Augusta Fleming, a 29-year-old mother of two, was diagnosed with cancer just months after the birth of her second daughter in 2014. She’d been sick the whole pregnancy but chalked it up to, well, being pregnant. After all, she had considered herself the epitome of healthy: exercising regularly, eating all organic, doing yoga. It wasn’t until Fleming’s daughter was learning to crawl that the baby—who was positioned on her mother’s torso—climbed toward her chest, causing her to feel a pain around her clavicle. Fleming sat up to feel where the baby had applied pressure and found a lump in her neck.
It took persevering through several rounds of tests, health insurance bureaucracy, and dismissive physicians, who told Fleming she was fine, to finally discover that her body was fighting stage three lymphoma.
“The doctor used nice scare tactics against me that would convince me to do chemo,” says Fleming. “He’d say, ‘this is your only option, time is limited and it’s an aggressive fast-growing cancer, don’t you want to be here for your children when they grow up?’” But the chemotherapy ended up almost killing Fleming faster than the cancer itself. One of the chemo drugs, Bleomycin, caused Fleming’s lungs to fill with blood clots. On top of that, she had pneumonia. She was in and out of the hospital for weeks, dosed with blood thinners and all kinds of antibiotics.
“My lungs went through the ringer,” says Fleming. “I had gained 90 pounds, was severely ill, and it was the toxicity from the chemotherapy.” Though her oncologist in Tennessee had told Fleming she was done with chemo, the radiology report didn’t show any tumor shrinkage. She knew she needed to try something else and so she fled to Colorado—where she’d long dreamt of living anyway—in search of a natural and novel solution.
Soon thereafter, she started to learn about a type of cannabis oil said by some to cure cancer: a sort of “miracle oil,” most commonly called Rick Simpson Oil (RSO). Her first day in Colorado, she went to a dispensary to get as much info as she could about it. And then, full of hope, swallowed the bill for her first round of treatment: a 90-day supply of Phoenix Tears (a type of RSO) for $3,000. Three months later, Fleming’s pet scan came back with “no evidence of disease.” More than a year later, her cancer cells are still “inactive.” She’s not considered “cured,” but the results thus far are promising.
It’s impossible to get an accurate count on the number of cancer patients who have—or claim to have had—success with RSO, but Fleming is certainly at least one of thousands online with similar stories.
What Is Rick Simpson Oil (RSO)?
RSO—a concentrated form of cannabis oil—was initially concocted by and used to cure the cancer of Rick Simpson himself, a Canadian engineer who undermined his doctor’s orders in 1997 to save his own life. Despite the disappearance of his skin cancer tumors after he applied the oil to them topically, his doctor refused to acknowledge that cannabis was the cure. And despite having now helped a global community of people who claim RSO has also cured their cancer, Simpson has over the years faced persecution, raids, and arrest by Canadian law enforcement. He’s since published two books, The Rick Simpson Story and Nature’s Answer for Cancer, in languages including English, Spanish, and German, and has garnered more than half a million followers on Facebook alone.
RSO itself is fairly simple to make, calling for a pound of dry cannabis material (indica strain recommended) and two gallons of solvent (99% isopropyl alcohol is recommended, but butane, ethanol, or other solvents can be used as well). Just these two ingredients produce 60 grams of RSO that can allegedly be used for a 90-day treatment program to treat any kind of cancer, usually when eaten, but also topically.
Over the years, a number of small studies have come out indicating that cannabis can, in fact, effectively treat certain kinds of cancers. A 2013 study from the Catholic University of Korea’s Department of Internal Medicine found that cannabinoids can kill gastric cancer cells, while a report from the National Cancer Institute showed that cannabis can stop or slow down the growth of certain lung cancers. Other studies have shown that cannabinoids can inhibit tumor growth in brain cancer, inhibit cellular respiration in oral cancers, and reduce breast cancer cell proliferation.
At the very least, cannabis does often improve the quality of whatever life terminally sick patients have left. For many cancer patients, cannabis offers a viable alternative to the cocktail of opioids and other pharmaceuticals they use to manage the symptoms of chemotherapy and radiation. But at this point, both the science investigating cannabis as a cure for certain cancers and as a treatment to help with the symptoms of more traditional therapies is considered preliminary.
That’s not stopping some from passionately advocating for it based on personal experience. Frank Brown, owner of LA Kush Dispensary in downtown Los Angeles, says he has treated around 750 cancer patients with RSO over the last two and a half years. When cancer patients are at stage 4 and they’re looking for alternatives, especially when doctors say there’s nothing they can do, they look to medical marijuana, says Brown. Most of the patients who patronize his dispensary use cannabis alongside the treatment prescribed by their doctors.
“This is in addition to a whole combination with nutrition, and with that combination, many go into remission or extend their lives,” says Brown. “We’ve had several patients who were given less than a month to live and then they have a nice quality of life for a year and a half.”
Though every cancer patient is different, and every cancer is different, nearly 140 of LA Kush’s some 750 patients are in remission, having followed an RSO regime alongside western medicine and a careful diet. “It’s not like they only did the oils and now they’re cancer free,” says Brown. “It’s a whole lifestyle.”
The only drawback to the RSO, which goes by different names depending on where you are or who’s selling it, is that it’s “extremely” psychoactive, says Brown. For patients who have little experience with cannabis, it may take some time for them to build up a tolerance. At LA Kush, the RSO is comprised of around 63 to 67 percent THC.
Generally, Brown recommends patients take about a gram to a gram and a half per day for three months or until they see positive results, and then a gram a week for the rest of their lives. At LA Kush, the oil costs about $60 a gram. But for many patients, like Fleming, the cost can be so prohibitive they eventually learn to make RSO on their own.
While Fleming’s initial $3000 round of RSO was significantly cheaper than her twelve rounds of chemo, which cost $120,000, it still wasn’t sustainable. And she needed it. At the time, following her near deadly experience with chemo, Fleming could hardly breathe walking from her car to the front door of her home. Meanwhile, she was also suffering opiate withdrawals, thanks to having been on a morphine pump in the hospital in addition to almost two dozen medications a day.
“The oil was helping me sleep and eat, since the chemo robbed me of an appetite completely and often I was still getting sick just by eating,” recalls Fleming. By enabling her to live a more active lifestyle, the RSO also helped her lose 70 pounds, a common story among cancer patients who swap opioids for cannabis.
Fleming’s mentor Darren Miller, who completely cured his cancer with RSO, which he originally bought at Brown’s dispensary, taught her how to make it. It cost $500, including all the needed materials and ingredients.
Miller, 53, is a walking miracle, who, now in “great health,” has taught hundreds of people how to make RSO. Just days after being diagnosed with cancer in July of 2015, he had surgery to save him from heart failure, later followed by six rounds of palliative care chemo. Even so, his doctor told him he had less than three months to live, that he wouldn’t even make it to Thanksgiving. Yet by November, Miller considered himself healed after treating himself with RSO.
“It was in January 26, 2016 when they scanned me and said they could never tell I had cancer,” he says. To this day, he eats about a gram of RSO a week.
Currently, Fleming continues to take RSO as well, committed to a life of holistic treatment and living. She is on disability—the chemo left her with nerve damage on the left side of her body, making it difficult to use her legs—but she’s also focusing on her art and photography, her biggest passions.
Fleming’s daughters are now three and five, troopers in their own right, going through it from when mommy shaved off her long, purple-dyed hair before chemo took it from her, to learning full well that RSO is mommy’s medicine “to kill the cancer.” A dedicated parent, constantly running around between school activities and her own doctor’s visits, a lot of Fleming’s work focuses on the theme of mountains, harkening back to one of her favorite quotes: “Darling, you’re carrying mountains you’re meant to climb.”