Rick Simpson Oil, or RSO, is a highly concentrated cannabis extract with very high levels of THC, also known as THC concentrate. It is generally considered a “whole plant extract,” containing not just THC but most of the plant’s molecules, including pigments and waxes, which is what gives RSO its dark color. RSO is often touted in online forums as a cancer treatment, pain killer, and at times even as a miracle cure.
While the evidence supporting those claims is anecdotal at best, particularly with regards to cancer, it remains a product of great interest.
What exactly is Rick Simpson Oil?
Simply put, Rick Simpson Oil is a type of ultra-concentrated, “crude” cannabis oil. According to Phoenix Tears, Rick Simpson’s official website, RSO refers to “extremely potent decarboxylated extracts produced from strong sedative indica strains, which have THC levels in the 90% range.”
It is dense, unfiltered, and almost sludge-like in consistency. Traditionally extracted to yield a thick oil containing many of the plant’s fat-soluble compounds, RSO has been described by Simpson himself as “a sort of grease.”
Lab analysis of Rick Simpson Oil typically shows THC content of 40-95%. According to one independent lab, some samples are closer to 40%, but according to Simpson, true RSO should be closer to 95%. Of course, this is for traditional RSO made with THC-rich marijuana. If high-CBD cannabis were used, the resulting product would be entirely different.
It is important to note that the term RSO gets thrown around a lot for many products, not just those high in THC. Often the term is being used to describe any highly concentrated crude cannabis extract, and one which often comes in a syringe for dosing.
Rick Simpson Oil also contains terpenes and other secondary compounds, like pain-killing cannflavins and other naturally occurring compounds found in cannabis, though depending on what solvent and process is used, some of these components can be lost.
Because it is a cannabis-produced medicine with high levels of THC, RSO is often illegal except in certain jurisdictions with legal medical and recreational cannabis programs.
How to make your own RSO
With a little education, you can make highly concentrated RSO from the comfort of your home. Rick Simpson himself says it’s as nearly as easy as brewing coffee and provides a review of his process in his book. Let’s take a look at his RSO recipe:
- 1 lb. dried cannabis
- 2 gallons of isopropyl alcohol — ideally 91% or higher (Rick Simpson’s original recipe calls for isopropyl alcohol, but food-grade ethanol is a better option)
- A large bucket, large bowl, and wooden spoon
- Rice cooker (optional)
Step 1: Select a high-quality, THC-rich (>15%) cannabis cultivar. Simpson recommends a relaxing indica strain, though patients are welcome to select any strain they prefer. A pound of flower will yield the entire 60 gram, 90-day treatment that Simpson recommends. (Learn more about cannabis weight conversions.)
Step 2: Place the entire pound of marijuana and one gallon of alcohol into your large bowl, mixing gently. After a few minutes of stirring, the THC will have almost fully dissolved into the solvent.
Step 3: Pour the solvent, which may now have a green-hued color, through the cheesecloth and into your bowl. The marijuana material can stay in its bucket — it’s still usable!
Step 4: Pour a fresh batch of isopropyl alcohol into the cannabis bucket, mixing gently in a repetition of step 2.
Step 5: Repeat step 3, pouring this batch of solvent into the same bowl as the first batch. At this point, you’ve extracted virtually all the cannabinoids you can, so the marijuana material can be discarded.
Step 6: Place your cannabinoid-infused solvent into your rice cooker. Technically, this step is optional; you could just let the solvent evaporate but using a rice cooker will significantly speed up the process. If you do not use the rice cooker, you will need to decarboxylate your cannabis first. (Important: extraction solvents like isopropyl alcohol are flammable and care should be taken to avoid open flame when evaporating them.)
Step 7: Ensuring your rice cooker stays around 220°F, check the soon-to-be-RSO occasionally and wait until the solvent evaporation has finished. The final product should be thick and dark in color. At this point, remove your oil from the rice cooker using a syringe (perfect for accurate dosing) or spatula.
There you have it. By making your own Rick Simpson Oil at home, you can ensure product integrity and freshness — and maybe even learn a thing or two about the nature of cannabinoids.
Please note: While isopropyl alcohol is recommended by Rick Simpson, ingestion of isopropyl alcohol can be harmful and the method above does not guarantee no isopropyl remains in the extract. Ingesting isopropyl alcohol can result in vomiting, abdominal pain, intestinal bleeding, and other organ damage. Care should be taken to ensure all isopropyl alcohol has been evaporated off during that step.
How to Use RSO
Medical marijuana patients use RSO to treat a wide range of health conditions and their symptoms, ranging from cancer to pain to multiple sclerosis and arthritis. It can also be used for those suffering from insomnia or depression, or people who just need a good night’s sleep.
On Rick Simpson’s website, he lays out highly-detailed dosage instructions for RSO. The guidelines are very much of the “start low and go slow” variety, and instruct patients to aim to “ingest 1 gram or 1 ml of high grade oil every 24 hours, once they have built up their tolerance for this medication.”
That’s anywhere from 400 to 950 milligrams of THC — according to figures from Simpson and independent lab tests — every single day. Indeed, building up the tolerance required to handle this kind of dosing takes some time. Simpson advises patients to slowly progress over the course of three months, beginning with “three doses per day,” each of them “about the size of a half a grain of short grained dry rice.”
Simpson recommends doubling this amount every four days, adding that it should take the average person about five weeks to build up the tolerance to ingest a gram per day.
After the 90 days are over, most people continue using the oil, Simpson writes, adding that he believes a good maintenance dose is about one gram per month.
As a viscous, decarboxylated, highly-concentrated extract, RSO isn’t intended for vaping or smoking. Instead, oral, sublingual or topical use is the usual way to go. It can also be consumed either orally or sublingually, added to a capsule for easier swallowing, or added directly to food.
You can actually smoke RSO, but it’s not advised in case any solvent is left over, which could be very dangerous.
Cooking with RSO is a fun and convenient way to take your RSO. This is done simply by mixing your dose into food or drink, either while baking or just by adding it directly onto the food before serving, much like you could with cannabis oil or cannabutter.
RSO is already decarboxylated and activated, so it is as simple as adding it to a dish. Keep in mind that the texture could make it difficult to mix in consistently, and because RSO is so potent, care should be taken to properly dose if you’re cooking with it.
For topical use, you could try to apply a small amount to the area that needs treatment a few times daily, and observe the results. RSO is extremely sticky and viscous, so some medical marijuana clinics recommend adding RSO to a little bit of coconut oil to make it easier to apply.
If using RSO for pain, the delayed onset of ingesting it means that it won’t provide relief as quickly as smokeable or vapable forms of cannabis. Nonetheless, sublingual consumption is thought to kick in quicker than taking it by mouth , and you may even feel some of the effects in under an hour.
Who is Rick Simpson and why did he create RSO?
According to Simpson, it all began in 1997 when he was working as an engineer in a Canadian hospital. A drastic series of events saw him exposed to toxic fumes before falling off a ladder and getting knocked unconscious.
Simpson was taken to the emergency room and soon recovered, but he found himself left with lasting health challenges from tinnitus and dizzy spells. Doctors prescribed him drugs that only made things worse. Though difficult, these experiences set the stage for a very important realization Simpson was about to make.
A documentary on medical marijuana inspired Simpson to begin smoking cannabis, despite his doctor’s dismissal of what was then still a very much taboo topic. He noticed that the ringing in his ears abated. Pharmaceutical medications hadn’t helped Simpson, but marijuana did, he says.
In late 2002, Simpson was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. Simpson turned with renewed intensity back to the marijuana plant.
With more research came an intriguing idea. What about topical marijuana applied directly onto the cancer? A decades-old study from the National Cancer Institute’s scientific journal provided some inspiration:
“Animals treated for 10 consecutive days with delta9-THC, beginning the day after tumor implantation, demonstrated a dose-dependent action of retarded tumor growth.”
With this in mind, Simpson procured his normal cannabis flower, made a crude extract, and placed a few drops of it onto bandaids. He put these directly onto cancerous lesions. When removed four days later, all signs of cancer were gone, he says.
On a quest to provide cannabis oil to others, Simpson experimented with different cuts of cannabis, extraction methods, and solvents. After much trial and error, Simpson settled on a highly purified, decarboxylated, substance that was well-suited to both oral and topical use.
The difference between RSO and CBD oil
Both CBD oil and RSO are cannabis-infused oils, but they have more differences than similarities. RSO is an undiluted, THC-rich extract, while CBD oil is on the opposite end of the spectrum: heavily diluted, CBD-rich, and containing more carrier oil than actual marijuana extract. CBD oil is meant solely for sublingual and oral ingestion, while Rick Simpson Oil is a bit more versatile.
There are significant pharmaceutical differences as well. Courtesy of its high-THC content, Rick Simpson Oil acts most strongly on the brain’s CB1 receptors, which are abundant throughout the central nervous system. It may also act on serotonin 5-HT2A receptors that impact memory formation and learning. Given that it’s composed mostly of concentrated THC, RSO has a pronounced sedative effect as well — Simpson himself describes his oil’s effects as “narcotic.” For cancer patients who may have chronic pain and significant adverse reactions to chemotherapy and other treatments, that can be very beneficial. On the flip side, for newbies, the effects can be quite overwhelming. In addition, compared to other extraction methods, the process of making RSO may lead to a loss of some beneficial terpenes that may contribute to the effects of cannabis.
CBD oil isn’t especially active on psychotropic receptors in the brain. That means it doesn’t cause a high, though it may gently activate serotonin 5-HT1A receptors and thereby may help relieve anxiety.
Yet CBD’s unique molecular shape means the molecule is able to extend itself beyond the classical endocannabinoid system, also activating TRPV1 receptors and PPAR receptors which may reduce inflammation. Even then, because of its high THC content, RSO may be superior to CBD oil when it comes to pain relief.
Which oil is best for you? That depends on one’s individual medical condition and health needs. Some may opt to take both oils, perhaps at different times of the day, especially given the intoxicating effects of RSO. CBD oil may even be useful in modulating the psychotropic effects of high THC.
Can Rick Simpson Oil treat cancer?
Some patients say Rick Simpson oil successfully treated their cancer beyond just pain relief, actually putting it into remission, although that is still purely anecdotal and no specific studies have looked at using RSO to treat cancer.
The ultimate goal of Rick Simpson’s traditional cannabis oil cancer treatment is to kill cancer by exposing it to ultra-high doses of THC.
Initial research shows that THC may cause apoptosis (i.e., programmed cell death) by causing cancer cells to produce more ceramide, which is a natural fatty acid that eats away at them. The marijuana terpene limonene could also potentially promote apoptosis.
THC may also help the body’s metabolism shift towards fat-burning via activation of AMPK. According to molecular biologist Dr. Bob Melamede, this is a big deal: with more fat-metabolism comes less free radical production and a more aerobic cellular environment. Early research on cancer revealed that these subtle shifts may prevent growth and proliferation of tumors.
It is important to note, however, that there is only anecdotal evidence that Rick Simpson oil could be an effective cancer treatment. While cannabis has a relatively clear role in trying to treat the symptoms of chemotherapy treatment, a great deal of clinical research still needs to take place before RSO can be called a potential treatment of cancer itself.
Other potential benefits of Rick Simpson Oil
Patient testimonials also indicate that RSO may lower blood pressure enough that high blood pressure medication may be reduced or no longer needed. Be sure to discuss any medication changes with your doctor. Additionally, patients that use marijuana for diabetes have said that Rick Simpson Oil may reduce or even eliminate their need for exogenous insulin. That’s because THC may be a powerful insulin-sensitizer. RSO may also protect diabetics from downstream problems, like neurological damage, that often accompany the disease.
RSO has also been shown to be an effective agent against pain, cancer associated or otherwise. This may make it an attractive alternative to opiates, the overuse of which has led to an epidemic in too many places. In patients taking opioids for chronic pain, cannabis has been associated with an opioid sparing effect, where patients who use medical cannabis require less opioids, but this correlation is still up for debate.
Potential side effects of Rick Simpson Oil
Rick Simpson Oil, because of its high THC concentration, requires careful dosing which can be a challenge given its consistency. Similar to other THC concentrates, RSO can also come with a host of side effects, though careful planning can help mitigate them. Before using RSO, it is important to consult your doctor.
Just as marijuana has its known side effects, RSO and other concentrated solutions can cause many of the same side effects owing to their high THC concentration. THC is a psychotropic molecule that can lead to cognitive impairment, memory problems, and even psychosis in the wrong individual. It also may lower blood pressure, so caution should be used by those with a history of hypotension or who are taking medications for their blood pressure.
Where to buy Rick Simpson Oil
Finding RSO in dispensaries isn’t as easy as you might think. While you can find all sorts of high-THC concentrates and oils in dispensaries across medical and adult-use states, few have the same levels and concentrations described by Rick Simpson.
There are also a number of independent websites in states like California that sell products labeled as RSO, and while some of them have THC levels upwards of 70%, Rick Simpson is clear that these are not his specific product. If you are going to buy RSO online, make sure it is from a reputable company and that they provide an up-to-date certificate of analysis.