It is one thing to kill a cancer cell, but the real question
wracking science’s collective brain is: can you survive the treatment? This is the
central concern regarding how we approach cancer, the plague of modern times. Len Richmond’s documentary on cannabis as a potential cure, “What if Cannabis Cured Cancer,” narrated by Emmy award-winning actor Peter Coyote, is a well-researched account of the
chemical benefits of the cannabis plant. Interviewing a multitude of doctors
and researchers across the world, “What
if Cannabis…” explains how certain compounds in cannabis, including THC,
attack only cancer cells while actually protecting healthier ones. And here is
the real kicker: with incredible results! However, its healing effects are not
limited to just cancer. Cannabis contains compounds that work holistically with
the entire human body on such conditions as epilepsy, bipolar disorder,
glaucoma, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, neuropathic pain, depression, leukemia,
The documentary also outlines the misinformation campaign by
both government and media as to the ill effects of cannabis on users. For
instance, it is an eyebrow raising revelation that not a single recorded death
has ever been attributed to cannabis, while it remains a Schedule I drug — along
with heroin and meth — under the Controlled Substances Act.
It’s not just the plant that’s having a tough time in
the world. Len Richmond has tried earnestly to get the medical community to be
involved in the amazing amount of research he’s uncovered in his film:
“I contacted the John Wayne Cancer Institute,” he says, “to
offer researchers a chance to look at my film. The PR guys said I had to write
to the individual researchers. So, I got all their information, emailed them,
and offered them a free copy of the documentary. There was not a single
response. Weeks later, I sent a follow-up email, again offering a free copy of
the film and asking “Are you really so sure that you’re right that you’re not
even open to entertaining an alternative point of view?’ Well, then I got a response: Don’t you email
us again! We’re not interested!’ It’s crazy! Chemo therapy is hurting people.
It makes me angry. It’s a scandal, the way cancer is being treated in this
country as a profit-driven industry. ”
Despite having sporadic acceptance in the mainstream medical
arena, Richmond’s film is gaining an enormous amount of success in the medical
marijuana community. People are excited about the evidence contained in his
documentary, and with good cause. “What
if Cannabis…” creates a convincing argument on how and why marijuana should
be seriously considered as a cancer-curing agent. To get a little more to the
heart of the issue, I talked to Len from his home in L.A. for an in-depth look
at how the film came to be.
Daniel Moler: Len, why don’t you tell
me a little bit about yourself?
Len Richmond: Well, I’m a sixties hippie who, among other things, marched
against the Vietnam War. I started smoking dope in the sixties, of course. I
remember how I first started, I was dating this woman because I was trying to
be straight and fit in. On our first date, she held out a joint. I told her I
didn’t wanted to do anything that might make me lose control, but she said,
This stuff will change your life, it will open your mind! You’ll discover
things about yourself.’ I thought, What?’ I couldn’t understand the concept at
first. But, of course, she was right! A few months later I came out.
I later moved to London to be with a boyfriend and started
writing sitcoms for BBC and British television. There was one particular sitcom
that I decided to put all of my sixties radicalism in it, marijuana, making fun
of religion, and gay liberation. It was called “Agony” because it was about a “Dear Abby”-type of advice columnist
who could fix everyone else’s problems but could never fix her own. It was very
popular, very funny, and was one of the first shows to depict the main
characters smoking marijuana casually and celebrating healthy gay
relationships. Later, CBS bought the rights to it and broadcast an American
version called “The Lucy Arnaz Show”
but it was terrible. The CBS writers took out everything that made Agony so
good: the gays, smoking pot, the radicalism, the left wing politics. It was
soon after that I got heavily into the Gay Liberation movement. I started
promoting gay rights — and getting laid a lot.
What inspired you to
make “What if Cannabis Cured Cancer“?
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and wouldn’t let the
doctors do anything to her. Of course, this freaked me out, along with the rest
of family. But, she did a lot of research and found various herbs that she felt
would help her. So, after four years of treating herself, by focusing on a vegan
raw food diet and using anti-cancer herbs like Mistletoe, she had actually shrunk her tumor! I was amazed! So, I
got inspired to make the documentary film “Everything Bad is Good: Healing
Yourself in a World of Medicine Gone Mad,” where I interviewed people who had cured
themselves of cancer with natural remedies. This is when I started to really
get into the idea of natural healing outside of the medical world. Through my
research on this film, I stumbled onto a few cases where marijuana was used as
a curing agent and just dug deeper. As I soon discovered, there was quite a bit
of evidence beginning to surface.
Some of the things going through
my mind were, ‘Am I going to get attacked? Are people going to want to destroy
me because I’m raining on their parade? There is a whole industry and makes a
good living off the drug war.’ Well, it’s been exactly the opposite! People are
complimenting the research . . . the evidence is there! I’ve become a bit of a
working class hero taking on the establishment. My early hippie dreams of
making a better world are coming true!
For instance, just the other day I was emailed an old
article titled “Smoking Marijuana Causes Testicular Cancer.” I started
investigating the research done on the study and even the doctor was who hired
to conduct the study said don’t read too much into it, the results aren’t
conclusive, the amount of people in the study were so small it is difficult to
even pinpoint a correlation, and of course we don’t know if the control group
was telling the truth about their past drug use. But that’s not the way the
press reported it. And, of course, the study was funded by the folks who wanted
to prove that pot is bad for you.
In your film, it is
discussed that the primary compounds in cannabis that work as the curing agent
are the endocannabinoids. Can you tell me a little bit about endocannabinoids
and how they may be able to treat cancer?
The first guy I interviewed for the film, Dr. Jeffrey
Hergenrather, started treating patients with cannabis and they started to get
better. And what he told me was, whether you smoke marijuana or not you have
marijuana-like substances in your body. It is naturally in your body, you are
born with it, and it is called the endocannabinoid system. I thought, What? I
need to find out more about this!’ Endocannabinoids are found in our nervous
and immune systems and have an almost identical structure to cannabinoids found
in cannabis. These two compounds act as a sort of lock and key for each other in
your body-a chemical reaction-that becomes beneficial, forming into modulators
of good health. Endocannabinoids act as tumor regulators, mood regulators, anti-depressants,
anti-inflammatories, and the list goes on.
What is being discovered is that some people do not have
enough endocannabinoids in their system. You see, you get a massive dose of
endocannabinoids in your mother’s milk, if you’re breast fed. It’s one of your
immunity boosters as a baby. What Professor Robert Melamede (in the film)
believes is that there are endocannabinoid-deprived people and there are
endocannabinoid-endowed people. Those that are endocannabinoid-endowed have
healthy systems, are more adaptable to change, and therefore are more
open-minded. In the same way, those that are endocannabinoid-deprived have
weaker systems, therefore more fearful of change to their environment. So,
endocannabinoids are not just interesting in how they can heal the body, but
are also indicators into how one lives their life! This is a whole new field of
information I didn’t even get to touch on in the film. But I will in my next.
Here is the main reason we need cannabis. We are overwhelmed
with toxins in our environment: chemicals, pollution, even our own thoughts. The
endocannabinoids that we are born with need help. The cannabinoids and
endocannabinoids find each other and are like, “Oh . . . Hi bro!” and they hook
up and are stronger in fighting diseases. It is a more protective way to
survive from all the things that are in an onslaught against us. Cannabis stimulates your survival
mechanism. Really, cannabis smokers can be the luckiest, happiest people on
What I remember from
the film, and what you have eluded to here, is that endocannabinoids are
holistic as well. They are not just for fighting tumors, correct?
For one thing, they are mood lifters; they lift you out of
depression. When you’re not busy being depressed, it helps you to survive. So,
endocannabinoids are all about survival. The threat, I guess, is all the pharmaceuticals
we would put out of business. If you can do so many healing things with this
one plant, it’s an enormous threat to our pharmacy system. Almost every drug
I’ve researched comes with an enormous amount of side-effects, some of them
even fatal. You put yourself in the situation of a catch-22. Get rid of
such-and-such symptom but accept the risk of a host of others. The only side-effects
with marijuana are you may lose a little short-term memory for a while and you
may bump into some things while walking around at home.
Amidst the compelling
evidence, why is the mainstream media not jumping on this? And why in the
media, is the reporting on the research is mild at best?
We have to acknowledge there’s a lot of fear out there about
cannabis. People are afraid of losing control; particularly religious people.
They have to control everything in their life, or the house of cards falls
apart. Marijuana is a threat, it’s unpredictable. And, cannabis makes you
question why you wouldn’t want to do anything that doesn’t make you happy. It
does get you to leave jobs, leave marriages, to make moves and changes in your
life that you aren’t usually willing to make.
Other countries seem
to be where the cutting edge of research is being done on cannabis treatment of
cancer. Is cannabis a big legal issue in other countries or is cannabis seen as
a viable alternative?
It’s much more accepted in Spain, than many other countries.
It’s not really treated like a criminal offense; they are very liberal about it.
Italy, on the other hand, is a whole different story. I have a friend in Italy who
has cancer, but can hardly get marijuana at all because he is scared of being
arrested. Most of the countries are still treating it like a serious criminal
offense. I can say most of the foreign orders I get for my film are from
Canada. They are a huge pot-smoking country. I also get a lot of overseas orders
from the Netherlands, obviously.
One direction for the
pro-cannabis movement is to get cannabis removed from the Controlled Substances
Act. What is your perspective to getting this done?
One thing I am going to do is to get copies of my film to
members of Congress. I got Americans for Safe Access (ASA) to agree to hand-deliver
them to one hundred Congressmen and Congresswomen; they are just waiting for
the right time, what with the latest election and change in seats. My hope is
that there is a Congress person out there who knows someone with cancer-a
relative they love- and it becomes a life or death issue, instead of just an
issue about an illegal drug. Basically, I think that if we can get one
well-known person who has cancer to treat themselves with cannabis instead of
chemo and they survive and prosper, then maybe that will begin to wake the
country up. But, you know, it probably has to be a celebrity or nobody will
give a damn.
Do you see the recent
failure of Proposition 19 in California a setback?
No, because a fair number of pro-marijuana people didn’t
want Prop 19 to go into effect. It criminalized some things that weren’t
criminal before. Such as, there was a bit in there about having to get written permission
from your landlord to smoke cannabis in your rented home. I don’t want to have
to ask permission from a landlord to smoke in my own backyard!
expressed in your film is that if cannabis is legal there is less money in it. So
if it is more lucrative when illegal, should it ever become legal? Given what
the pharmaceutical industry could do to such a product, would you even want it
to become legal?
Look, I’ve been busted for smoking pot in England. I’ve been
arrested, fingerprinted, and photographed. And at that time even the police
woman who arrested me said if I wouldn’t have smoked on the street, I wouldn’t
have been arrested. Do it in your own home,’ she said. I don’t want a police
woman, who has no idea of the benefits of cannabis to tell me how to conduct my
medical treatment. The people who are rabidly enforcing cannabis laws are
scared little people. Marijuana gives them the perfect excuse because they are
fearful of freedom and change and use us as a scapegoat. So, yes, I say please
legalize it. It would be nice to have that paranoia gone. I think it will
definitely be legalized before too long because a lie can’t live forever.
Yes, because the older generation will soon be gone. And I
say this as a member of the older generation. 7 out of every 10 people I know
smoke pot. And not just the kind of person who you would think smokes pot, but
neighbors, coworkers, normal people. It’s like the gay lib thing . . . come out,
come out, wherever you are!
What other kinds of
activities are you involved in regarding the issue of cannabis legalization?
Just using my film. Getting the documentary out there;
getting it to lawmakers and the establishment medical community. Now I have a
weapon I can use. I’m not really
the kind to go out and picket with signs. My film is my weapon I use to affect
This article previously appeared in Cannabis Culture magazine.
Teaser image by erissiva, courtesy of Creative Commons license.