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Chemo or Cannabis to Treat Cancer? Interview with Len Richmond

by Daniel Moler(more info)

listed in medical cannabis, originally published in issue 182 - May 2011

It is one thing to kill a cancer cell, but the real question wracking science's collective brain is: can you survive the treatment?

What if Cannabis Cured Cancer

This is the central concern regarding how we approach cancer, the plague of modern times. Len Richmond's documentary 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, leukaemia, and more.

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.

But, 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 LA for an in-depth look at how the film came to be:

Len, why don't you tell me a little bit about yourself?

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 tumour! 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 who was 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 tumour 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 Earth!

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 tumours, 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 offence; 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 offence. 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 set back?

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!

One sentiment 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 neighbours, co-workers, 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 change.

Further Information
What if Cannabis Cured Cancer can be purchased on and followed on Facebook

Acknowledgement Citation
This interview was previously published in Cannabis Culture Magazine.


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About Daniel Moler

Daniel Moler is a writer, adjunct professor, pseudo-project manager and technical writer from Kansas City Metropolitan area. Married with two kids, one cat, and a snail, he holds two Bachelor’s degrees in Art and English, as well as a Master’s in Liberal Arts with an emphasis in modern/postmodern theory. He is interested in the shamanic arts and is currently undergoing an apprenticeship in the Pachakuti Mesa tradition, a form of Peruvian shamanism with lineages in Northern Coastal curanderismo and Andean Q’ero energy work. He regularly participates in Lakota sweat lodges and dances. He is also a volunteer board member of The Heart of the Healer (THOTH) foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve indigenous cultures and restore our Earth.  He may be contacted via

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