The third-most-asked question I’m asked about my survival (after “How did you ‘make’ it,*” and “Did you change your diet**”) is, “Did you use the medical marijuana?”

Yes. So, here I have to start heavily qualifying and legally covering my butt, and make it clear that I do not endorse illicit drug use and — who am I kidding? There seem to be two attitudes regarding cancer and treatment/drug usage, either, “I’ll take a drop of lavender, but only a small drop to soothe the infusion pain,” or, “Get out the Ouija board and light some candles, we’re summoning the ghost of Hunter Thompson to consult on which hallucinogens pair well with experimental chemo.” I mean, uh, don’t do drugs, kids, just say no. Unless you have a dangerous disease, in which case, we need to lose the judgmental, DARE-era programming, and take every single pill in sight. And then go looking for more (this step is critical with glioblastoma — something like only 25% of us qualify for further treatment in the event of a near-inevitable recurrence or metastasis). If “more” are not available at the present, or are dangerous to you, you need to figure out a way to make your current medical regimen either more effective, or safe enough so your oncologists will feel comfortable bathing you in Agent Orange until you or the disease gives up. Enter the Mary Jane edibles, stage left.

There are a few things to keep in mind, as I discuss this. Even though science is supposedly apolitical, scientific funding most certainly is not. Our secret reptilian ovelord Illuminati Council or whoever we’re blaming this week has no need to “suppress” or “hide” any information. They just don’t have to fund research they don’t like, and it won’t get done. If you’re a researcher looking for a million dollars in grant money to keep a lab functioning, and you could do a study on addiction in “soft” drugs, but it would take half a million dollars to wade through the regulatory process (plus another 10 grand to teach the rats to smoke, and an additional five grand to teach them how to look cool whilst smoking), OR, you could do a study about butterflies adapting to oil spills, there’s an obvious financial incentive. Suddenly, everyone’s a lepidopterist. And, because marijuana is considered an experimental treatment in many places, information about it might only be medically valid for less than a year before it’s outdated. Think of it as a Geocities page: It exists, it burns brightly, but it then flickers out (I find this analogy particularly important in the world of experimental treatments, because they fall under a pretty dramatic “Here today, gone tomorrow” heading as they move through trials, new information is discovered, etc.). So, I’m not going to be able to easily cite sources (especially as Billy Barr comes down on states that have legalized marijuana)(the message being, apparently, “Look, when it comes to gambling and prostitution, that’s Nevada or New Jersey’s prerogative, but when it comes to a substance that’s less biochemically dangerous than most prescribed substances or aspirin, that’s where we draw the line!”). As always, consult your physicians, and double-check everything I say.

With those numerous broad legal disclaimers out of the way, let’s discuss what I’ve learned in a year of chemo and medical marijuana usage. First of all, there are, according to one metastudy I’ve seen, 167 psychoactive substances in the dreaded reefer cigarette. Before everyone starts freaking out, let me remind you that aspirin, nicotine, and caffeine are all also psychoactive. As are most antidepressants. Again, if you want to take Tom Cruise’s attitude that complex, chronic diseases are treatable with Flintstones vitamins, you’re welcome to try. With that in mind, I doubt that marijuana is, by itself, curative (although there is an entire sub-culture in anaplastic astrocytoma survivors that advocates THC usage as a way to suppress recurrence), but there are enough studies indicating THC makes temodar (the usual first-line drug for brain cancer — it’s also commonly used for metastatic breast cancers and skin cancers) more effective so that the Australian government is actually sponsoring a trial examining THC as an adjunct therapy with conventional chemo in GBM survivors. Even though there are 167 psychoactive substances in marijuana, most studies focus on cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD is a great pain-killer that I used a lot on infusion days to make my infusion pain and neuralgia manageable. THC is an orectic (it’ll make you hungry) and the really wild psychedelic chemical in marijuana. CBD doesn’t have any psychedelic effects, and actually hinders the psychedelic effects of THC (as in, I’ve taken 5:1 ratio doses of CBD:THC and noticed only a very negligible intoxicating effect). As far as science knows, it’s impossible to OD on anything in marijuana, but it’s well within the realm of possibility to trip on your feet and bust open your fool head, so, as always, don’t be a moron, be careful, and do not drive (if you’re on chemo, you shouldn’t be driving anyway, thanks to “chemo brain,” but that’s an entirely different discussion for a different time). Even though there’s enough hard data to get governments to fund studies investigating medical marijuana as an adjunct to conventional therapy (or to treat side-effects of said therapy), I don’t feel safe in recommending it as a good alternative to conventional treatment as a starting point (at least, not until you’ve exhausted those options). Those are all the fairly well-established medical facts, and, from there, we move into the waters of anecdotal evidence and personal experience, so, from this point, you definitely want to double-check what I say with your oncologists and PubMed.

Hard and fast Rule 1 about medical marijuana is, do not ever smoke (or vape)(thank gods that’s illegal, at least it’s one less issue I have to directly address) it. Marijuana smoke is comparable to cigarettes in the carcinogen exposure, and, even though most cancer treatments significantly increase the risk for other cancers, you don’t want to increase that risk when you can just use edibles and oils. Unless, of course, the only option available is inhalables, in which case, do not ever smoke it. Good news on that one; if you stray from that little rule, you’ll be (temporarily) punished pretty fast; nothing’s better for a cancer patient than a rich, full-bodied dry hack that lasts a week or two. This, “Don’t inhale, swallow it” bit of advice is so critical that the Warlock’s research PA actually made a point of it when reviewing all the various substances I had ingested, at any point, during treatment (sometime around Cycle 9); I was definitely getting the evil-eye about CBD usage, until I pointed out I wasn’t smoking it, after which, she shrugged and never mentioned it again. So, again, for those at the back, DO. NOT. SMOKE. OR. INHALE. THE. MEDICAL. MARIJUANA.

Which means going with edibles or oils. Bad news on medical marijuana (or recreational)(I usually advise my cancer friends to start at recreational dispensaries, because they usually have a larger selection and more reliable products) is that it’s not a federally-regulated market, so the quality, pricing, and effectiveness can vary dramatically from place to place. The two companies I can recommend, based on personal experience, are CanTabs and Cheeba Chews. I am not paid anything to endorse them, but I found their stuff reliable and mostly-available. You can also get cannabis-derived CBD from CanTabs, which I used on infusion days (usually, 10–30 mg)(for everyone wanting to do dose comparisons, I was about 100 kg during treatment), and you can get hemp-derived CBD at your local health-food store pretty much anywhere. I noticed a little more “zing” with cannabis-derived CBD than I do with hemp-derived CBD (the stuff that’s legal everywhere); I have a friend who’s extremely sensitive to THC (who loves hemp-derived CBD) who thinks there’s a minute amount of THC (or one of the other 160-odd psychoactive substances) in cannabis-derived CBD that gives it that little boost. Either way, you’re not going to get “high” from CBD — if you OD on THC, you’ll have a really bad, weird trip; if you OD on CBD all that will happen is you will feel really calm and pain-free (not numb) for about 4–8 hours. I have heard — but been unable to confirm — of folks using it to treat seizures, and, based on my experience, it certainly couldn’t hurt if used with regular anti-seizure meds (again, though, not in lieu of anti-seizure meds).

CBD will take care of some of the side-effects of chemo (pain, anxiety, night terrors, etc.), but not all of them. For nausea and the more-traumatic aspects of treatment, I recommend THC. Full disclosure: I never used THC alone, and, at a minimum, I used it in a 1:1 ratio of CBD. My “usual” THC dosage (on Temodar nights, not infusion nights)(one of the more-memorable side effects of Marizomib is hallucinations, so taking another psychedelic on top of that didn’t seem like a good idea) was 5–10 mg. At 5 mg of THC and CBD, I didn’t really notice any major effects, other than feeling a little lighter and hungrier than usual. At 10+ mg, I noticed an odd “floaty” sensation, and movies got really interesting. There’s actually a few body-builders who advocate using THC as a weight-loss supplement (with the caveat that you don’t eat when you get the munchies)(also, do not go weight-training after ingesting; that’s how you drop a barbell on yourself). The most terrifying sensation I got at the upper end of THC dosage was that the room was moving too quickly, and I had to go lie down. Which is probably a good idea if you’re regularly getting dosed with toxins (chemo) and waiting to see if you or the cancer dies first. Obviously, that’s a pretty traumatic situation, and you might want to excuse your mind for the worst of it (something like 25% of cancer survivors experience PTSD).

In my own case, I don’t know if medical marijuana actually made anything more effective, or if it just helped with the side effects of treatment and allowed me to tolerate treatment better (which probably made my oncologists more comfortable pursuing aggressive treatment), and cut back on some of the other drugs used to treat the side effects of treatment (specifically, zofran and klonopin)(which have some side effects unto themselves). But, if you’re getting measured for a radiation mask, I’d definitely recommend looking into it (again, consult with your oncologists, I’ve heard CBD can “deactivate” some chemo agents). Obviously, this didn’t interfere with my treatment program, but every cancer is unique, and, as always, consult with your oncologists.

Namely, the full spectrum of those 167 psychoactive substances I previously mentioned? Well, for that one, you should check out Rick Simpson Oil (AKA Full-Extract Cannabis Oil — FECO), which, amongst brain cancer survivors, has an almost-totemic status. This is available at most dispensaries I know of, although you might have to use the words “Rick Simpson Oil” and/or “Full Extract Cannabis Oil” before anyone recognizes it. This is, essentially, the crack-cocaine of cannabis; it’s the refined and purified version of all 167 psychoactive substances, and it is linked to better long-term outcomes in a variety of cancers. Having said that, I’d recommend using this sparingly, as it’s both expensive and, if you OD, terrifying.

There are a lot of guides out there for RSO usage (and a lot of really scammy online places to buy it)(recreational dispensaries are your friend here); I’d personally recommend getting a specific 1:1 THC:CBD ratio (the original formula has something like a 17:3 ratio), as well as hemp-derived CBD. Just put a smudge of RSO on a CBD gel cap an hour or so before you go to bed, and, over a week or two, work your way up to a rice-grain-sized droplet. You’ll notice the effects (which is why I recommend taking it before going to sleep) pretty quickly, but, if one takes additional CBD and times it so they’re sleeping through most of it (as opposed to filing taxes or preparing court documents), all you’ll really notice is you sleep very well. In the world of medical marijuana, survivors are supposed to work their way up to a milliliter of RSO a day, which seems like it would make the planet spin way too fast (of course, this is coming from a man who, when offered an experimental treatment course that was largely untested, said, “Juice me up,” so you may want to take my advice in stride). I do know of at least one GBM patient who had a dangerous reaction to conventional treatment, and was sort of forced to look at RSO as a last-resort option (I believe she’s up to the recommended 1 mL a day), and is still progression-free after a year. However, that’s just one person (two, if you include my story)(again, I used SOC with medical marijuana and experimental treatment, so, I’d look at medical marijuana as a complementary treatment option first). Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to downloading the complete Velvet Underground discography.

*I went directly to the very best professionals rather than let the local taxidermist/ER treat me and opted for the most aggressive treatment plan available that incorporated standard of care (SOC), experimental treatment, and, from what I can tell, black magic.
**Yes, but not for keto, which, as far as I can tell, has mixed results in a clinical setting; I cut back on refined sugar where ever possible and got many, many heapings of raw fruits and vegetables, which kept things sluicing through my system. I don’t think that helped with the disease, but it kept me healthy and comfortable enough to withstand treatment.

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Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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