By Sharon Letts
Pain, Cancer and Cannabis: A Love Story
Brandon Collier learned how to farm cannabis when he was just 15 years old. As a third generation farmer, he has cultivated cannabis for two decades in Bend, Oregon.
When Collier was 13, he was hit by a car. The accident damaged several disks, which are now fused together. He has suffered from chronic pain ever since.
“I consider myself fortunate to grow up within such a family, learning about cannabis as medicine at such a young age,” he shared. “I became an Oregon Medical Marijuana Program patient when I was 16, and medicate by smoking flower, ingesting concentrates, taking a strong oil at night, and topical salve.”
Collier’s fiancé, Sara Olson, arrived in Bend in 2007. The two met on April 20th of that year, and Olson fell in love with the farming life.
Two years ago, Olson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Burkitt Lymphoma, a fast growing tumor in her inner abdominal lymph node. In five days, the two inch tumor grew to ten inches. Olson stated she appeared as though she was nine months pregnant.
Rick Simpson, a Canadian-born engineer, developed the oil to to help treat his own skin cancer and a head injury, which caused severe vertigo. After he found a concentrated cannabis oil recipe, he made it and used it as a treatment. This put his cancer into remission, with the recipe and protocol shared around the world ever since. Today, this recipe is known as Rick Simpson Oil or RSO.
In spite of warnings and disregard from both her physician and oncologist, Olson decided to try RSO in conjunction with chemotherapy. The concentrated oils measure upwards of 80 percent THC.
Another Bend-based cannabis farmer, caregiver and oil maker, 40 year old Tim Fratto, also learned to farm from his father and brothers at the age of 10. He made the oil for Olson from his garden, as he has for the many cancer patients he cares for.
Three separate batches of oil were made, one from Sour Diesel, one Master Kush, and his own hybrid, Blackwater, an an Indica dominate strain he created from Girl Scout Cookies and Blackwater, which he calls Deschutes County Cookies.
“I breed specific strains that test with a higher myrcene terpene profile to create an alkaline environment where cancer can’t exist,” Fratto explained. “For [Olson], I used Indica dominant strains, in the 70 Indica to 30 Sativa percentiles.”
Fratto said Olson’s initial dose was 100 milligrams of the oil that tested upwards of 80 percent THC, then increased to 150 milligrams after a week, then to 200 milligrams in another two weeks, and so on, until she was taking the recommended one gram per day. This slow step-up method is necessary, as it allows the patient to adjust to psychoactive properties of the strong oil. Another commonly used method, with little to no psychoactive effects or head highs, would be to use suppositories.
“I started taking the oil when I began intensive chemotherapy over the course of seven days, continuously,” Olson shared.
An Omaya reservoir was surgically inserted in Sara’s head, as a way to get the chemotherapy drugs into her system.
“When the drugs were injected into her head, she would immediately empty her bowels and begin throwing up, shaking uncontrollably for eight hours,” Brandon agonizingly recalled.
Preliminary results reported in April 2015 in a recent study from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa show that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) delays the development of cancer cells.
Dr. Christina Sanchez, a molecular biologist at Compultense University in Madrid, Spain, has studied cannabis for the past 15 years, with a current focus on cannabis and its anti-tumor potential. Her research has found that cannabis kills cancer cells while leaving healthy cells undisturbed.
“Chemotherapy attacks every single cell in our body,” Sanchez said during an interview with Mathew Kind for Cannabis Insider. “It kills cancer cells, of course, those are the ones you want to kill, but also the cells of your immune system, the cells of your stomach and a lot of healthy tissues,” she added. “The difference with cannabinoids is that these compounds only attack cancer cells. We don’t understand why yet in terms of molecular terms. We don’t know what makes a cancer cell different in terms of the sensitivity to cannabinoids, but we know that this is a fact. Cannabis kills cancer cells and they do not affect the viability of non-cancer cells.”
When pressed further as to how long the process takes, Dr. Sanchez said when treating animals with cannabinoids, oil is administered every two days for 15 days, with positive effects in the first week. When cannabinoids are added to cancer cells as a culture in a dish, the cells die in one day after one application.
“I maintained a one gram dose of cannabis oil while my western treatments alternated between one week of hospitalization and one week at home, undergoing a total of four chemo treatments in eight weeks,” Olson said. “I credit the oil to the efficacy of the chemo, as most patients take six months to a year to complete, or go into remission, if they do at all. My cancer was gone within this eight week period.”
The Rick Simpson protocol is typically 60 grams of oil in 90 days, including the step-up-dosing method. Olson and Collier took the “rather safe than sorry” approach, with Olson ingesting more than 250 grams to date.
“I believe that daily ingestion of the oil, along with major dietary changes, will prevent the cancer from coming back. I can see and feel the changes it’s already made in the past two years, and it’s all positive.”
Since Olson’s experience with the oil, Brandon has been inspired to make it himself as part of the Collier Family Farms’ brand.
“We’ve really only made the oil for family so far, as the bulk of our work has been to build up the farm,” he explained. “We have plans to launch a vegan nutrient product this fall, with proceeds helping establish a foundation to help those in need of cannabis as medicine in our community.”
Sadly, Collier said the medical cannabis laws in Oregon have steadily declined. As the state prepares for its recreational market, small farm caregivers are being phased out.
“We have no choice but to go rec,” Collier shared. “But we will still maintain the medical quality standards we believe in. We are fortunate to have family friends that created the industry as we know it here in Oregon, and that gives our farm rare access to some of the best products and people in the cannabis industry today.”
“Going through cancer is something no soul should ever have to do,” she surmised. “[…] It has changed me to my core, along with so many things that saved me, including my friends and family being there for me; the power of prayer, the power of hope and faith. And even though I feel chemotherapy is poison, my doctors are only human and they were determined to save my life. I’ve realized that every second matters. And then, there’s nature and this beautiful plant that helped saved my life. For all of these things, I am forever grateful.”
For more information, stay tuned! Collier Family Farms will launch its website this fall. In the meantime, visit the company’s social media accounts at Facebook/CollierFamilyFarms or on Instagram @collier_family_farms.