legal access to the plant. A few months later, the doctor informed him that they had tried every possible treatment and nothing had worked, so Simpson was now on his own. He decided to stop taking pharmaceuticals and start eating cannabis oil exclusively.
“I didn’t really believe the hemp oil could bring me back the way it did,” he recalls. “But once the system gave up on me, I just continued making oil and taking it on a regular basis. The ringing was still there, but now I could live with it. Within a few months, people saw the difference. The oil controlled the pain, my blood pressure, and it allowed me to sleep. I lost weight and looked 20 years younger.”
For many years, Simpson had lived with three suspicious spots on his skin -- two on his face and one on his chest. “Yes, this looks like skin cancer,” his doctor said upon examining them. In January 2003, the doctor surgically removed the spot near Simpson’s eye and sent it in for a biopsy. A week later, Simpson was sitting at home when he recalled the 1974 news report about THC and cancer. “I knew I was supposed to go back and get the other two spots removed,” Simpson says. “When I removed the bandage from the spot they had removed, I noticed it looked red and infected, and there was pus coming out of it. That’s when the news report from 30 years earlier kicked in. I looked at the oil and I thought, ‘Well, this is full of THC, and I’ve probably got skin cancer.’ I put a little oil on two band-aids and covered the two little bumps. Four days later, I took the band-aids off and both bumps had disappeared.”
Within a few weeks, the cancer that had been surgically removed reappeared. So Simpson tried the same treatment and got the same results: Four days after treating himself with the cannabis oil, the red bump was gone and the skin had completely healed.
Obviously, Simpson was overjoyed by this discovery, and he could hardly wait to share this information with his doctor, who had for so long resisted marijuana as a treatment for his head injury. So, after picking up his pathology report, he mentioned to the receptionist (who was also the doctor’s wife) that he had something important to discuss with her husband. “I treated my skin cancers with hemp oil -- " he began. But he’d barely gotten the words “hemp oil” out, he recalls, before the receptionist went ballistic: “The doctor will not go there!” she yelled. “The doctor will not prescribe this!”
“I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone,” Simpson says now. “I’d just told her I cured my cancer, and she should have been interested. It was freaky.”
Simpson soon made a visit to his mother’s house. For years, she had suffered from weeping psoriasis. He applied the oil to her infected skin, and within a few weeks the sores were healed and the scales had disappeared.
Thus began the long journey of Rick Simpson and his miraculous cannabis-oil medicine. The fact that Simpson has always given this oil freely and without any charge has greatly enhanced his already-legendary status. “In the beginning, a lot of people didn’t want to put the oil on their skin,” he recalls. “In the first year, I treated 50 to 60 people for various skin conditions. The following year, I was treating a man with a melanoma cancer on his left cheekbone. It had been removed five times. It was a nasty-looking thing -- you could put your finger right into the hole. I told him I could heal it, but of course he didn’t believe me. Three weeks later, it was completely healed. And that’s when he mentioned to me he had glaucoma. I said, ‘Well, hemp is the best treatment for glaucoma.’ He was the first one to start eating the oil other than me. At that time, he also had arthritis and had to sleep with a pillow between his knees. About two weeks after taking the oil, he stopped sleeping with a pillow, and his ocular pressure was already way down. When I started giving him the oil, the pressure was around 31 or 32. Last time I checked, it was 13 or 14.”
Once Simpson started giving people the oil to take internally, it was only a matter of time before he tried it with cancer patients. Simpson became increasingly confident of the oil’s healing properties after it was successfully used by several people with internal cancers. Even patients with Stage 4 terminal cancer -- people who had been given only weeks to live -- were miraculously brought back to health. Not only did the oil heal diabetic ulcers with a topical application, it also cured diabetes and allowed some patients to stop using insulin. Simpson kept treating patients until they got better, but he soon determined that a 60-gram treatment was necessary for serious illnesses. The oil is eaten as quickly as possible, starting with small doses until a resistance is established. Eating a gram of cannabis oil a day can be disorienting, but many adapt rapidly to the pharmacological effects.
After Simpson successfully treated a woman with cervical cancer, she visited the local chapter of the Royal Canadian Legion to share her story. The Legion is a veterans’ organization whose lodges function as unofficial town halls in remote areas of Canada. Rick Dwyer, the bartender at the Legion, was so fascinated by the woman’s story that he asked her to invite Simpson to drop by.
“I met Rick in 2005,” Dwyer recalls now. “He told me he could cure skin cancer and diabetic ulcers and other skin diseases. I didn’t believe him, but I could see he was sincere, so I asked if I could go with him to visit some of the people he was treating. So I interviewed his patients, and there was no doubt there was something to what he was doing.”
Before long, Simpson was treating members of Dwyer’s Legion chapter, and the cannabis oil continued to show successful results against a variety of chronic illnesses and infections. As a past president of the organization, Dwyer knew the Legion’s mission -- to serve veterans and their dependents, promote remembrance, and act in the service of Canada -- and he felt strongly that this included a responsibility to share the information about Simpson’s oil with as many people as possible. Dwyer contacted the local public-health authorities and asked them to investigate. He made calls to elected officials.
“Nobody would even come look at the evidence,” Dwyer says. “I told the zone commander, ‘People are suffering, and this stuff works.’ But I just kept running into brick wall after brick wall.” The Royal Canadian Mounted Police had already raided Simpson’s property in 2003, after hearing reports that he was circulating cannabis oil. They seized all the plants in his backyard and confiscated his oil, but no charges were filed. In 2005, Simpson voluntarily returned to the RCMP office to drop off scientific information supporting his treatment, as well as a videotape containing interviews with patients. He made it clear to the RCMP that he intended to keep helping people who had nowhere else to turn. He continued to get plants to make the oil by working out trades whereby local marijuana farmers brought in their buds and split the oil they generated with Simpson. Most growers use shake to make water hash or hash oil, but Simpson is adamant that the best colas are necessary for making the best medicine for cancer. He will not make oil from shake unless it’s intended for topical application only. He also likes indica-dominant strains, which means that although he prefers the term “hemp oil” for a variety of reasons, his medicine consists of the essential oil derived from flowering female Cannabis indica plants -- i.e., THC-laden “hash” or “cannabis” oil.
Shortly after Simpson dropped off his video with the RCMP, the Mounties returned and seized 1,620 plants from his backyard. This time he was arrested and charged with marijuana possession, cultivation and trafficking.
Meanwhile, Dwyer’s father had checked into the hospital with Stage 4 lung cancer. “He also had a bad heart and sugar diabetes,” Dwyer says. “I remember telling him, ‘Dad, don’t take the chemotherapy -- if you take it, you’re dead. Go to Rick and get some oil and your chances of survival will be a lot better.’ I remember my father looking at me, and what was he thinking? ‘My son has no medical background.’ Who’s he going to trust?
“After his first chemotherapy treatment, he swelled up real bad. His legs swelled; his arms were full of fluid. He was suffering horribly. The doctors told us he wasn’t going to make it. He talked to us and said the things a father says to his children when he knows he’s going to die. I just kept thinking about the oil. I knew it worked on skin cancers and diabetic ulcers, but I wasn’t sure it would work internally. So I called Rick and said my dad only had 24 hours to live, 48 at the most. Rick didn’t know if it was too late. I think my dad wanted to die, he was suffering so horribly. It was like he was breathing out of a straw. I had a tube of oil in my pocket, and I remember thinking, ‘I’ll probably get arrested if I give this to him.’ I asked the nurse to give him the oil, but she refused. The doctors didn’t want to be responsible. So I put some oil on a cracker, and my father ate it. Then I left the hospital, and my brothers stayed on the death watch.”
When Dwyer returned the next morning, something truly miraculous had taken place: His father had slept soundly for the first time in weeks, and he continued to sleep throughout the day. When he finally woke up, he had a smile on his face. “I thought to myself, ‘My God, he’s got a chance, but I’ve got to get him out of this hospital,’” Dwyer says. An ambulance took his father home, and he continued eating the oil for the next few months. “He was breathing better and didn’t want the oxygen anymore. The oil healed two sores on his legs. The fluid went out of his arms and legs. But what really shocked me was that his prostate was shot, and one day he asked the nurse to take out the catheter. She said he’d have to go back to the hospital to have it put back in, and that would hurt like hell. And I looked at him and said, ‘Dad, can you pee?’ And he said, ‘Yes!’ I told the nurse to take it out, and I watched him pee like a racehorse.” Then something even more remarkable happened: “The nurse came to check his lungs one day and said, ‘Clear as a bell.’”
After that, says Dwyer, “I decided to hold a meeting at the Legion and invite the politicians, the police and the media so they could meet the people who had been cured of cancer and other diseases. The meeting was just supposed to look at the evidence so they could draw their own conclusions.”
But on the day that the meeting was scheduled to be held, Maritime Command changed the locks on his Legion chapter’s doors and informed Dwyer that his rights and privileges had been revoked. The Legion hall would remain closed until a new executive committee could be formed. An anonymous phone caller to Dwyer’s wife said ominously: “Tell Rick he’s getting in over his head.” She took the call as a veiled threat and broke down.
Dwyer is unable to recount this part of the story without breaking down himself. “I tell [Simpson], ‘There’s many a night when I wish I’d never met you,’” he says, wiping tears from his eyes. “‘I wish you hadn’t shown me what you showed me, because this has been a terrible burden on me’ -- especially when I meet people with cancer. I try to explain this medicine to them, but people are so close-minded. They talk about swine flu killing people? My God, cancer and diabetes are killing millions across the world.”
Rick Simpson’s trial in September of 2007 was a carefully stage-managed affair. Simpson had obtained 48 sworn affidavits from patients, but the presiding judge decided that no med- ical testimony would be allowed. “I had people cured of terminal cancer sitting in the court waiting to testify -- they wouldn’t let them on the stand! They wouldn’t let me introduce any scientific evidence. I defended myself, and when I cross-examined the Mounties, first thing I did was hold up a copy of an interview I’d given to the Spring Hill Record from September of 2004, one year before I was charged. It was a full-page article detailing everything I was doing. Would a criminal have a full-page article in the newspaper detailing his activities? Then they brought out their expert. So I said, ‘You are a marijuana expert for the RCMP, correct? What do you know about hemp?’ He said, ‘Nothing, because hemp and marijuana are different plants.’ I got out the book and read the law from 1923, which says nothing about ‘marijuana,’ but does call it ‘Indian hemp.’ So I shredded him—I beat them hands down, even without the medical testimony.”
The jury needed only three hours to deliberate. But when Simpson was called back into the courtroom for the verdict, he noticed that the crown prosecutor wasn’t in the room. A witness later told him that the prosecutor was seen departing the jury room right before the jury was brought back into the courtroom. It proceeded to find him guilty on all counts. “So I got in touch with the judge, but he wouldn’t do a damn thing. They can tamper with juries, but not us. Then he called me into the side room be- fore sentencing and said, ‘Rick, the truth of the matter is that the government wants the researchers to bring this out.’ I looked at him and said, ‘If one of your kids was diagnosed with cancer tomorrow, what would you be looking for?’ And down went his head. So we go back into the courtroom, and he says: ‘In my 34 years in the legal system, I’ve never seen a case like this. There was no criminal intent.’ He admitted the scientific evidence exists to back up what I was doing. Now I was facing 12 years in jail, but he gave me a $2,000 fine and didn’t even put me on probation, because he was get- ting a little bit of conscience. One time I used to be proud to be a Canadian; now that word means nothing to me.”
Thanks to an Internet video titled Run From the Cure, which Simpson produced with filmmaker Christian Laurette, hundreds of thou- sands of people have been introduced to his cannabis-oil treatment. Early on, Jack Herer became one of Simpson’s biggest supporters. “I first heard about Rick five or six years ago,” says Herer. “I didn’t believe him, and I knew all the cancer and THC studies that have been done -- rats with all sorts of cancers were 100% cured and lived 40 percent longer than rats who had nothing at all.” But when he looked at the human evidence, Herer changed his mind. “Now Rick has treated over a thou- sand patients -- and there are others like him, like Ron Smith in Kentucky, distributing oil to terminal-cancer patients and having similar results. And Rick can’t even come to the United States because of his conviction.”
Unfortunately, not everyone is saved by the oil. While the HT photographer was taking pictures for this story, Simpson received word that one of his patients had died after only two days of treatment. Simpson estimates that his success rate with terminal-cancer patients is about 70%. “The ones that can’t be saved are usually the ones who’ve had the most chemotherapy and radiation, or wait too long to start the treatment,” he says. “They have to be able to stay alive long enough for the oil to start to work.” In fact, most patients who undergo chemotherapy die from the treatment, not the disease. But because chemotherapy is a multibillion dollar industry that supports some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world, it’s unlikely these corporations will give up this profit stream without a struggle, no matter how many dead bodies pile up.
But the most amazing development in this story took place in April of 2009. Led by Manuel Guzman, a team of biochemists at the School of Biology at Complutense University in Madrid investigated the use of cannabinoids in treating cancer. Although similar investigations have been conducted on lab rats and tissue cultures many times since the original 1974 study in Virginia, this time the researchers used actual cancer patients and analyzed their results with methods used to gauge the progress of chemotherapy treatments. Their findings were published in the April 2009 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation and are available free online.
The Spanish researchers had two patients suffering from recurrent glioblastoma multiforme, a fast-moving brain cancer. Using electron microscopes to analyze brain tissue taken before and after a 26- to 30-day THC treatment, the researchers found that the THC had eliminated cancer cells while protecting the surrounding healthy ones. The psychoactive chemical in marijuana promoted the death of brain-cancer cells by help- ing them feed on themselves in a process known as autophagy.
Strangely, little mention of this groundbreaking study made it into the national news. Instead, the media continues to run gutter-science reports on marijuana’s cancer-causing effects, even though regular users of marijuana continue to have lower cancer rates than non-users.
While working on this story, I got a call from longtime cannabis activist Joe Barton, who had been providing free oil to a throat-cancer patient in Woodstock, NY. After Barton delivered 25 grams of oil -- nearly half the treatment -- his home was raided by an Ulster County drug task force. The police confiscated all of the plants and oil, which ended the treatment prematurely. Six months later, the patient died. “The oil was working,” says Barton. “His neck tumor had gone down, and he was talking normally again.”
As a repeat marijuana “offender,” Barton is now facing a 20-year sentence.