Rick Simpson doesn’t live in North America anymore. This white haired, 68 year old retired machinist, who is at turns salty, opinionated, and polite, leads a quiet life in Croatia now. He’s been there since 2009, when he fled after Canadian Mounties raided his Nova Scotia home for what Simpson vowed would be the last time.
“I think Trudeau and Trump can both go to hell, but they’re going there anyway,” Simpson told Civilized. While he may sound like your disgruntled uncle, he is also the namesake behind Rick Simpson Oil, (sometimes referred to by its acronym RSO), a medicinal cannabis concentrate that has earned legendary status among patients and cannabis enthusiasts for the healing powers that it reportedly has.
Legions of patients swear by Rick Simpson’s Oil. People with diseases ranging from cancer to multiple sclerosis, attest that the highly viscous concentrate, which is generally dispensed in small doses via needle-less syringe, has delivered what Western medicine could or would not: relief, healing, and, in many cases, a cure. Among those patients is Simpson himself, who first got into the oil in 1999, when he invented it and used it to cure his own cancer.
photo by Davor Pongracic
“I had never looked at cannabis as being a medicine before,” says Simpson, who originally turned to the plant for answers to tinnitus he’d suffered following a work-related injury in the hospital machine room where he’d been working. “Even smoking cannabis gave me better results than anything the doctors gave me, but it still wasn’t helping me get the rest I needed.”
Simpson began tinkering with making concentrates, using solvents like ether to wash medicinal resins from buds. This process came somewhat intuitively to a man who had “worked around boilers, refrigeration, distilling equipment,” his entire career. Simpson had had some success with these concentrates, which he was using topically. Then, a few years later, doctors broke rough news: he had several malignant growths on his arm.
“They told me there was nothing they could do,” recalls Simpson. “I asked them for a prescription for cannabis, and they wouldn’t give it to me.” Simpson recalls “going to dozens and dozens of doctors and specialists” for the sake of his health, but to no avail. “I actually think these idiots were out to kill me. They were just waiting for me to explode. But, unfortunately for them,” he asserts proudly, “I didn’t explode.”
Fed up, exhausted, and scared for his life, Simpson began ingesting his concentrates as edibles. “I guess you could say the rest is history.” After just a handful of days, the basal cell carcinoma cancer on his arm was gone. Driven by what he felt was a responsibility to offer this highly effective treatment to those who needed it, and still reeling from the maddening experience of dealing with the system of Western medicine, Simpson began distributing his concentrates for free.
He also built the site phoenixtears.ca, which continues to offer information to patients and their families on how they can make the concentrates on their own. Soon, Simpson began hearing stories of dramatic turn arounds and miraculous recoveries from patients for whom all hope had been lost.
The Devil in the Drug Trade
“I had a lot of apprehension” in the early days of sharing the oil, Simpson recalls. “ If somebody had used that extract, and they had a bad reaction, I would have been in a world of trouble. I got together with my friends, and we started researching this plant very deeply because I was looking for the devil in it.”
After extensive research, however, Simpson found the devil elsewhere: in the pharmacists and doctors whom he refers to as “nothing but gangsters,” who push “poisons” onto their patients, and refuse to offer access to or research of cannabis. But it was Simpson who was treated as a criminal. As a result of distributing his medicine, he first had his property raided in 2005, at which point he was also charged with marijuana possession, cultivation, and trafficking. Simpson was raided once more by Mounties before the 2009 raid that would be his “third strike,” and impetus for fleeing the country.
As with all cannabis-based medicinal treatments, measuring the actual effectiveness of RSO for treatments like cancer, MS, arthritis, and beyond, is impossible. Success stories come not in the form of corporate-funded studies, but via anecdotes and testimonials. (One man Simpson tells me about was revived from his death bed after his son fed him a cracker with RSO in an attempt to make him more comfortable.)
Certainly, Simpson’s process of developing RSO was far less precise than that of prescription medicines. It’s difficult, however, to look at the barrage of recent pharmaceutical-related deaths and the heartbreaking maze that can be receiving medical care in the U.S. and beyond, without surmising that a medicine as natural, effective, and accessible as cannabis should be explored.
While people often associate RSO with cancer treatment, Simpson is quick to point out that the oil is a treatment for all kinds of diseases. Since moving to Croatia, he has begun to focus his advocacy on traveling and speaking to audiences throughout the world about the importance and effectiveness of safe and legal medicinal cannabis. That doesn’t mean that he’s bid farewell to formulating oils though. He remains protective of his name, and appreciates neither inferior copycat RSOs nor the people who distribute them. “There’s hundreds of people out there who will tell you how to make Rick Simpson Oil. Unfortunately, these people are no more than idiots.”
“I’m always out to perfect this medicine in the best way possible. My mind is always open to any new ways of producing this extract. I now know ways to do it without solvents.” At this, he pauses, ramping up as he does, when he stumbles across a topic that nettles him. “That’s always been a thorn in my side. People say, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t do what Rick Simpson does because he uses poison solvents.’ I started ingesting this extract back in 2001. This is now 2018. I’m 68 years old. I’ve ingested a great amount of these extracts over the years. Do you see any harm?!”
He smiles, defiantly. “Right. No harm.”