Cannabis is classified under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (MoD Act)- the law that prohibits cannabis – as having no medicinal value. Of course, we know that is simply wrong and it was when one group of ill people – those suffering from Multiple sclerosis (MSers)  – began to openly defy the law because they had discovered that cannabis brought them very real relief that the first cannabis medicine was reluctantly allowed in the UK. During the 1990’s there were two groups at the fore in supplying MSers ; THC4MS and Budbuddies. Budbuddies was fronted by Jeff Ditchfield who has continued to campaign, using a form of activism which doesn’t shy away from confronting the law. In 2007 Jeff was filmed by BBC TV’s “Inside Out” programme


The government has now changed its position slightly and claims there is no medical use for raw herbal cannabis, but as of yet the law hasn’t been changed and although SATIVEX is a licensed drug that a doctor can prescribe, it is still technically illegal under the MoD Act and it is very difficult to actually get, but the hardline blanket prohibition of cannabis has been cracked ever so slightly. It can only really be regarded a partial victory for many reasons, but had it not been for the sort of direct action Budbuddies and others undertook this would not have happened.

The issue of MSer’s access to cannabis proved a highly emotive causes – and rightly so. The medical campaign was threatening to get out of control and by the end of the 1990’s the government was genuinely afraid of the prospect of wheelchairs blocking Whitehall. But those of us who have been following the cannabis debate for years are aware the medical uses of the cannabis plant are not confined to MS, a quick look at the Medicinal users database here on UKCIA gives some idea of the huge range of applications ill people claim it has.

If the cause of MS relief wasn’t enough to motivate mass support for a total rethink on medical access to cannabis however, something else might be: What if cannabis products cured cancer – not just eased the symptoms but actually cured cancer, killed and eradicated it? absurd?

It has been known for some time that cannabis – or more specifically the THC cannabis contains – has anti cancer properties and kills tumours. There is growing body of good, solid research  which shows this to be very, very possible – and there is a lot of it. Take for example a study by the name of Cannabinoids and gliomas from August 2007 from Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, School of Biology, Complutense University, Madrid, Spain. which found:

Cannabinoids, the active components of Cannabis sativa L., act in the body by mimicking endogenous substances–the endocannabinoids–that activate specific cell surface receptors. Cannabinoids exert various palliative effects in cancer patients. In addition, cannabinoids inhibit the growth of different types of tumor cells, including glioma cells, in laboratory animals. They do so by modulating key cell signaling pathways, mostly the endoplasmic reticulum stress response, thereby inducing antitumoral actions such as the apoptotic death of tumor cells and the inhibition of tumor angiogenesis. Of interest, cannabinoids seem to be selective antitumoral compounds, as they kill glioma cells, but not their non-transformed astroglial counterparts. On the basis of these preclinical findings, a pilot clinical study of Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in patients with recurrent glioblastoma multiforme has been recently run. The good safety profile of THC, together with its possible growth-inhibiting action on tumor cells, justifies the setting up of future trials aimed at evaluating the potential antitumoral activity of cannabinoids.

Fact is there are plenty of other studies out there which indicate something wonderful here; the possibility that cannabis produces compounds that can actually cure cancer. Surely the pressure to develop a treatment would be massive and studies would be underway all over the place to look into this?  You would have thought, but no. Such a possibility of course is so far off the prohibition message it simply can’t be allowed to get into the public domain so news of these developments has simply not been reported. Once again it has been down to individuals to take matters into their own hands.

A few years ago in 2008 a video film was made on behalf of a Canadian called Rick Simpson. Rick isn’t a scientist but claims to have been using a concentrated form of cannabis – “hash oil”, or  just “oil” as it’s long been known – to have cured cannabis in several very ill people. The film is “Run from the Cure” and can be seen here.  It can be criticised for being a little naive and sentimental in places and it’s certainly a low-budget production, but Rick comes across as honest and genuine in his passion and the people interviewed seem to be speaking from genuine personal experience and their stories are heart wrenching.

Oil is an extraction of the active components of cannabis, which makes it a highly concentrated form, but as long as the process is done right it will contain the same profile of cannabinoids as the original plant. It’s worth noting that the SATIVEX medicine now licensed by the UK government is actually cannabis oil with a profile of 1:1 THC and CBD (made from a blend of two strains of cannabis). SATIVEX is then thinned down with alcohol so that it can be sprayed under the tong for easy absorption into the bloodstream, but in essence it is the same product Rick Simpson produces in his home.  The film includes a section on how to make cannabis oil (please do not try this at home, it is a very dangerous process)

Rick is so sure of the truth of this he even gives a definitive dose in order to cure cancer: 2 oz of oil (about 60 grams) over a two to three-month period and to back this up the film several interviews people who claim to have been through this treatment with spectacular results. For more information see Ricks site Phoenix Tears

If these claims are even remotely true a huge injustice is being imposed on ill people by a combination of government imposed laws designed to uphold a policy of prohibition, perhaps allied to commercial interests of the massive pharmaceutical industry. After all, if this is true a  lot of influential people stand to lose a lot of money. Enter Jeff Ditchfield again.

Jeff wrote a blog entry on NORML-UK this week with the title

Cannabis oil cured my cancer

Perhaps typical of his style, this title directly challenges the law as making claims of a cure for cancer is a specific offence under the Cancer Act of 1939, which bans claims to treat cancer and carries the threat of a three-month jail sentence (Wikipedia).,

The Cancer Act 1939 is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed in 1939. Its most notable provision is a clause prohibiting taking any part in publication, except under specified conditions, of advertisements that “offer to treat any person for cancer, or to prescribe any remedy therefor, or to give any advice in connection with the treatment thereof”.

The expression “advertisement” includes any notice, circular, label, wrapper or other document, and any announcement made orally or by any means of producing or transmitting sounds.

In fact the heading is a quote from the story the blog post relates, so there really should be quotes around the “cured my cancer”, but I suppose that’s just not Jeff’s style.

The blog concerned the the story of someone who isn’t called Dave, a man from the UK who claims to have been through this treatment and to have been cured of cancer as a result. It’s worth reading as an example of direct action. Dave’s story closely matches the accounts given in Rick Simpson’s film. After taking the oil as directed by Rick Simpson Dave, who had been suffering apparently incurable cancer returned to his doctor

He [the doctor] showed us the scans on his PC and he started to read out various test results and my wife asked him to speak in plain language, despite this request he continued with the medical jargon and again had to be told to speak plainly.

My wife finally lost patience and asked him bluntly “if there are no hotspots showing anywhere does that mean he no longer has cancer?”, after a moments contemplation he answered “at this moment in time, you are cancer free”

It should be noted his doctor rejects the claim that the cannabis oil had anything to do with this, but read the full story,

This is one hell of a claim, make no mistake if this is true it is something to be shouted from the rooftops. So are there any flaws in the description offered by Jeff which could undermine all this? Following Rick’s directions, Dave had taken the cannabis oil by swallowing “a small blob” at a time

I took the oil daily in small amounts, four times a day and slowly increased the dose up to a gram a day.

The problem is this raises a question. In order to be effective the THC has to get into the bloodstream and Cannabis oil is not water soluble, so simply swallowing a “blob” would seem to be an inefficient way to ingest the cannabis. No doubt some absorption will take place, but how much is open to question. Anyone who has ever wanted to get stoned by eating cannabis knows this; which is why cannabis is cooked into foods and then eaten (how to eat cannabis) Simply swallowing a blob of oil into the water environment of the stomach then is surely not going to be an effective way to administer the dose? It seemed a reasonable question to ask, so I posted this question to the comments section (along with a comment about the title) of the blog. I wrote:

I note he was taking 1 g of hash oil a day, Interestingly he claims to have simply swallowed “blobs” and I question the effectiveness of this form of administration. Cannabis oil is not water soluble, therefore simply swallowing a blob is going to be a very inefficient way to absorb THC etc into the bloodstream, most, I suspect, would simply pass through his digestive system untouched.

unfortunately when I did it was met with a mass of personal insults and virtually no serious debate.There is no moderation on the NORML-UK forum to keep the debate civilised or even on subject and to make it worse, the discussion thread seems to have become jumbled up in time, so it’s hard to follow the sequence of comments. Jeff himself seems to have taken this question as an insult and snapped back

Derek your ignorance is now plainly here for all to see. You are so ill informed, you are stating that a cannabinoid concentrated oil which has been made with a SOLVENT must then be diluted with another solvent or oil to make it effective. lol

Now this is a problem, because it clearly shows a lack of understanding of some pretty basic chemistry, let alone of the complex understanding of cannabis pharmacology. Of course the oils are indeed extracted from the plant with solvents – organic solvents which do not dissolve in water – and these solvents are removed to produce the pure oil as is explained in the video clip above. The aim of using another solvent is to allow the none-water soluble cannabis compounds to pass into the blood stream, not to dilute it.

This is all very unfortunate, there may well be an answer to my question which a reasonable debate would have produced, perhaps someone can provide an answer in the comments here? But it does seem to be a weakness in the treatment method. It is, after all, important to demonstrate that you understand how the method of administration works. The thing is Jeff does know this, as the video clip of him preparing  cannabis medicines above demonstrates. If this form of direct action is to be taken seriously – by which I mean outside of the group of people who believe and have always believed that cannabis is a magical cure for everything – campaigners have to be prepared to answer difficult questions and to treat criticism as helpful.

What we need is properly conducted tests in controlled conditions, failing that direct action like this is the only way forward but it would be a disaster if a campaign to highlight the cancer curing properties of cannabis were mishandled to such an extent that the media could rubbish them on a stupid technicality.

Dave was taking a gram of oil a day in four doses, that is a huge dose of THC, especially as by his account it  was a  high THC oil. Oil is  a concentrated form of cannabis, so 1 gram of oil might be equivalent to anything up to 10 grams worth of raw cannabis. If this is all making its way into his blood stream wouldn’t he be getting more than a bit stoned? In fact Dave reported

The oil I was given was high in THC and 60 grams of this oil cured my lung cancer, I knew the oil was mostly THC because the first few doses felt quite ‘trippy’ with some mild psychedelic moments. I’ve never actually felt a highness like that before just from cannabis, it seemed more like LSD or mushrooms but it was all very positive and I feel that it was an important part of my cure. I don’t want to sound evangelical or too over the top but the highs helped me find the real me and they really lifted my depression.

After which the intoxicating effect seems to have decreased as the dose increased. So how can this be working? Would it be better to prepare some kind of “hashcake” style food to aid the absorption of the oils into the blood? Indeed, what’s so special about the oil that good quality hashish can’t provide apart from strength? Perhaps the highly concentrate oil compensated for the inefficient method of application? If so it seems odd to use a concentrated form of cannabis in an inefficient way.

Rick Simpson discussed this issue:

Rick’s account of how a small woman felt no effect from the same dose that laid out a large man indicates there is something at least hit and miss about this method of delivery.  One comment to the video asks

Isn’t THC fat soluble? does that explain the dosage discrepancy in the story?

Which gets the response

THC is lipid soluble, yes.

Which might indicate this method of application is going to be more effective on fat people than thin, which of course means less effective on someone who can’t eat and has lost a lot of weight, such as someone suffering terminal cancer. There might be an answer to this issue, but I can’t see it.

Interestingly in Ricks film several people are shown taking the oil not by simply swallowing it, but by rubbing it into their gums. That would seem to be a better way to get the oil into the bloodstream.

One considered reply amongst all the dross on NORML-UK came from Dave Dangleberry. I had assumed the oil, if not absorbed into the blood, would simple pass through the body, Dave Dangleberry suggested

Fats and oil are broken down in the stomach by enzymes, the THC et al will not simply pass through the body.

In which case the THC will be broken down before getting into the blood, so doesn’t it amount to the same thing as passing through the body in that the THC will have been wasted?

Dave Dangleberry continues

I suspect that a small lump will be pretty much completely absorbed so all making it more easily absorbed will achieve is to increase the rate of absorption. This isn’t necessarily what you want. The aim is to find the sweet spot, too much over a short space of time could be less effective than just the right amount over a longer period. I’m sure we could achieve similar results with larger doses of hash but given cancer patients often have to deal with nausea and vomiting ingesting large amounts of fatty food probably isn’t the best way to go about

He is arguing that the blobs of oil will in fact be absorbed but slowly, giving a more even dose over time might be a reasonable answer, although the doses based on the amount taken are very high and yet the person is apparently not so very stoned. But this comment from Dave Dangleberry was the sort of considered reply I was hoping for.

Assuming the oil is somehow absorbed into the bloodstream, could there be another issue at work accounting for the lack of stonedness? Well, yes there might.

There is another possibility which may at least partially account for things, and to understand it you need to understand a little about the pharmacology of cannabis. It’s often claimed that cannabis contains THC, strictly speaking that isn’t actually true; the plant contains an acid version of THC; THC-A as well as the -A versions of other cannabinoids.

THC-A is the chemical the plant produces and is reduced (as opposed to oxidised) to THC by heating – as would happen in a joint or vape. THC-A is far less psycho-active than THC. Cooking food or heating it into some vegetable oil will also perhaps do this conversion. However, the oil hasn’t been heated to a great extent and will therefore mostly contain the acid version, THC-A. Perhaps this is the reason such large doses can be tolerated without getting stoned? THC-A shares the cancer reducing properties of THC. For some background on THC-A, see here.

So there may well be good answers to what seem like obvious shortfalls to the method of administration, and I do applaud Jeff for his dedication to direct action against this unjust and inhumane law,  but it is important that anyone who wants to try to bring this really important discovery of cannabis being a cancer cure – if that’s what it is – becomes very well briefed on the way things work, rather than simply doing what Rick Simpson claims to be an effective method and  promoting him as the expert who cannot be questioned whilst becoming aggressive when questions are asked. It doesn’t help NORML-UK to allow serious debate about such a potentially wonderful discovery to be drowned out by infantile abuse in their forum either if they want to be taken seriously, this isn’t a matter of faith, it’s something we have to prove to sceptics.

There is also perhaps a problem with this sort of direct action focusing on medical campaigning being done by an organisation openly campaigning for recreational use – “they would say that wouldn’t they” is an easy charge to make. Of course that applies to UKCIA, CLEAR and any other cannabis law reform campaign. It’s another reason this needs to be done and presented in a rigorous way.

If cannabis really can cure cancer then we need to know for sure and to do that we need properly run tests on ill people in a controlled environment. Now it would seem to be an easy enough thing to do, after all there are plenty of people out there suffering terminal cancer who cannot be treated by conventional medicine so it should be possible to find a volunteer or two. What possible harm would it do to offer them the chance of trying cannabis oil, other than possibly undermining a lot of pharmaceutical companies profits?

The government will no doubt reply that cannabis has no medicinal value – as it always does – and slam the door on idea of testing these claims, but they are getting a bit too widespread to ignore and It does start to look more than a little like a cover up. For now, direct action seems to be the only option. Let’s just make sure get it right.